July 29, 2015

A Shot at the Spotlight

With the women's start of the U.S. Open Series still a few days away, this isn't a huge week for the ladies of tennis -- in fact no one in the top forty is playing either of the two WTA level events being held this week*. But that doesn't mean the players on court don't have a big chance to make a name for themselves -- a couple who've earned seeds for the first time in their careers have a shot at shining as a favorite, while others, out to take advantage while the cats are away, could really tear some big holes in the draws.

At the Brasil Cup in Florianopolis, a talented Tatjana Maria -- she beat Genie Bouchard in Miami -- took the top seed, but was ousted by often overlooked Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor. The winning Spaniard has struggled a bit since breaking the seal last year in Marrakech, but with a quarterfinal set against an on-the-mend Anastasia Sevastova, stands a good shot at making a run to at least the final four. Her bigger threat lies a little ways down the road, when she's slated to meet fourth seed Teliana Pereira in the semis. The Brazilian put together a nice win streak on clay earlier in the year, following up an ITF trophy in Medellin with a Tour title in Bogota. Just a hair off her best ranking, she's gotten wins over Tamira Paszek, Francesca Schiavone and Elina Svitolina already this year, and could have homefield advantage during her run here. But perhaps the best opportunity lies with Germany's Annika Beck -- the twenty-one year old, who picked up her first championship in Luxembourg last year, has had some ups and down this year, but she took a set off Simona Halep in Shenzhen and stunned Aga Radwanska in her French Open first round. No one in her half of the draw has a singles crown to her name -- fifth seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands may have won a couple Major doubles, but she's still in triple digits on her own -- and with everyone expected to beat her already out of contention, Beck might just be able to ride the wave to a title.

Things have been even more interesting in Baku, where former Grand Slam champ Francesca Schiavone and last year's Aussie finalist had the potential to outplay their sub-fifty rankings and get their years back on track -- but neither was able to make it out of the first round. Instead Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is left to carry the torch for the favorites -- the top seed has fallen to #42 in the world on the heels of a couple early exits at the Majors and only one quarterfinal showing so far this year. And there will be plenty of players out there looking to keep her from advancing much farther -- Donna Vekic, last year's titleist in Kuala Lumpur, has been trying to recapture that glory all year long, playing qualifying rounds at ITF events and falling well out of the top hundred, but she opened her run in Azerbaijan with a win over Schiavone and followed up with a win over Lin Zhu. She'll face one of two qualifiers in the next round, though, and if she's back in form could make a nice Cinderella run here. And Russia's Alexandra Panova, who came oh-so-close to defeating Maria Sharapova in Melbourne, could make a run here too -- after beating doubles specialist Andrea Hlavackova earlier today, she'll likely face feisty Nürnberg champ Karin Knapp in the quarters. The Italian is far from an easy mark, but she's played a lot of tennis recently and Panova might just be able to take advantage.

While the spoils may not seem that great at these lesser-profile events, with the fields as wide open as they are, there's no denying that there's a lot of opportunity for everyone in the running. And whoever can take advantage might just set herself up for some even bigger rewards down the road.

* World #25 Jelena Jankovic has the top seed at a 125K event in Nanching. The second seed there is #66 Saisai Zheng, and number three is ranked out of the top hundred. While she certainly could be tested this week, it seems pretty important that she walk away with a trophy.

July 27, 2015

Breakthroughs and Comebacks

It seems to be a common occurrence in the weeks right after a Major, where the pressure is a little off, that we see players who've been struggling with form come out swinging. And yesterday we saw a couple champions crowned after what seems like a long, long time out of the spotlight, and, in come cases, completely out of contention.

We've seen Bernard Tomic climb and fall in the rankings -- and in life -- for years, surging into the low twenties after a Cinderella run to the Wimbledon quarters four years ago, dropping well out of the top hundred at this time last year, and grabbing as many headlines for his off-court behavior as for his play. But despite all the distractions, the one-time Australian wünderkind came to Bogota to defend a title at near his highest career ranking. He wasn't without his challenges though -- the second seed dropped sets against little-known Adrian Menendez-Maceiras and triple-digit ranked Michael Berrer, and even was tested by underrated Adrian Mannarino in the final. The Frenchman, who'd avenged a loss to Newport champion Rajeev Ram in his opener and scored a huge win over big-serving Ivo Karlovic in the semis, was able to push Tomic to a third set, but ultimately succumbed. Tomic's win gives him his third career title but may have also proved he's an even bigger threat when he seems most down-and-out.

Sam Stosur had climbed even higher than her compatriot during her heyday, but the former Grand Slam champion has seemed well off her career best the last few months. She hadn't won more than three matches at any Major since 2012 and had spent most of this year ranked outside the top twenty. The thirty-one year old veteran had picked up a title in Strasbourg in May, but was pushed to a decider in her last three matches and didn't play a top-forty player during her campaign. On paper her draw in Bad Gastein may not have been much more intimidating, but she nevertheless did face off against some heavy-hitters -- she dropped just one game to recent star Klara Koukalova and ended Anna Schmiedlova's impressive run in the semis. In the final against Karin Knapp -- a woman who was playing her second double-header of the week, having taken out top seed Sara Errani earlier on Sunday -- she was arguably better rested, but nonetheless challenged again. The Italian won the first set and took the second to a tiebreak, but Stosur didn't give up -- she ploughed through the third set and come out the winner in the two and a half hour match. It earner her a eighth career title and pushed her back up to #21 in the world -- if she keeps it up on her favorite summer hard court season, the former U.S. Open titleist might just be able to make a case for another strong showing in New York.

Dominic Thiem is much earlier on in his career so doesn't have quite the same spoils to show for his efforts -- but the young Austrian is certainly coming into his own this year. He'd been a little quiet since breaking the title seal in Nice, winning just three matches between that and his trip to Umag last week, but the twenty-one year old was able to turn things around in Croatia. After winning his first two matches by retirement, he scored a solid comeback win against tournament favorite Gael Monfils, setting up a championship bout against barely unseeded Joao Sousa. The Portuguese workhorse had already taken out Andreas Seppi, Fabio Fognini and Roberto Bautista Agut on the way to his first final of the year and may have been a little spent by the time he met up against Thiem. The fourth seed powered through a tight first set, but then rolled over his opponent in the second for his third straight win over Sousa and his second crown of the year. Now at a career-high #24 in the world he may be in a position to really make a statement at the big events now -- and if he can put up the same kind of performances against the very top players, it won't be long before the more prestigious titles start coming too.

Elsewhere on Tour a couple players were trying to make their first big impressions on championship Sunday. Lesia Tsurenko had picked up a couple ITF titles during her career, but had never reached the final on the Big Girls' circuit. The twenty-six year old Ukrainian did make a great run to the Indian Wells quarterfinals with wins over Genie Bouchard and Andrea Petkovic to name a few, but only won three matches since then and was ranked outside the top seventy when she hit the courts in Istanbul. That didn't seem to phase her much, though -- after taking out a tough Daria Gavrilova in her opener, she trounced both Daniela Hantuchova and Kirsten Flipkens. Meanwhile Urszula Radwanska, well off her career best since dealing with a slew of injuries the last few seasons, was also going for her first title -- she'd made the final in Den Bosch three years ago -- and stood a pretty good shot at picking one up earlier in 2015 than her more decorated older sister. She'd taken out Jelena Jankovic to start and then powered past a strong Tsvetana Pironkova in the quarters. She put up a fight too on Sunday, but Tsurenko proved the more ready -- after a 7-5 first set, she ran away with the second, closing out the match in just over ninety minutes. The win rocketed her into the top fifty for the first time in her career may just make others sit up and take notice the next time she takes the court.

Up in Bastad a one-time top-thirty player was trying to prove he's still worth paying attention to. Benoit Paire had topped out at #24 in the world early last year but since dropping into the triple digits spent a lot of time this season on the Challengers' and Futures circuit. He did manage a win over Fabio Fognini at the French Open and over Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon, but he came to the Swedish Open an unseeded #62. Still, he impressively stopped David Goffin, who was coming off quite a successful Davis Cup showing over the weekend, and then took out an often overlooked Pablo Cuevas in the semis. His biggest test waited for him in the final, though, where veteran Tommy Robredo was seeking his third crown at this event. With a much lower ranking and having lost the pair's only previous meeting -- and, not unimportantly, playing his first career championship match -- Paire was a heavy underdog. But he didn't let that trouble him -- after eking out the opening set in a tight tiebreak, he scored the only break of the match in the second and clinched the first really big win of his career. Now back in the top fifty, he's still well off his best. But after seeing him finally power through a draw like he did last week, he might finally be able to push his way higher.

July 21, 2015

Some Strong Statements: Davis Cup Quarterfinal Recap

I was admittedly a little behind the eight ball last week and almost entirely missed the action as a couple countries vied for the semifinal spots in this year's Davis Cup World Group. But despite my lack of attention, there was a ton to talk about this weekend -- from stunning comebacks to one-sided drubbings we saw heavy favorites be shown the exit and some long counted out emerge as real forces. And the teams left standing at the end may not have been the ones you expected.

France vs. Great Britain

Despite its long history and legendary athletes, Great Britain hasn't been much of a force in the World Group for a while -- they'd been relegated to regional play for years, and after finally winning a playoff tie in 2013, they lost in the quarterfinals to Italy last season. And while they faced an intimidating opponent over the weekend -- three top fifteen players, including Wimbledon semifinalist Richard Gasquet, helmed the French squad -- they brought some firepower of their own. After Gilles Simon gave France an early lead, world #3 Andy Murray came out swinging against an always-tough Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, narrowly winning the first two sets before running away with the third. Murray then teamed with his older brother Jamie in the doubles rubber to give the Brits a 2-1 lead going into the final day of play. And while Simon put up a fight in the first reverse singles match, the two-time Grand Slam champion proved the stronger, rebounding after dropping the opening set and clinching the win in four. It sends the team to their first World Group semi since 1981, and maybe makes them a real favorite to take home the Cup.

Australia vs. Kazakhstan

Of course there are a couple ties left before the trophy is handed out, and if this weekend's performance is any indication, the ever-persistent Aussies continue to be a force. But somewhat surprisingly, despite a host of hot young stars, it was the veterans who ultimately delivered. Nineteen year old Thanasi Kokkinakis, who made his way to the Roland Garros third round, and 2014 upstart Nick Kyrgios, who stunned Milos Raonic this year at the All England Club, both lost their singles matches, putting the boys from Down Under at a 0-2 deficit to the Kazakhs by the end of Friday. But then the older guys stepped up to the plate -- big-serving Sam Groth and Lleyton Hewitt, likely playing his last few matches in Davis Cup, teamed up to get Australia on the board. And each dominated their singles turns, cementing an unlikely comeback late on Sunday. Whether they'll be able to repeat against Britain in the semis -- or whether the young guns will be able to step up to the plate this time -- remains to be seen. But it sure serves notice that the team can never be counted out.

Argentina vs. Serbia

Argentina, three times a runner-up for the Davis Cup crown in the last decade, was never in quite so precarious a situation this weekend, despite facing off against a tough Serbian team, themselves champions a few years ago. A couple of under-the-radar players -- Leonardo Mayer, barely in the top forty, and Federico Delbonis, ranked sixty-sixth in the world -- took advantage of an absent Novak Djokovic to give their country a 2-0 advantage heading into the weekend. And, maybe more impressively, Mayer teamed with Carlos Berlocq -- ranked now well in the triple digits -- to pull off a stunning defeat of 2014 comeback kid Viktor Troicki and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic and clinch the win on Saturday. Young Dusan Lajovic was able to get the Serbs on the board, avoiding a total shut-out, but it was too little, too late, and the South Americans were able to earn a trip back to the semifinals. And with decidedly more experience than their next opponents, they have a solid shot at continuing their run.

Canada vs. Belgium

But maybe the hugely underrated Belgians will put up a bigger fight than we expect. Playing in their first World Group quarterfinal in eight years, the team, which had dethroned the reigning champion Swiss in the first round, pulled no punches against the Canadians this weekend either. Giant-killer Steve Darcis came back after dropping the first set to give his country an early lead, while 2014 standout David Goffin easily handled Filip Peliwo in three sets. Without their top player Milos Raonic, Canada was certainly at a disadvantage, but even with the help of their own star veteran Daniel Nestor, a doubles titleist in Dubai and Sydney so far this year, they weren't able to make an impact and the Belgians swept over them with an astounding 5-0 score. Interestingly the Europeans do hold an edge over the Argentines in Davis Cup play -- they won the only tie the pair's ever contested way back in 1948 -- but with homefield advantage for September's semifinal tie, they might be able to ride their underdog status to a win again.

With a couple new faces getting themselves in the mix this year at Davis Cup, things really could get shaken up a bit as we come down to the wire. Whether highly-decorated stars add a long-missing honor to their resumé, or emerging talent makes a big statement for their country, it seems like we're in for a little more excitement than usual.

And whoever takes the opportunity to shine now could reap some big rewards.

July 20, 2015

When the Pressure's Off

Of course it's not that little known names or rising stars can never make a splash at the Grand Slams, but sometimes it helps when the spotlight's turned slightly away, allowing players who might have buckled a bit on the big stages a chance to redeem themselves. And this weekend, just seven days removed from the end of the latest Major, we saw a couple champions seem to easily shake off some less-than-stellar results from the previous fortnight.

Young Anna Schmiedlova has had some success at the high-profile events, and even picked up her maiden title in Katowice a few months ago. And though she did get a big upset over Timea Bacsinszky in Marrakech, this year she seemed to struggle when it really counted -- she dropped her opener in Roland Garros and at Wimbledon fell in straight sets to Cinderella Coco Vandeweghe. But she seemed to regroup on the clay of Bucharest -- still ranked outside the top sixty she managed a low seventh seed and, with Roberta Vinci and Julia Goerges both handed early exits, didn't have to face another favorite until the final. And even against top seed and former French Open runner-up Sara Errani in Sunday's championship she was unintimidated -- having lost to the world #19 earlier this year in Rio, the twenty-year-old this time got the upper hand in the tight two sets. Despite solid serving from her opponent and losing serve herself three times, Schmiedlova was able to close out the match in just over two hours, scoring her second career title and pushing herself up to her best yet ranking at #44. And if she can keep her confidence up, might just be poised to climb even higher.

Sweden's Johanna Larsson was a little farther off her best game when she took the court in Bastad. A finalist here twice before, she was still looking for the first trophy of her career. She'd made some nice runs this year, stunning Lucie Safarova in Miami and reaching the semis in Rio, but she'd also dropped a bunch of first rounds -- Daria Gavrilova in Paris, Christina McHale at the All England Club -- and came to her homeland's tournament at a #73 ranking. But that didn't stop her either -- she got a bit of a break with Serena Williams, the woman who beat her here in 2013, pulling out with an elbow injury and second seed Sam Stosur getting drubbed early, but she did get a solid win over last year's comeback kid Barbora Strycova on her way to the final. She was the underdog there, too, but again didn't let that get to her -- on Sunday against fourth seed Mona Barthel, a woman who'd won all three of their previous meetings, she grabbed the opening set and didn't look back. And to add to Larsson's success this weekend, not only did she break the seal on the singles' circuit, she picked up a doubles crown in Bastad as well. And at #46 in the world now, perhaps she can add more to that total.

Off the radar American Rajeev Ram, meanwhile, has had most of his success on the doubles tour, picking up eight titles with partners like Scott Lipsky and, most recently Raven Klassen. But he's struggled a bit more on his own -- since picking up his only previous trophy in Newport a full six years ago, he's spent most of his time in the triple-digit rankings and has only won three main draw matches at the Majors. This season, he's had some success on the Challenger's Tour, but was 0-0 when playing with the big boys and was down at a ranking of #161 in the world. A flip must've switched when he came back to the Hall of Fame tournament, though -- after taking out top seed John Isner in his opener, he scored big wins over Adrian Mannarino and Aussie upstart John-Patrick Smith. In the final against another big-server, last year's runner-up Ivo Karlovic, he was again the clear underdog, and even though he was the only one of the pair to drop serve during the match, after holding tough in both the first and third set tiebreaks, he was the one eventually crowned the winner. The win helped Ram nearly halve his ranking, but maybe more importantly proved he could still hit with the top dogs in this sport. And if he's planning to stay relevant past thirty-one years of age, making a statement like that could be huge.

Of course there's only a so much time before this weekend's winners are joined on the courts by the brightest stars, and only a few more weeks before the stakes are raised even higher. But hopefully their momentum will continue when the pressure gets turned up. Winning in the shadows of a Grand Slam event may do a little to boost confidence, but if they keep it up they might be able to accomplish so much more.

July 13, 2015

Wimbledon Wrap-Up: From Start to Finish

I'm back! And what a couple of weeks of tennis I missed, right? While the two champions at Wimbledon were just crowned over the weekend, plenty of others also showed us what they're made over over the past fortnight. We saw new stars emerge, a couple reaffirm their place in the elite, and -- not surprisingly -- a few stumble along the way. And while I can't hope to cover everything in this post, hopefully I'll be able to hit the highlights.

But since I've been gone a while, there's a lot to cover. So let's get right into it.

Early Upsets

Over the last couple years Wimbledon has become even more of a graveyard than Roland Garros, with even the super favorites being dealt amazing defeats way earlier than expected. And 2015 was no exception.

Now technically John Isner didn't suffer an upset at the All England Club -- ranked #17 in the world heading to London, his third round showing was just as well as he was expected to do -- still the top American may have squandered a big opportunity. After making a solid run to the quarterfinals at Queen's Club, he had a promising start to the event, winning his first two matches in straight sets -- breaks and everything. And though the first seed he faced was defending U.S. Open champ Marin Cilic, a man he'd lost to in all four of their previous meetings, he really had a chance to take advantage of the Croat's recent struggles. Clearly a fan of long matches, Isner fought back after losing the first and third sets and, in an eighty-three minute, twenty-two game decider, still managed to fire off fifteen aces and keep a seventy-plus first serve percentage. He did ultimately lose, of course, cutting short his hopes of reaching the second week of a Slam yet again, but perhaps he will be able to recover as he heads to home territory.

Feliciano Lopez's performance at Wimbledon may have been a bit more surprising. The traditionally strong grass court player was twice a quarterfinalist here and last year, on the heels of a final at the Aegon Championships and a title in Eastbourne, he managed to make his way to the fourth round and climb to a career-high ranking at thirty-two years of age. This year, though, he couldn't quite keep momentum going -- he only won two matches at lead-up lawn events and, despite pulling off a win over one-time giant-killer Steve Darcis in his opener, ran into a bit of trouble against unknown qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili in the second round. The eastern European Georgian, ranked #153 at the time and playing his first ever Major main draw, took the first set off the veteran Spaniard and kept his cool after being pushed to a fifth. Lopez, despite thirty-two aces, a blistering first serve percentage and, actually, more total points won, couldn't close out the match and put his chances of holing onto a spot in the sport's elite a little more at risk.

It might be a little too early to write off Rafael Nadal in the same way, but there can be no doubt the long-time world #1 has had some trouble playing at his best this season. Two times a champion at the All England Club, the Spaniard's showing here recently has been marked more by early exits than by big triumphs. And after losing his grip on the tournament he's owned for the past decade, you had to think -- even with a nice little title in Stuttgart to kick off the grass season -- it would be hard for him to make a big dent here. And the draw did not shake out in his favor -- while David Ferrer pulled out of the event with an elbow injury and third seed Andy Murray wouldn't loom until the quarterfinals, his biggest threat actually came much earlier than that. German qualifier Dustin Brown, who'd trounced Nadal last year in Halle, had little more trouble this time around, dropping a set, but still breaking four times for his second straight win. Heading into the summer hardcourt season, Rafa is just barely holding on to a top ten ranking, but if he doesn't get his game together soon, he may see an even bigger drop from here.

Maybe not too surprisingly the women's draw saw a few more higher-profile losses in the early days of the tournament. Simona Halep was one of my picks to take the whole event, and with five wins over top ten players in the last year it wasn't really a big ask for her do it. But the world #3 hasn't quite had the same momentum she did last summer -- after falling well short of last year's French Open performance, the 2015 Wimbledon semifinalist was stunned again in Birmingham by underrated Kristina Mladenovic. And she didn't seem to regroup in time for her next Slam campaign -- after taking a tight first set of Slovakia's Jana Cepelova, ranked in triple digits but certainly a capable, Halep couldn't quite hold on. In a match that consisted of fifteen service breaks, she made seven double faults, won just thirty percent of her second serves and committed thirty-four unforced errors. It was the young Romanian's first opening round loss at a Major in over two years, and while she certainly has plenty of time to recover over the coming weeks, pressure will certainly be on for her to repeat some of the stellar results we know she's capable of.

Genie Bouchard must be feeling even more pressure. The Canadian breakout star was riding high at this time last year, coming off her first Grand Slam final and a meteoric rise to #6 in the world. But she's struggled even more than Halep to keep her momentum going. A semifinalist at the first three Majors of 2014, she's gotten no more than one win at all but two of the events she's played this season. She came to Wimbledon on precarious ground, no doubt, but nevertheless few would have expected the showing we got. Against qualifier Ying-ying Duan, who'd never won a main draw match on a big stage before, Bouchard struggled on serve, barely getting half of her first attempts in and double faulting ten times. It was the ninth time this year she couldn't pull off a single win during a week, and at the tournament where she's seen her biggest successes, it might be a little more than problematic. Now out of the top twenty, she'll need to pull herself together quick if she's going to prove last season's results were no fluke.

Petra Kvitova's situation isn't quite so dire, but that doesn't make the exit of last year's ladies' champ any less surprising. The #2 seed is the only player all year to beat Serena Williams and, despite skipping the warm-up grass court season, had high hopes to win her third Wimbledon crown. And she looked good early too, losing just three games in her first two matches against tough players like Kurumi Nara and Kiki Bertens. Against a largely under-the-radar Jelena Jankovic in the third round, then, she should have had little problem -- the long-ago world #1 had gone three sets in both her matches so far at the All England Club, and without a single win over a top-ten player in over a year, should have posed little threat. But the Czech was caught a little off guard -- after rolling through the first set in under a half-hour, she started to falter. Jankovic cleaned up her game, making just two errors in the second and scoring the only break in the decisive third for her biggest win in quite some time. Kvitova's loss marked the third of last year's semifinalists to fall in the first week -- the only other one, French Open runner-up Lucie Safarfova, would go just one round later -- and while she's sure to come out swinging again on the hardcourts, you can't help but notice how much things have changed in the last year.

Week-Two Standouts

Of course it wasn't all bad news for the seeds at Wimbledon this year, and even those who didn't ultimately walk away with the trophies stirred things up pretty good after middle Sunday.

Kevin Anderson has long been part of the sport's upper tiers, but he's always seemed to struggle on the big stages. In the top forty for four years and possessing one of the biggest serves on Tour, it's been a couple years since his last title and has never made it out of a Major fourth round in twenty-five previous tries. But he's gotten some big wins in his career -- he's won his last four meetings against surprise Roland Garros champ Stan Wawrinka -- and certainly has the talent to get a few more. The South African had a relatively easy draw early at the All England Club, facing off against twenty-fourth seed Leonardo Mayer in the third round. But a match later was when he really was able to shine -- against world #1 Novak Djokovic to start the second week, he grabbed the first two sets in tiebreaks, but it wasn't until the heavy favorite pushed him to a decider that he finally scored his first and only break of the match. Like Isner, Anderson would not be able to pull off the upset, but getting as close as he's ever been to making a Slam quarter -- and facing off against the best player in the sport to do it -- he might just have set himself up for a few more surprises down the road.

Coco Vandeweghe took a little longer to realize her potential than I thought it would, but the twenty-three year old American may finally be ready for her breakthrough. Just a shade out of seeding territory at the French Open, she lost a bit of ground heading into Wimbledon after failing to defend title points from Den Bosch, but seemed unfazed when she hit the grass in 2015 -- she opened with a straight-set win over always tough Anna Schmiedlova and then stunned eleventh seed Karolina Pliskova in the second round. The upsets didn't stop there -- Coco lost just two games former Grand Slam champion Sam Stosur and then stopped last year's Cinderella Lucie Safarova a couple rounds short of her dream run from last year. In her first ever Major quarterfinal, Vandeweghe even took a set off Maria Sharapova before finally falling in the nearly three-hour match. The streak was enough to bring her back to her career high ranking of #32, but if she takes the momentum with her into the late summer season, there's no reason to believe she can't finish the year much higher still.

France's Richard Gasquet, on the other hand, was only trying to claw his way back into the sport's elite. The former world #7 has quietly been putting together a pretty successful season, picking up titles in Montpellier and Estoril and climbing back into the top twenty at the start of this tournament. Still it had been quite a while since his last deep run at the All England Club -- though he did make the semis at the U.S. Open a few years back, his last trip to the Final Four in London came way back in 2007. But he didn't let that get in the way of his performance this year -- after easily dismissing one-time wunderkind Grigor Dimitrov in the third round, he took out 2014 standout Nick Kyrgios and then pushed Roland Garros winner Stan Wawrinka to twenty games in their final set before eking out the win. After that battle he might not have had a lot of gas left against Novak Djokovic in the semis -- he lost in straight sets in a barely two hour match -- but with those couple upsets Gasquet certainly showed us he's still more than relevant at the Slams and might just be able to refuel in time for the next one.

But perhaps the player who gained the most these past two weeks was one who was nearly counted out entirely. Former Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska rose to a career-high #2 in the world after her performance here three years ago, but seemed to be struggling mightily in 2015. With early exits at Indian Wells and Roland Garros and a surprising defeat at the hands of young Belinda Bencic in the Eastbourne final just ahead of this tournament, she'd dropped out of the top ten for the first time in years. She did recover ground though -- with defending champion Petra Kvitova taken out of her section of the draw she didn't face a higher ranked player during her run. With a semifinal encounter against twentieth-seed Garbiñe Muguruza, she should have been the favorite to set a rematch of the 2012 final, but while she did notch her third straight loss to the talented Spaniard in three sets, she should take comfort in the fight she did display. Now back at #7, Aga will need to be careful not to lose her momentum -- but hopefully she was able to scrounge up a bit of confidence to pull her through the rest of the year.

The Finals

And while all of these athletes put on some impressive shows for us over the last fortnight, ultimately it all comes down to the two champions crowned this weekend. And while maybe we shouldn't be surprised by the results, what each of these titleists accomplished may be even more important than the new hardware they gained.

The top two men in the world both know what it's like to win at the All England Club, and in their fortieth career meeting both showed they were more than hungry to return to the Winner's Circle. Defending champ Novak Djokovic and seven-time titleist Roger Federer had both been challenged during the fortnight -- Nole coming back from a two-set deficit in his two-day fourth round against Kevin Anderson and Fed having a minor hiccup against a monstrous Sam Groth in his third -- but by the time they both made it to the final, you knew we were in for another great battle. The pair had traded wins over most of the last two years, but with wins in the Indian Wells and Rome Masters championships, the Serb had pulled within one victory of tying their all-time head-to-head record. And after a heartbreaking loss in the French Open final last month, he might have had a little extra motivation driving him on Sunday -- after getting down the first break in the opening set, Djokovic quickly regrouped and stormed through the tiebreak. He narrowly lost the second but seemed little perturbed, either by his opponent or by a crowd rooting loudly against him, and rebounded to take the next two sets in just about an hour. The win gave Novak his third Wimbledon trophy and his ninth Grand Slam, breaking the six-way tie he'd been in for eighth on the all-time list. He may still lag a couple of his contemporaries, but showing no signs of slowing down, the unquestioned #1 may have a lot more left in him.

The same might be said for Serena Williams, who made her own history at Wimbledon on Saturday. Coming straight off a surprisingly tricky win at Roland Garros, the top seed had a chance to win the first three Majors of a season for the first time in her storied career. And she was tested more than a few times during her campaign -- young Brit Heather Watson managed to push her to a decider and long-time rival Victoria Azarenka yet again took the opener before finally falling in three. Serena's opponent in the final was considerably less comfortable on the big stages -- twenty-two year old Garbiñe Muguruza, who'd shocked the world #1 last year at Roland Garros, was one of the breakthrough stars of 2014, but had only won one match before in her short Wimbledon career. Still she'd been more than impressive in her first final run at a Slam -- she took out Timea Bacsinszky, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, all ranked higher than her, before upsetting Aga Radwanska in the semis. She even got the first break on Serena in the championship match and rallied from a 1-5 deficit in the second. But experience won out in the end -- after two sets it was Serena holding the crown -- her twenty-first career Major, just one short of Steffi Graf's Open Era record. The win also makes her the current holder of all four Slams, and gives her the chance to capture all of them in one calendar year for the first time since Graf did it in 1988. That might mean even more pressure than usual when she heads to New York, but something tells me she might be able to handle it.

Of course there was a lot more action over the past two weeks which I just couldn't get to here. But rest assured that, whether the current top dogs continue their reigns or some new talent breaks out on the scene, there will be more than enough to talk about in the coming months.

And if the show we got at Wimbledon is any indication, it's going to be an exciting end of the season.