By Sigurd Neubauer
Novak Djokovic, 35, defeated Nick Kyrgios, 27, at the Wimbledon final on Sunday.
It was his seventh victory at Wimbledon, unofficially dubbed the world’s most important tennis tournament. The Serb won it for the first time in 2011 when he was 24, and then again in 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021 and again this year.
Heading into it, Kyrgios had twice defeated Djokovic – both times in 2017 in Acapulco, Mexico and at Indian Wells, California, – but never made it to a Grand Slam final. The budding “bromance” between the two players, who had been at odds before, added excitement to the game while at the same time raising questions about whether Kyrgios has what it takes to catapult himself to the very top of the game.
Even though the Australian was able to advance to the final because of Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the semifinal against Kyrgios over injuries, the Wimbledon final demonstrated that the younger generation of players are still unable to unseat Djokovic.
At last month’s French Open, where Nadal, 36, not only defeated Djokovic but won the Grand Slam, despite being injured, illustrates that the Spaniard – when healthy – remains, along with the Serb, the two strongest players in the world.
While Nadal secured his 22 Grand Slam victory at Roland-Garros last month, Djokovic won his 21st at Wimbledon, his seventh at the iconic British tournament, whereas Roger Federer has earned 20. Federer, 41, who remains injured, also participated at the 2022 Wimbledon, but this time as a spectator.
Commenting on Djokovic and Nadal’s dominance of the game and what’s next for the world of men’s tennis, Vesa Ponkka, the President of the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) at College Park, Maryland, says that “the younger guys should be able to take on the older, but that they have been unable to do so”.
Nadal has proven everyone wrong. “When the Spaniard is healthy, he plays so well. It’s hard to see how long will be able to go,” he adds.
Ponkka, one of America’s preeminent tennis coaches, points out that the past three Grand Slams – the Australian Open, the French Open and now Wimbledon – was each won by one of the “old guys,” namely Nadal or Djokovic.
“The younger players have been unable to make the mental leap to win,” Ponkka says, adding that it is “fascinating” that they’re able to continue to win well into their 30s.”
In reference to the Djokovic-Kyrgios final, the coach describes it as “never super-close” as the Serb was “on a different level mentally altogether” and he made “nine unforced errors at the baseline.” Kyrgios was unable to capitalize on them, he adds.
While there is a vaccine mandate in place for the upcoming US Open, Ponkka hopes that Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and has adamantly refused to do so, will ultimately be able to participate should it be lifted.
As of now, Djokovic, as an unvaccinated foreigner, is not allowed to enter the United States, although there is an active push to secure his participation.
If Djokovic will be able to participate, he will be the favorite and if Nadal recovers from injury, “it doesn’t look like any of the younger players will be able to take them on,” Ponkka argues but concedes that “it will be interesting” to see how Russia’s Daniil Medvedev performs.
Medvedev defeated Djokovic in the final of the 2021 US Open when pressure got to the Serb, Ponkka explains.
Medvedev was barred, along with other Russian players, from participating in Wimbledon over Russia’s war against Ukraine. The decision to bar them was made by the British government, although the Biden administration has not placed any such restrictions on Russian tennis players.
We also discuss what’s next for Kyrgios, who does not have a coach, but did well at Wimbledon despite his loss in the final.
“Kyrgios has an excellent top record against the top players, but does not have the best tennis tournament records,” Ponkka says but hopes that his success over the past two weeks will motivate him to go further.
The veteran coach, however, does not know whether Kyrgios has the consistency and mental strength to continue, arguing that “it is a 50-50 chance” on where he goes.
“If he can have a back-to-back success from Wimbledon to the upcoming US Open, it will be indicative of whether or not he can be a finalist at Australian Open.”
Ponkka isn’t sure either whether the Australian – who is clearly highly talented – has the passion and love for the game, and whether he’s able to maximize his potential.
“There is still one or two levels that he needs to climb to win more, including tournaments and Grand Slams. The answer to where Kyrgios may be heading will be seen at the US Open,” Ponkka explains.
The coach is nonetheless witnessing the Australian’s progress, including his fitness levels as he’s able to move better and play back-to-back matches.
Kyrgios’ physical and mental strength go hand-in-hand, Ponkka says “as we’re witnessing his improvement and it will be interesting to see where he will be heading.”
Another match that didn’t receive a lot of media attention, but was an important one nonetheless was between Jannik Sinner, 20, of Italy and Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, 19.
Sinner defeated Alcaraz 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (8-10), 6-3. Describing the Italian as “a very promising star,” Ponkka says Alcaraz played “very well” despite not having significant experience playing on grass “where he doesn’t move well”.
Djokovic, of course, ended up defeating Sinner in the quarterfinal 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
Wimbledon: the most important tennis tournament
Ponkka is fond of Wimbledon’s storied legacy, including of the Royal Box, from where Prince William, Kate Middleton and their son, Prince George, watched the Djokovic-Kyrgios final.
“Everyone wants to play at Wimbledon, which is the most important tennis tournament, although unofficially, of the year. Every player senses the tradition once on court, and the prize money, is significant,” Ponkka explains.
For his Wimbledon victory, Djokovic earned $2.5 million.
“The grass season is only four weeks long, but it is great for the game because the players have to transition from the clay season within only a couple of weeks, which is something that is quite difficult.”
The changes of surfaces and the challenges the transitions present for the players, from indoor season/hard surface to clay and grass is a big part of the game, the coach says. Ponkka hopes this transition continues.