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What we learned from Wimbledon 2021, and what to expect moving forward

Novak Djokovic won his record-tying 20th major title and Ashleigh Barty made her childhood dream come true by taking home her first Wimbledon trophy. It was a monumental tournament for both players, who currently own the world’s No. 1 rankings, and an eventful fortnight at the All England Club.

Here’s what we learned from the year’s third major — and what we have to look forward to heading into the Olympic Games and the US Open.

Make room, Roger and Rafa

The GOAT race is officially on.

With his 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 win over Matteo Berrettini in the final, Djokovic earned his 20th major title, joining Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most ever by a man.

Federer was quick to welcome him to the elusive club moments after the match.

After he won, Djokovic credited the two for making him into the player he is today.

“I have to pay great tribute to Rafa and Roger,” Djokovic said. “They are legends of our sport and they are the two most important players that I ever faced in my career. … They’ve helped me realize what I need to do to improve, to get stronger mentally, physically, tactically.”

Now it’s up to one of the Big Three to set himself apart with a record-breaking major title No. 21. So, what exactly does that mean to Djokovic?

“It means none of us three will stop,” Djokovic said with a laugh. “That’s what I think it means.”

But it seems Djokovic will be the favorite of the bunch as he is still firmly in his prime and Federer and Nadal have shown signs of vulnerability as of late.

While he said his status for the Olympics remains undetermined, there is a substantial amount of history to be made if Djokovic does go. A gold medal would put him one major away from completing the Golden Slam — something only Steffi Graf has accomplished. It is also one of the few remaining titles he has yet to win. He took home a bronze medal in 2008 but has never made it to the Olympic final in three appearances.

No matter what he decides or how he fares if he chooses to go, Djokovic enters the US Open with a chance to complete the calendar slam and join Rod Laver (1968) as the only men in the Open era to achieve such a feat. Graf (1988) and Margaret Court (1970) are the only women to have done it. In 2015, Serena Williams won the first three majors, but she lost in the semifinals in New York.

So, yeah, Djokovic will have a number of opportunities to cement his name in the record books throughout the rest of the 2021 season — and beyond — to bolster his case for the greatest ever.

“I consider myself [the] best and I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking confidently about winning Slams and making history,” Djokovic said on Sunday. “But whether I’m the greatest of all time or not, I leave that debate to other people.”

Knocking on the door

While Djokovic remains the man to beat and has been the most dominant player on every surface this season, he has faced three opponents not named Federer or Nadal in his major finals this year who have all shown flashes of brilliance.

Berrettini, 25, stunned Djokovic by taking the opening set on Sunday after initially falling into a 5-2 hole. Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22, took the first two sets against Djokovic in the final at Roland Garros. Daniil Medvedev, 25, didn’t bring his best level in the Australian Open final, but he has now made two major finals and took over the No. 2 ranking this year. Including a handful of other young players, including Wimbledon semifinalists Denis Shapovalov and Hubert Hurkacz, the next generation seems poised for a breakthrough in the near future.

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Matteo Berrettini completes a comeback to take the first set from Novak Djokovic.

After Djokovic said Federer and Nadal made him a better player, seven-time major champion and ESPN analyst John McEnroe speculated if someone like Berrettini could take a similar lesson from Sunday’s loss.

“Can he look at someone like Djokovic and learn what he needs to do to improve?” McEnroe asked on the broadcast. “The way that Novak learned from Roger and Rafa — that is the key. What players will step up and understand what it takes and do what it takes?”

Players under 30 are a combined 0-8 in major finals against the Big Three, but nothing lasts forever, right?

Barty time!

After she injured her hip ahead of the French Open and had to retire from her second-round match at Roland Garros, expectations were tempered for Barty, the world No. 1, leading into Wimbledon. She spoke openly about how much the title would mean to her — she even wore a scallop-hemmed skirt to commemorate the 50th anniversary of fellow Indigenous Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s first Wimbledon title throughout the fortnight — but had previously never advanced past the fourth round at the All England Club and needed three sets in her opener against Carla Suarez Navarro.

As she progressed through the tournament, however, Barty’s level rose, and she claimed her second major title and first at Wimbledon with a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 win over Karolina Pliskova on Saturday.

“To be able to be successful here at Wimbledon, to achieve my biggest dream, has been absolutely incredible,” Barty said after the win. “The stars aligned for me over the past fortnight. Incredible that it happened to fall on the 50th anniversary of Evonne’s first title here, too.”

Barty, who increased her dominant hold of the top ranking with the victory, is one of three women to have claimed multiple Grand Slam titles since the start of the 2017 season, alongside Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep. While Osaka has proved she is the best player on hard courts on tour, Barty might have joined her in the upper ranks of the WTA’s elite with her all-surface prowess. She will certainly be in the contender conversation going into the Olympics and US Open.

Expect the unexpected … or not?

On paper, the No. 1 seed winning the Wimbledon title would not be surprising. Nor would three seeded players, including two in the top 10 and one former champion, making the semifinals. But women’s tennis has defied expectations as of late, and unpredictable contenders have become a common theme. There were four first-time major semifinalists at the French Open just last month.

What can we take from the return to the expected at the All England Club and what does it mean going forward?

Likely not much.

While the depth in the women’s game is unprecedented and there’s more parity and opportunities for upsets, the top players will always have the best chance to contend. Not to mention, very few had a chance to play on the grass in the nearly two years following the cancellation of the 2020 event and grass-court season, making the experience of the tour’s veterans all the more valuable throughout the fortnight.

It will be fascinating to see who steps up — and who doesn’t — during the US Open hard-court series and the year’s final major. Angelique Kerber, who lost in the semifinals to Barty, said every event at this point is wide open.

“[In] women’s tennis right now, I think there’s such a big chance for everyone,” Kerber said after her quarterfinal win. “Doesn’t matter which tournament, you have to be ready from the first round.”

Father Time remains undefeated

Serena Williams and Roger Federer both entered the tournament with high hopes and expectations. Many considered Wimbledon the best chance the pair of 39-year-olds had at winning another major as it had been the site of several of their titles over the years (seven for Williams, eight for Federer).

Neither walked away with their desired result.

Williams slipped during her first-round match and injured her right leg. She was forced to retire from the match at 3-all in the first set and left the court in tears after sharing an emotional moment with the crowd. Federer, who was playing in his fifth event after being sidelined for over a year following two knee surgeries, made it to the quarterfinals before falling to Hurkacz in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-0. Williams did not speak to the media following her disappointing exit but Federer did, and he was candid when asked if this had been his final Wimbledon.

“I don’t know,” Federer said. “I really don’t know. I got to regroup. … I’m actually very happy I made it as far as I did here and I actually was able to play Wimbledon at the level that I did after everything I went through.

“Of course I would like to play it again, but at my age you’re just never sure what’s around the corner.”

Federer is still listed as part of Switzerland’s team for the Olympics, but was noncommittal after his loss and said he needed time to decide. Williams announced she would not be playing prior to Wimbledon.

There now remain more questions than answers for both players, starting with: Where will they play next? And how much longer will we be able to see both of these legends compete?

There was a full crowd!

Centre Court held capacity crowds from the quarterfinals on, making Wimbledon the first major to do so since the start of the pandemic. Needless to say, it was a welcome sight — and sound — for players and those watching at home. Djokovic called the atmosphere during the final “electric.”

Ons Jabeur, who lost against Aryna Sabalenka in her quarterfinal match, expressed how much the full crowd meant to her even in defeat.

“I love playing here,” Jabeur said. “I love the energy. I always say that the British crowd is amazing. Even if you play a British girl they always like supporting, but respectfully, which is amazing here. I love that about them.

“I love how the Centre [Court] was full. I love how people are encouraging both sides. I think Wimbledon is one of my favorite Grand Slams right now.”

The Olympics recently announced it will not be allowing spectators, but the US Open is expecting 100% of capacity for the duration of the tournament. It will be the first Grand Slam to have full attendance since the 2020 Australian Open. The 2020 US Open had no fans on site.

Next stop: Tokyo

The next event for many players is the pandemic-delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo. A number of stars are opting out, including Williams, Halep, Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Sofia Kenin and Nick Kyrgios, but the nine-day competition will still be packed with big names and highlight-worthy tennis in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

Andy Murray, who reached the third round at Wimbledon, is the reigning gold medalist in men’s singles, and he will look to defend his title. Monica Puig, the women’s singles champion, will not be playing after undergoing shoulder surgery. All four of the women’s semifinalists at Wimbledon, and three of the four men, are slated to participate.

While Djokovic’s attempt for the Golden Slam will receive a fair share of the tennis attention at the Games if he decides to go, Osaka’s return to competition after withdrawing ahead of her second-round match at the French Open and skipping Wimbledon will be another headline generator.

Since she won her first major title at the US Open in 2018, Osaka had been considered one of the biggest stars to watch for at the Olympics as she represents Japan. And though it will have been nearly two months since she last played a match, she remains a favorite for a medal as the event is on a hard-court surface.

Singles and doubles begin on July 24, and mixed doubles gets underway on July 28. The medal matches will be held July 30 through Aug. 1.



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