Monday Superlatives

Wimbledon 2019 was the sunset of legends

July 15, 2019
Wimbledon 2019
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Serena Williams and Roger Federer have quite a lot in common. First, the obvious: They each have a strong, almost ironclad claim to be called the greatest tennis player to ever live. Second, equally obvious, they're coming to the end of their brilliant careers. Both are 37, with 38 right around the corner. Third, despite their age, both can obviously still compete at the highest level. Fourth, both fell this past weekend in the Wimbledon final. And fifth, it may well have been their last great chance to win a Grand Slam.

Serena sits one slam behind Margaret Court for the most in the history of women's tennis, but getting that 24th title has been a struggle like no other. Since returning from pregnancy, she's 0-for-6, and while her "drought" would represent an incredible stretch for a normal player (she's made three finals), for Serena it's a step down from peak form. The last two years of Wimbledon have told the story—in both tournaments, she's looked just a little slow, just a little unfocused, but managed to win by virtue of her absurd power and her ability to play under pressure. Last year, a combination of those skills and a favorable draw saw her through to the final after some tough fights, but when she ran into Angelique Kerber—another champion, playing at top form—it was lights out.

The same thing happened this year, but even more exaggerated. Serena's opponents wilted before her eyes, the draw opened up, and she sailed to the final...where Simona Halep, this year's Kerber, beat her even worse, 6-2, 6-2.

For Federer, the journey to second place was a very different story. In the semis, he met Rafa Nadal for the first time since their famous 2008 title match, and this time it was Federer who survived a typically arduous battle with brilliant pressure play. Novak Djokovic awaited him in the final—of course he did—and after another long struggle, Federer gave himself two championship points on his own serve. But he lost those points, shockingly, and it was Djokovic who came through in a fifth set tiebreaker to win his 16th Slam...just four behind Federer's 20. It was a scintillating final—one of the best ever. Now, if nothing else, it seems clear that Federer will retire with two players very close in his rearview mirror.

On the finer points, then, the stories of Serena and Roger diverge. For the American, it feels like the slow fade has begun, and the finals she made over the past two years owe at least a little to good fortune. Her movement gives it away—she won't be able to run with jackrabbits like Halep and Kerber for much longer. I don't think it's hyperbole to say that this year's U.S. Open may be her last chance to compete in something like peak form. For Fed, on the other hand...well, if you were to tell me that Djokovic and Nadal would sit out the next season, I'd give him a great chance to win the next four majors. As in, all of them.

But those men aren't sitting out, and Federer has already reached the stage where if he had closed out the championship points against Djokovic, he would have been the oldest man to ever win a slam. If anybody can manage the feat past age 38, which is an age he'll attain by the time he hits Flushing Meadows later this summer, it's Federer. I wouldn't dream of counting him out. The obstacles, though, are massive, and Djokovic in particular has seemingly entered his second period of transcendence. How many shots can Federer really have left? The U.S. Open, the three non-clay slams next year, and then...?

However the future plays out, this weekend felt like a slow sunset for two of the greatest players to ever step on a court. Too often, we don't see the end coming, and even if this hesitant obituary is premature, well...here's hoping we didn't take it for granted.

The Unlucky Human Bullseye of the Week: Nicolas Mahut

In the men's doubles final at Wimbledon, Nicolas Mahut got hit in the eye:

The throat:

And then in the balls...which even stunned Woody Harrelson:

Advice: If you ever go to war, try to stand next to Nicolas Mahut.

Therapeutic Sports TV of the Week: The Tour de France

I used to really, really like the Tour de France, but life and circumstance have led me to drift away in recent years. This summer, a friend of mine devised a nifty TdF pool, I joined, and baby, I'm back!

I know a little bit about cycling, not a lot, but even if you know absolutely nothing I highly recommend the Tour as background television. For 21 days in the summer, you're treated to beautiful French countrysides featuring verdant farmland, stark mountain passages, and helicopter footage of rivers and forests and castles and gorgeous little towns that look like they haven't changed since the 1300s. And it lasts forever! The stages are set so that they end at roughly 11:30 a.m. eastern, and they start bright and early, which means the bikers in their bright colors can be the backdrop to your entire morning. It's the televised sports equivalent of a pleasant "Sounds of the Ocean" album, or a meditation app.

And once in a while, you might even see two horses that look like cows run alongside the racers before bounding down a hill:

The Total, Comprehensive Ownage of the Year: Max Kepler over Trevor Bauer

Folks, Trevor Bauer is a good pitcher. Measured by the advanced WAR stat, in fact, he's the 23rd best pitcher in the league. By ERA, he's 29th. He's not quite elite, but he's well above average, and the Cleveland Indians are lucky to have him.

But when Trevor Bauer faces Max Kepler, he's not even a batting practice pitcher—he's a batting practice pitcher at the Home Run Derby. For five straight at-bats, Kepler did nothing but hit home runs off Bauer. That's tied for a record! Watch the fifth:

Yikes. Bauer eventually got Kepler out on Saturday, but even then, Kepler hit one into the upper deck, albeit foul. Every man has his struggle, and for Bauer, that struggle is named Max Kepler.

Scariest Quote of the Week: Giannis Antetokounmpo

From ESPN:

"I think I can get better. I think I am at 60 percent of my potential."

This is from a person who is nicknamed "The Greek Freak" and just won the MVP award while putting up stupid numbers all season. If there's actually 40% more to be mined there, he might not even need teammates.

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