Wimbledon-Memorable Experiences

Each of the Grand Slam tournaments – Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open – are designated “Majors” and it’s easy to see why. Each is played on a distinct surface in locations filled with history. Each has a feeling, or perhaps it could be called a personality that make it unique. But, only Wimbledon has standalone status – it is, after all, known as The Championships.

Coco Vandeweghe  Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Coco Vandeweghe
Photo Susan Mullane _ camerawork usa

Many players, who were either born in the section or live and train in the area, left the All England Lawn Tennis Club with memorable experiences. Kayla Day and Claire Liu made their Wimbledon Girls’ introductions, and both won their opening matches, that made July 4th, the day they played, an exceptionally good one, even without fireworks. Liu surely will not forget spending two hours and twenty-five minutes on the court, and being down a match point, before overcoming Evgeniya Levashova of Russia, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, in the second round.

Fanni Stollar of Hungary, the No. 11 seed, edged Day, in her second match, 7-5, 7-5. Tornado Alicia Black, the 2013 US Open Girls’ finalist who has been playing on the pro circuit, defeated Liu, 6-3, 6-2, in the third round.

Taylor Fritz  Photo Fred Mullane _ camerawork usa

Taylor Fritz
Photo Fred Mullane _ camerawork usa

In London, Day and Liu, who have both trained at the USTA Center in Carson, were guided by Mike Gennette, the distinguished Cal Lutheran men’s tennis coach. “Claire got to the round of sixteen in singles, and with Michaela Gordon (of Los Altos Hills) did the same in doubles,” he said. “Kayla won her first Wimbledon match and with Monika Kilnarova (Czech Republic), was in the round of sixteen in doubles. I’m sure the experience of playing here was 2valuable and will help them, a great deal, in the future.”

Taylor Fritz made his inaugural tournament appearance in 2014. As he recalled, “Last year was a breakthrough. I wasn’t even supposed to get into Wimbledon, but I did well at Roehampton, (He was a semifinalist at the International Tennis Federation tournament the week before.), and received a Special Exempt. I think, by the end, I showed that grass is my best surface.” (Last year, he dropped a 6-4, 6-2 semifinal decision, to the eventual tournament winner, Noah Rubin of Rockville Centre, New York.)

As the Boys’ top seed, and ranked No.1 by the ITF, Fritz made it clear, from the beginning, winning the singles was his goal. Unfortunately, he faced Reilly Opelka of Palm Coast, Florida in the 2015 Boys’ semifinals. Opelka, (whose serve makes him the second coming of John Isner), is six feet, ten inches tall and has an inch on Isner. He surprised Fritz, 6-3, 7-6. The match was as closely contested as the Tie-Break, which ended the contest at 13-11.

Opelka, followed Rubin’s “defeat Fritz and win the tournament” formula, becoming the second consecutive US junior to take the Wimbledon title. He stopped Mikael Ymer of Sweden, 7-6, 6-4, in the final. After the victory, he pointed out, “I didn’t play well in the first round. I wasn’t happy with how I played. I think I started to get more confidence after my second round win. I started to find my game. By the time I played Taylor, I was pretty high on confidence going into the match, which is why I was able to play really well there. I transferred that over to today’s match.”

Claire Liu  Photo Wen Liu

Claire Liu
Photo Wen Liu

Fritz also lost a doubles semifinal to Opelka. Teaming with Michael Mmoh of Temple Hills, Maryland, he finished on the short end of a 6-3, 6-4 decision against the Floridian and his partner, Akira Santillan, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, but plays for Japan. (Nam Hoang Ly of Vietnam and Sumit Nagal of India downed Opelka and Santillan, 7-6, 6-4, in the trophy round.)
After the singles defeat, Kathy May Fritz, (his mother, a former Top 10 WTA competitor), offered, “It was a tough loss for him. Reilly came out firing, playing like he had nothing to lose. Taylor wasn’t ready for that and that is his fault. Hopefully, he will learn from this. You always have to be prepared for everything and anything.

“Taylor was always on the defense in the first set. Reilly was moving him side to side, and Taylor wasn’t moving him. Taylor had chances in the Tie-Break, but didn’t capitalize. He fought really hard and I have a lot of respect for that. He was extremely upset that he lost, but you learn from your losses and, hopefully, this was a good lesson.”

Because of his almost boundless potential, the seventeen-year-old Fritz was in the media spotlight. Affable and very bright, with an extremely high tennis IQ, he was completely at ease dealing with a wide range of Wimbledon situations. This was very apparent as he segued from doing an ESPN photo shoot to hitting with seventeen-time Grand Slam tournament winner, Roger Federer, who was duly impressed with the Roland Garros Simple Garcons finalist’s potential.

Kayla Day  Photo Mark Winters

Kayla Day
Photo Mark Winters

The junior competition is played during the second week of The Championships, but Coco Vandeweghe, for the first time in her career, was among the Ladies’, (not the juniors), who were competing. The Rancho Santa Fe resident was still on the lawns because she was dazzling, defeating Karolina Pliskova and Lucie Safarova, the No. 11 and No. 6 seeds both from the Czech Republic. Her 7-6, 7-6 victory over Safarova put her in the quarterfinals against Maria Sharapova.

It took Sharapova, the No. 4 seed, almost three hours to earn a 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 victory. After playing on Centre Court, Vandeweghe said, “It’s been a long two weeks, playing singles and doubles here (with Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany). So I’m happy with my progress through the tournament, and I’m happy with the whole experience of it.”

Comfortable, dealing with the diversity of questions she faced after matches, Vandeweghe added, “I came out there (Centre Court), and I was definitely a bit shaky. I was a bit nervous, as you probably would be for your first time, going out on any main stadium.”

Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears didn’t exhibit any nerves dispatching the Australian and Roland Garros champions, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Safarova, 6-3, 6-2, ending their hopes of winning a doubles Grand Slam this year. The veteran Cal-UCLA partnership was defeated in the semifinals by Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza, the Switzerland/India combo who ended up winning the Ladies Doubles.
Jelena Jankovic, the Serbian with a home in San Diego, was too good for last year’s champion, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, scoring an emotionally pleasing win, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. But, in the fourth round, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, edged Jankovic, 7-5, 6-4, then defeated Madison Keys, who Lindsay Davenport and Jonathan Leach assist, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3.
Keys, after the quarterfinal match, said, “I think I’m most pleased with the fact there were times, in matches, when I wasn’t playing my best, but I was able to figure out how to win. I am definitely disappointed that I wasn’t able to win the points that I needed to win today.”

Following her 6-4, 6-4 fourth round loss to Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, Caroline Wozniacki discussed working with Davenport in the future. “We were talking,” the Dane said. “She came down to watch me play. The last match she was in my box, and this match as well. We’re going to hang out after Wimbledon. I’m going to go to L.A. and spend some time with her there.”

With Muguruza there is also a Southern California connection, although it is somewhat oblique. Alejo Mancisidor, her coach, was a two-time All-American, playing for Allen Fox, at Pepperdine, in 1990 and ’91. His charge battled Serena Williams, in the Ladies final, before losing 6-4, 6-4. Williams, who learned the game at the LA84 Foundation/NJTL Program in Compton, waltzed past Sharapova in the semifinals. With her victory over Muguruza, Williams claimed her sixth Wimbledon title. In addition, it was her twenty-first major, and her second Serena Slam, having won this year’s Australian Open, Roland Garros and now, Wimbledon to combine with the 2014 US Open title.

Players with Southern California connections were in the forefront of much of what took place at the 129th edition of Wimbledon, which means they each were involved in making it – The Championships. And, the section played a huge part in preparing these individuals for one of the game’s biggest stages

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark Thoughts”

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