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2017 Wimbledon review | Different roads led to the same destination

The 2017 Wimbledon singles champions Roger Federer of Switzerland and Garbine Muguruza of Spain pose with their trophies at the Champions Dinner at The Guildhall in London, early Monday July 17, 2017. (Thomas Lovelock/AELTC, Pool via AP)
Thomas Lovelock/AELTC, Pool via AP

The 2017 men’s and women’s singles tournaments at Wimbledon produced champions at different ends of the tennis spectrum.

The women’s event crowned Garbine Muguruza as a second-time major champion at age 23. Muguruza has only four titles to her credit; half are majors. This championship for the Venezuelan-born Spanish citizen came one month after 20-year-old Jelena “Alona” Ostapenko won her first title of any kind at the French Open, making the Latvian the first player to win title No. 1 at a major since Gustavo Kuerten in 1997.

The men’s tournament at Wimbledon did not crown a second-time major champion. Marin Cilic fell short in his bid to replicate Muguruza’s “do it again” title. The victor was not a fresh face in her early 20s, but a man who turns 36 on Aug. 8, the oldest Wimbledon men’s singles champion of the Open era of professional tennis, which dates to 1968. This champion collected an eighth Wimbledon and a 19th major crown.

Champions on opposite sides of the tracks hardly represented the only ways in which the women and men of Wimbledon took different paths this July. The quality of the two events offered another huge contrast.

The women — as they did a month earlier at the French Open — dazzled despite the absences of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Women’s tennis continues to prove that a comparative lack of superstars has no inherent relationship to the caliber of tennis over a major-tournament fortnight.

Jo Konta-Donna Vekic (second round), Konta-Caroline Garcia (fourth round), Konta-Simona Halep (quarterfinals), Magdalena Rybarikova-Karolina Pliskova (second round), and the match of the tournament, Muguruza-Angelique Kerber (fourth round), were just some of the gripping and memorable contests created by the members of the WTA Tour. The first sets of Venus Williams’ final two matches — the semifinal win over Konta and the loss in the final to Muguruza — featured excellent tennis before the second sets became runaways won by the player who took the first set.

Women’s tennis offered a buffet of tastes and flavors far more substantial than the simple serving of strawberries and cream which is a Wimbledon staple.

The men? Strawberries and cream were sometimes more flavorful than the tennis served up by the ATP Tour stars.

Yes, Gilles Muller denied Rafael Nadal’s dreams in the fourth round — 15-13 in the fifth set, giving Wimbledon a classic match. At four hours and 48 minutes, the duration matched the seminal 2008 men’s final between Nadal and Roger Federer. Muller’s subsequent five-set quarterfinal loss to Cilic, and portions of Cilic’s semifinal win over American Sam Querrey, were also compelling. Querrey’s fourth-round win over Kevin Anderson was a thriller through four sets before Querrey busted through in the fifth.

That was about it for the men — not as a statement of fault or blame, but simply as a reflection of the quality on display. Very few matches involved two men playing really well at the same time. A big reason for the depleted men’s tournament was the spate of physical impairments which washed over big names. Cilic suffered a blister in the final on Sunday; before that Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray exited in the quarterfinals because their bodies betrayed them. Stan Wawrinka was hampered in the first round — he could not escape defeat at the one major tournament he hasn’t won. His dreams of a career Grand Slam will have to wait until 2018 at SW19.

The women and the men of Wimbledon created two very different 128-player tournaments over the past two weeks. On the surface, this would seemingly suggest that the lessons of each tournament were — and are — profoundly different.

Yet, in tune with the complexities and counterintuitive realities of life, these distinct dramas led to the same final destination on the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

That destination — to be explained below — is simply this: While one championship at one tournament (especially the most famous tournament in the world) is its own very great reward, the greatest reputations are forged by players who cultivate and maintain long-term consistency.

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Muguruza is the female version of what Stan Wawrinka (though he’s 32 and she’s 23) is for the men. Muguruza is wildly inconsistent over the course of a full 10- or 11-month season, but at one major tournament per year, she embraces the bright lights and the big stage. She plays her way into form during the first week and tears through the field in the second week to either make a final or lift a trophy.

Wawrinka has made one — and only one — major final in each of the past four years, winning three of those four matches. Muguruza has made one and only one major final in each of the past three seasons, winning two of her three championship duels. Both players are forging Hall of Fame-level careers, and yet their volatility leaves the impression that they are leaving — and have left — a lot of riches on the table. Muguruza and Wawrinka tower over many peers, yet still create a sense of “what might have been,” especially for the older Wawrinka. Muguruza, still very young, has ample time to forge a career which is not merely successful, but iconic.

The point about consistency remains, however, and it was fleshed out by the player Muguruza defeated in the Wimbledon final on Saturday. It is exemplified even more fully by the man she danced with Sunday night at the Wimbledon Champions’ Ball.

Venus Williams and Roger Federer have both made two major finals this year, at ages (37 for Venus, 35 for Federer) when tennis players generally aren’t supposed to do that. Venus might have “only” (emphasize the quote marks) seven major singles titles, but she has won a truckload of doubles titles with younger sister Serena. Moreover, without Serena getting in her way at many Grand Slam events, Venus’s major singles title count would probably be close to 15 today.

Venus is a beacon of consistency, fueled by an undying love of not just tennis, but the process of tennis — the travel, the training, the practice, the pressure. She made this latest Wimbledon final a full 17 years (!!!) after her first Wimbledon final. Venus hasn’t won either of her major finals this year, but that’s a minor detail in a larger context. Her achievements remain astonishing, and astonishing feats can’t be forged without supreme concentration, poise and preparation. A 37-year-old can’t bluff her way through a Wimbledon draw, whereas an in-prime 25-year-old can get by solely on the basis of overwhelming talent and athleticism.

Muguruza might have beaten Venus, but the older Williams sister in many ways leaves suburban London as the player who still has more to teach her conqueror.

Then consider the men’s champion, Federer. There is no better example in tennis of how consistency leads to legendary achievement.

It’s true that he didn’t have to play Nadal or Djokovic or Murray or Wawrinka at this tournament. He won a major without playing a top-five player for the first time since Wimbledon in 2009.

It’s true that the Cilic blister affected the final. It’s true that opponents Grigor Dimitrov (fourth round) and Milos Raonic (quarterfinals) played poorly against Federer, turning an imposing draw on paper into a paper-tiger draw in reality.

It’s true that Federer never encountered the A-game of any opponent for more than one set over the course of seven matches. This tournament felt like the same extended coronation on grass which Nadal experienced on clay at the French Open a month earlier. In a 2017 season marked by the physical discomfort of Murray and Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have stepped into the gap. Roger and Rafa have inverted the 2016 pattern in which Djokovic and Murray ruled the roost while Federer and Nadal battled injuries and (in Nadal’s case) less than complete confidence.

Yes, Federer’s Wimbledon title did not stretch him to the limit of his abilities. This could, on the surface, make his latest title seem ordinary. (In some ways, it was.)

Yet, this is where the lesson — and the value — of consistency can be appreciated in full.

Think of the Biblical story of the persistent widow who keeps knocking on the judge’s door, appealing for justice.

Think of the grunt worker who always shows up five minutes early for work, always does more than the minimum, always tries to help the office run smoothly, day after day and week after week, trying to move up in the company.

Think of a young person who always sends a kind note or makes a small gesture of appreciation to a person s/he loves.

Doing the right thing — or the beautiful thing, or the professional thing — on a relentlessly consistent basis might not win respect or bear fruit on Day 1, but over a few months or a year, it can break through.

The judge relents.

The worker gets a promotion and becomes the next corporate star 20 years later.

Young love is finally reciprocated, leading to a 55-year marriage.

Roger Federer has done a lot of winning in his day, but since his 16th major title at the 2010 Australian Open, he hadn’t won many majors. That period was in many ways a struggle, but in many other ways, it wasn’t.

Federer was still making semifinals and finals of many of those big tournaments. He has reached the semifinals of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open five times apiece after turning 30. He has made two U.S. Open semifinals and one final after turning 30. Though not crossing the final threshold, Federer kept putting himself close to it. Djokovic or Nadal regularly stopped him, but he kept knocking on the door. He kept sending those notes.

Logic — found in the simple fact that Federer is five years older than Nadal, six older than Djokovic — suggested that if anyone’s body would give out first, it would be Federer’s.

Yet, he’s healthy. Coaches Severin Luthi and Ivan Ljubicic have helped him with a plan of attack and on-court clarity, but fitness trainer Pierre Paganini — arguably the most important sports consultant/coach/trainer Americans have never heard of — has given Federer the foundation of fitness needed to remain fresh near age 36.

A full 14 years — yes, 14 — since his first Wimbledon title in 2003, Federer has won again at The Big W. His consistency — being at the door of the semifinals or finals, waiting for good fortune to come his way after so many losses to Nadal and Djokovic — was rewarded. His perseverance and staying power over 14 years were rewarded.

Viewed in isolation, Federer’s relatively routine 2017 Wimbledon title does seem ordinary. When one realizes that in many ways, it was and is a title 14 years in the making, it ceases to be ordinary.

If Garbine Muguruza can absorb this story and learn why consistency matters, she might get to celebrate the 19th major title Roger Federer is cherishing this week … and will treasure for a long time.

That, in a nutshell, is how the very different women’s and men’s tournaments at Wimbledon in 2017 arrive at the same basic endpoint.

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