Three Random Observations From The Wimbledon First Round

It feels as though the dust (or dirt) of Roland Garros has barely settled, and yet round one of the ever-prestigious Wimbledon is already in the books. With a couple of matches carried over due to darkness, the action wrapped up today, and from the offset it’s been an opening round unlike any other. Having been pushed back a week, the skies have welcomed unaccustomed sunshine, and almost Aussie Open standard heat. The BBC have swapped a perfectly decent round-up show (Today At Wimbledon) for a modern rip-off of little appeal (Wimbledon 2Day, text language intact. It’s been slated by critics and the general public alike, so I have company.)

And the draws of both genders have borne differing fortune.

As with every Slam, the opening hurdle heralds an array of tantalising clashes, swift victories, brilliant dramatics… and a whole host of results that become increasingly difficult to keep up with.

From among the many contrasting contests, here are some random thoughts that came to me during the early encounters of SW19.

***

TALL AND SHORT: THE UNDERRATED FACTOR

Height in tennis. It’s something that we tend to refer to rather flippantly: “Oh, she’s tall, her movement’s going to lack”, or “That’s going to help his serve”. Or else: “He needs to be twice as fast to make up for that small frame.”

But only when these two come up against each other, on a surface as slick and swift as grass, do you realise the true implications of the (generally) unchangeable component.

This was never more evident as when Nick Kygrios – last year’s London star after the then-19-year-old upended world number one Rafael Nadal – took on Diego Schwartzman on Monday. Seeded 24, 6’4” Kyrgios was always going to head in as the favourite. But with Schwartzman enjoying a career-best season that has seen him come within an inch of downing all-time great Roger Federer, one main factor defined the encounter on Court Two:

5’7”.

Of course, not everything can come down to this single component. Nick Kyrgios played some lights-out tennis, and with a confidence surpassing his years.

And yet at the same time, so much came down to the height difference between the pair. From the first point of the brief tussle, Diego was having to go all out with every serve and groundstroke, painting the lines and pushing Nick wide if he even wanted to get a look in at the point. This left a ridiculously small margin for error, and one that saw him miss the mark – or fall way short of it – all too often early on. As Kyrgios bolted to an early lead, other height issues came into play.

Nick Kyrgios has this direct, natural power that is quite simply a gift at birth. A gift like his height, which means that Rafa-esque muscles and arm strength are not needed to produce an obliterating – and simultaneously casual – winner. When he’s on-song, and Mr. NotQuiteSixFoot is on the receiving end of this sorcery, is the latter really going to calm down and play safer? No. He does the right thing and drop shots to make Nick run, and in a few strides the gangly giant has flicked a ridiculous return back over the net. He does the right thing again, going for the risky lob over the towering Aussie as Nick approaches the net. But for all his efforts, only one attempt actually pulls off. And he engages in long rallies, runs Nick from side to side, and he himself runs from side to side, and at the end of the point the Aussie turns on a winner from nowhere, leaving poor little Schwartzman stranded with no strategy, no space into which to hit, and no shot either long or short enough to trouble.

Of course you’re going to panic and leave no margin for error. Take it from a barely 6 foot tall girl who has played her 6’4” brother and seen the court shrink by infinity in the process.

And recall that the Wimbledon situation – on professional turf, with professional players, with a bigger height difference – is ten times more difficult.

When Diego made headway in the third set, it was because the mighty giant derailed, slipped up a bit, and opened a crack to let him in. As Diego regained confidence, strength and agility, Nick evaporated at pace, falling behind a break and venting his frustration (we don’t want to be called ‘haters’, so we’ll leave that one there.)

But it didn’t matter in the end, because after devouring an impromptu slice of his confidence-teetering-on-arrogance (who knows where he picked it up from), Kyrgios had swiped the match: 6-0 6-2 7-6.

And why? Height difference, guys. It’s the root of all (tennis) evil. Because it’s something that you can do nothing to change. You can mess with a person’s mind, and you can take advantage of their lapses, but you can’t hack a few inches off their body.

Legally…

KEYS AND KYRGIOS: THE TWO PLAYERS YOU WOULD NEVER ASSOCIATE WITH EACH OTHER WHO ARE JUST LIKE EACH OTHER. SORT OF.

It seemed fitting to flow straight into this point.

At the back of my mind, they were two players who always had this connection with each other. But for obvious reasons (character and attitude, which differ in the extreme for the pair, and which I will not go into because Nick’s brother-who-stalks-the-web will not just find it, but find fault)… it took watching them compete on the same day to come to terms with what made them alike.

By way of game style only, Madison Keys is the WTA version of the controversial Aussie. Both twenty years old, this pair were both pinpointed for stardom while in their early teens. Their share a massive serve, a tall, lean frame, and raw, unstoppable, natural power. They share the fact that on grass, when they’re at 100%, there’s really no one who’s going to stop them. They’re no stranger to taking down the big names of the game.

However, they also share a highly emotional mental state. So, could they be unstoppable on grass? Yes, they could well be. But, are they unstoppable on grass? No. Because for both of them, one simple shot, one single action, can derail their whole mindset, and their whole game. They’re either really strong, or they’re a mess. Nick proved this in his third set versus Diego. And Madison displayed it in reverse, over a period of yesterday and today. Taking on Stefanie Voegele in her opener, she was producing a losing game – negative and erratic – to drop behind by a set and a break. Then from nowhere, heading for a loss, she suddenly turned things around. She broke back, and broke again, taking the second set 6-3. And when they restarted from 2-2 in the final set today, she ran away with the match. Because she can.

Madison Keys and Nick Kyrgios. Two very different people, playing a very similar game.

Although Maddy may want to work on her tweeners…

KVITOVA AND CONFIDENCE; A DEADLY COMBINATION

Two years ago at Wimbledon, Petra Kvitova – enduring a long-time loss of form and riding the crest of a terrible season – struggled through her opening matches to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals. There, after a never-ending waterfall of upsets, Kvitova was out of the blue christened the tournament favourite. Thanks to the waterfall, she and such names as Radwanska and Bartoli (also in poor form) headlined the remaining competition.

But alas, the 2011 champion suffered from a virus during a straight sets loss to little-known Kirsten Flipkens. To a randomer, quite frankly. It was a surprise, but what was more surprising was the way in which Kvitova took it so much to heart. She knew the opportunity that had been presented to her. She had thought about it, she had tried to grab it, and she had lost it.

However, it appears maybe that’s just what she needed for 2014. After a high-quality, hard-fought third round victory over Venus Williams (in which the Czech was a mere two points from defeat), the draw once again parted to allow Kvitova through. And as the seeds fell, she arose. Taking down world number 23 Lucie Safarova in the quarters, she absolutely pulverised Eugenie Bouchard in the final, 6-3 6-0 in 55 minutes. It was alike to the way in which she had destroyed Maria Sharapova to claim her maiden Slam at Wimbledon in 2011.

And everything she overcame last year has already come to aid her cause in SW19. After an up-and-down year, Petra put all her troubles behind her to storm out to a 35 minute 6-1 6-0 win over notable name Kiki Bertens. She later posted this on twitter:

It’s amazing, the difference that confidence can make! And already Petra Kvitova’s draw is conducted the customary fall-apart, as a mentally-iffy Simona Halep and a deeply troubled Eugenie Bouchard have become first round casualties in her section.

Her recent experience is all that she needs to take advantage, rather than feel the pressure, of these developments. If her first round is anything to go by, we could well be about to witness Kvitova make her second straight final in London.

Were she to face Serena Williams, the prospect would become all the more intriguing, as the Czech picked up her first win against the world number one back in May. She is also one of only two players – the other being Venus – who could truly threaten Serena, at her best, on grass.

Were she to go deep once again, and prove that she is capable of even more heroics, perhaps it would be the beginning of Kvitova – already world number two – making herself a consistent victor on tour.

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