Differing fortunes for tennis’s record chasers

Still going strong: Serena Williams (right) and Roger Federer continue to impress. © PA

Serena Williams has completed her second ‘Serena Slam’ at Wimbledon, but Roger Federer fell just short of a historic eighth title. Should we root for legends or underdogs?

Roger Federer fell to his knees and broke down in tears. He had outplayed Australia’s Mark Philippoussis to win the men’s title at Wimbledon at the age of 21. The day before, Serena Williams had beaten her sister Venus in three sets to win the women’s contest for the second time.

The two newly-crowned singles champions of tennis’s oldest tournament appeared destined for greatness in 2003. But for both of them to be back on Centre Court this weekend, 12 years on, each seeking to set records, was remarkable.

On Saturday, Williams beat Spaniard Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-4 to win her sixth Wimbledon title and seal a ‘Serena Slam’ for the second time, meaning she now holds all four Grand Slam titles. She also became the oldest female winner of a major title in the Open era. At the US Open later this summer, she will seek to equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams and to emulate her achievement of winning all four in the same year.

On the following day Federer, whose performance to knock out Andy Murray in the semi-finals was acclaimed as one of his best ever, encountered heartbreak, as world number one Novak Djokovic defeated him in four sets. The record eighth Wimbledon title which he seeks may prove elusive.

But by reaching their respective finals Williams and Federer, both of whom are approaching their 34th birthdays, triumphed not only against opponents, but also against age. Tennis can rapidly become a cruel game in this regard: even Pete Sampras, who set the record of seven Wimbledon titles which Federer was seeking to break, won the last of them at 28 — Djokovic’s current age.

Williams currently reigns peerless among tennis’s women, but intense rivalry exists at the top of the men’s game. Djokovic has now defeated Federer in tight Wimbledon finals for two years in a row. And only six of the last 42 Grand Slam tournaments (since the 2005 French Open) have been won by anyone other than those two or Rafael Nadal.

Same old winners, always boring?

For some, sports which are dominated by the same players and teams each year become boring. Jason Burt of the Telegraph, for example, says that football’s Premier League risks turning off viewers. If the same players and teams win again and again, fans have no true drama to captivate them. Sport’s greatest stories are told by its underdogs.

But Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail says that sport’s greatest, most memorable moments come when champions compete with each other. Watching Federer duel with Djokovic or Williams master all who come before her means being treated to the best that tennis has to offer. Fans should appreciate how privileged they are to witness such geniuses do battle for the biggest prizes.

You Decide

  1. Do sport’s greatest stories come from underdogs or repeated winners?
  2. Should we be concerned when a small number of people dominate their field?

Activities

  1. Write a 300-word summary of this year’s Wimbledon, to go on the back cover of a DVD of the tournament’s highlights which is due to be sold. Stress the most exciting reasons why people would want to watch it.
  2. Choose a successful person you admire (from any field and time in history). Prepare a presentation on why you admire them, explaining what you think their greatest qualities are and why.

Some People Say...

“It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.”

Mia Hamm

What do you think?

Q & A

Who might I be watching dominate tennis in a few years’ time?
Australian Nick Kyrgios is currently the highest-ranked man under the age of 21, but he was booed by the Wimbledon crowd during his defeat by Richard Gasquet this year as he appeared to stop trying at one point. 18-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia may also be worth watching out for. Among the women, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada and Elina Svitolina of Ukraine are both seen as potential stars.
How might sport be made more competitive?
This is easier in team sports; for example, in the US, sports such as baseball and basketball operate an end of season draft, where the weakest teams are allowed to pick the best new players. In individual sports, small changes may be made to the equipment used or the playing surface conditions.

Word Watch

Tennis’s oldest tournament
The first Championships were hosted by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 1877, though women were not invited to play until 1884. The first final attracted a crowd of just 200 people, with the game of lawn tennis (an offshoot of the indoor version) still a relative novelty.
Grand Slam
Tennis’s Grand Slams are made up of Wimbledon and the Australian, French and US Opens.
Novak Djokovic defeated him
Djokovic won 7-6 6-7 6-4 6-3, claiming his third Wimbledon title in the process.
Williams currently reigns peerless
She has now won six Wimbledons, six US Opens, six Australian Opens and three French Opens. She has lost only four out of 25 finals in Grand Slam tournaments throughout her career.
Six of the last 42 Grand Slam tournaments
Andy Murray won the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013, Stanislas Wawrinka has recently added a surprise win in the French Open to his Australian Open title from last year; and Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro have won US Opens. But in the same period, Nadal has won 14 Grand Slams, Federer 13 and Djokovic eight.

Subjects