Wimbledon 2008: They’ve grown up so fast! (Part I)

WIMBLEDON – There has been a lot of homage paid over the last month to the iconic 2008 men’s singles final, won by Rafael Nadal over Roger Federer in the near darkness.

(Just the fact that this match got hyped so much, with Federer and Nadal the top two seeds in the men’s draw, all but guaranteed there wouldn’t be a rematch. The tennis gods are stubborn that way).

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But I thought it would be fun to pull out some photos from my archive of that tournament – my first working Wimbledon – and see where everyone is now.

It’s hard to believe how young they (we) all looked back then.

Part I contains the players still active today, with a few blasts from the past who were gone far too soon.

Here’s the trip down memory lane, starting with some pics of the two big matches played on that final Sunday.

Men’s singles final

There was rain. There were breaks. There was drama. There was … a cardigan.

I have a vivid memory of both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the practice courts before the match, warming up, when the first deluge of the day hit.

Nadal came scrambling down St. Mary’s Walk, towel on his head, hilariously worried about his hair or getting wet when he’d just broken a big sweat.

A few moments later came Federer, all calm, cool – and unconcerned about his coiffure.

It was a window into their personalities and pre-match mindsets. Although in the end it was the scrambler who pulled it off.

Women’s singles final

It wasn’t the last major final Venus and Serena would play. They met in the Wimbledon singles final the following year (won by Serena) and then again nearly eight years later in the 2017 Australian Open final (also won by Serena).

But it was the last Grand Slam Venus has won – at least so far. Ten years ago already.

Mixed doubles final

Lost in the history of that dramatic final day was the fact that the mixed doubles championship was played on No. 1 Court.

Bob Bryan and Samantha Stosur defeated Mike Bryan and Katerina Srebotnik 7-5, 6-4. And after the trophy ceremony on Centre Court for the men’s singles, I hastened over to No. 1 to try to catch the end of the mixed final.

Incredibly, they were still playing. Just caught the end, and the trophy ceremony. And I’m still wondering whether they mistakenly gave the trophy to the wrong Bryan brother.

Here’s what it looked like (with the decent, though not fancy camera of the day. But it truly was that dark).

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Victoria Azarenka

Then:

Now:

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So much has happened over the last decade for the now 28-year-old from Belarus. The No. 1 ranking, Grand Slam titles, a baby boy and a maternity break, off-court issues and now, a return to play.

And Azarenka made the mixed doubles final with Jamie Murray, after losing to Karolina Pliskova in the second round of singles.

That year, three years out of the juniors, she lost in the third round of singles to Nadia Petrova, and reached the quarters in the doubles with Shahar Pe’er of Israel.

Rankings then: No. 16 (singles), No. 7 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 87 (singles), No. 423 (doubles)

Feliciano Lopez

Then:

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Now:

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Now 36 (about six weeks younger than Federer), Lopez’s ranking is down to No. 70. But until the last two weeks (after he failed to defend his title at Queen’s Club) he was in the 20s and 30s for most of the last few years.

A decade on, his singles and doubles rankings are nearly exactly reversed.

Lopez reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2008, losing in four sets to Marat Safin. This year, he lost in the second round to Juan Martin del Potro.

The Spaniard is slowly wrapping things up, but not done yet even if he already has a new gig. He’ll be the tournament director at the Madrid Open in 2019.

Rankings then: No. 22 (singles), No. 71 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 70 (singles), No. 21 (doubles)

Juan Martin del Potro

Then:

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Now:

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The years in between were awfully cruel at times for del Potro, now 29.

But back in 2008, just a lad of 19, it was all ahead of him.

In fact, a little more than a year later, he would win the US Open. But in 2008, he had just cut his shaggy hair and instantly turned himself into a heartthrob (but who’s paying attention to that, really?)

In 2008, his second-ever Wimbledon, del Potro lost in the second round to Stan Wawrinka, But then he went on a crazy run: 23-1 through the quarterfinal at the US Open. Ranked No. 65 going into Wimbledon 2008, he was in the top 10 by October.

Seeded No. 5 this year, he was up two sets to one on Rafael Nadal before losing their epic quarterfinal clash in five sets. All in all, a good Wimbledon for him, and one to build on.

Rankings then: No. 62 (singles), No. 243 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 4 (singles), No. 244 (doubles)

Petra Kvitova

Then:

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Now:

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Now 28, Kvitova was a youngster of 18 at the 2008 tournament, still with puppy fat but just as gorgeous.

The previous year, in 2007, she won the singles at Roehampton and lost in the third round of the Wimbledon junior event to Katarzyna Piter.

This was her first grown-up Wimbledon. She lost in the first round of singles to Tatiana Perebiynis in three sets (winning the second 6-0), and in the first round of doubles with Eva Hrdinova in three sets, to Vera Zvonareva and Elena Vesnina.

No one could have predicted then that she’d go on to win Wimbledon twice, and be a strong favorite this year before her own too-ardent desire and the great play of Aliaksandra Sasnovich took her down in the first round.

She’s tennis’s favorite comeback story, back in the top 10 after a horrific stabbing incident in the fall of 2016 that destroyed the tendons in her playing hand.

Rankings then: No. 70 (singles), No. 809 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 7 (singles), – (doubles) 

Jürgen Melzer

Then:

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Now:

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Melzer, now 37, has changed astonishingly little in a decade (barring one decent shave), which has seen him struggle with injuries (notably shoulder surgery). He’s giving the comeback one last shot.

And he received a wild card into the doubles draw with another former Wimbledon doubles champion and lefty, Canada’s Daniel Nestor.

They lost in the first round. Melzer also played the singles qualifying. He lost in the first round in five sets to Yannick Maden of Germany, after being up two sets to none. He also got to hang out with his younger brother Gerald.

Melzer and longtime partner Philipp Petzschner of Germany won the Wimbledon doubles in 2010. He reached the fourth round in singles that year as well.

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Rankings then: No. 72 (singles), No. 46 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 712 (singles), 701 (doubles) 

Caroline Wozniacki

Then:

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Now:

Two years after she defeated Magdalena Rybarikova in the final of the junior girls’ event, Wozniacki arrived in 2008 as a top-30 player. She lost in the third round to Jelena Jankovic.

She was still 17, and it was already her third Wimbledon (she lost in the first round of qualifying in 2006, in the second round of the main draw in 2007). And she had a group of fans cheering her on – mostly middle-aged men which, given she was underage, was a bit creepy.

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This year, Wozniacki went down swinging after she was upset by Ekaterina Makarova in the second round. She posited that Makarova, a former top-10 player, had gotten lucky and probably wouldn’t go any further.

Of course, that proved not to be the case.

Rankings then: No. 30 (singles), No. 127 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 2 (singles), – (doubles) 

Marin Cilic

Then:

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Now:

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Cilic was just 19 at the 2008 edition of Wimbledon, his second after losing to Gilles Simon of France in five sets in the first round in 2007.

He reached the second week, losing to Arnaud Clément of France in the round of 16.

This year, Cilic was shocked in the second round by lefty Guido Pella of Argentina, after winning the first two sets and being interrupted by darkness in the middle of the match. Before the interruption, it was all going his way. When they resumed, it wasn’t.

As the defending finalist, that will cost him a couple of spots in the rankings but he will still check in at No. 7 on Monday.

Nicolas Mahut

Then:

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Now:

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Mahut has gotten even handsomer with age. And the hair is still spectacular.

At 36, he realized a pretty big dream in winning the French Open doubles title with Pierre-Hugues Herbert last month. He and Herbert won the Wimbledon doubles in 2016.

He has four singles titles  – all on grass, as it happens. Three of them were at ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

The singles career may be fading a bit. But Mahut (six months younger than Federer – yes, again the benchmark) has no intention of retiring.

Rankings then: No. 58 (singles), No. 35 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 128 (singles), No. 9 (doubles) 

Lucie Safarova

Then:

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Now:

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Safarova got to No. 5 in the world after the 2015 US Open. And she got to the No. 1 ranking in doubles nearly a year ago, before the 2017 US Open.

Since then, she’s had a recurrence of the viral infection that has taken her down before.

But she’s back now. And, even better, she and doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands returned to action at this Wimbledon, a year after Mattek-Sands suffered that horrible knee injury in singles.

They have won the other three Slams together. Just this one left.

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Back in 2008, the 21-year-old Safarova lost in the first round to Emilie Loit of France. She and countrywoman Petra Cetkovska lost in the first round of doubles to Camerin and Dulko. 

This year, Safarova beat Bondarenko and Radwanska, and lost in the third round of singles to Ekaterina Makarova. She and Mattek-Sands reached the quarterfinals, losing a tough one to Dabrowski and Xu.

Rankings then: No. 51 (singles), No. 171 (doubles)
Rankings now: No. 66 (singles), No. 27 (doubles) 

Marcelo Melo & Alizé Cornet

The two teamed up for mixed doubles in 2008, when Melo was a young pup of 24 and Cornet was just 18. It was the second of three times between the 2008 French and the 2009 Australian that they played mixed together. They lost in three sets in the first round to Lukas Dlouhy and Nicole Vaidisova.

Then:

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Now:

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Rankings then:

Melo: 31 (doubles)
Cornet: 17 (singles), 223 (doubles)

Rankings now:

Melo: 4 (doubles)
Cornet: 44 (singles), 126 (doubles)

Marat Safin

Then:

Now:

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Marat Safin was 28 as he beat Fognini, Djokovic, Seppi, Wawrinka and Lopez before losing to Federer in the semifinals.

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A baby-faced lad of 21, Fognini was ranked No. 86 going into the 2008 Wimbledon.

Who knew, barely more than a year later, that he’d be out of the game before his 30th birthday? These days, 28 is the new 21.

Safin has returned to the game, a little bit, in recent years and played his first French Open legends event this year.

He’s still got it. We can say that. 

Rankings then: No. 75 (singles), No. 241 (doubles)
Rankings now: (Retired: 2009)

Igor Andreev & Maria Kirilenko

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These two were one of those cute crossover tennis couples for many years.

Then Kirilenko took up with and later became engaged to (and disengaged from) hockey superstar Alex Ovechkin.

(I remember when I broke the Kirilenko-Ovechkin coupling news, and the reaction on Twitter at that time. I was called a liar and a terrible, awful person and a fake news propagato  (although it wasn’t an expression then) so many different ways I didn’t even know some of the words. Seems like tennis fans got a little attached ti Igorenko.

Later that day, Ovechkin confirmed the news with a photo captioned “My Queen”. Still waiting for those apologies, Tweeps. 🙂 )

Kirilenko is still only 31, but hasn’t played since the fall of 2014. After the end of the Ovechkin romance, she quickly married someone else and now has two children.

Andreev turned 35 on Saturday. His last match came in the first round of Wimbledon, five years ago. He just had too many injuries.

While Kirilenko stays fairly close to home, we’ve spotted Andreev on a number of occasions around tournaments, as he’s now become a coach. He stepped in as Fed Cup captain in April after Anastasia Myskina resigned.

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