Wimbledon makes a few “enhancements for ’19

It’s one of the enduring myths in tennis that Wimbledon is a throwback, stubborn in its refusal to change.

In actual fact, in ways apparent and more subtle, it’s constantly evolving and improving. It’s just that the tournament does it on its own time, of its own accord, and without making a fuss about it.

So in the wake of the decision earlier this fall to institute a tiebreak at 12-12 in the deciding set, the All-England Club announced a few more changes for next year.

Even the way they refer to those changes plays it down: they’re calling them “Wimbledon operational enhancements.”

“We are pleased to be making a series of announcements in order to give our competitors, stakeholders and spectators ample time to prepare ahead of next year’s Championships,”  AELTC chief executive Richard Lewis said.

The “enhancements” don’t even make the top of the list.

First up is the announcement of a change in the tournament referee … in 2020.

Wimbledon institutes 12-12 tiebreak

But first up in this space, the starting time on the outer courts will be moved up from 11:30 a.m. to 11 am., to “allow for greater certainty over completion of the order of play.”

Earlier start times on field courts

The starting time will remain at 1 p.m. on the two big stadium courts, which is always a source of questions from fans.

But we were told years ago that there’s a very simple reason for that. With grass being a natural surface, it has challenges that don’t pop up elsewhere. In this case the morning dew. The outer courts are more wide open, and so the grass dries off much more quickly in the morning.

In the semi-enclosed stadiums, it just takes a lot longer. And the drier the grass is, the less slippery it’s going to be. You can see what a difference it makes even when the roof is closed, despite the state-of-the-art air conditioning system.

On the finals days, start time will still be 2 p.m.

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With an 11 a.m. start time, the gates should also be opened a half-hour earlier, at 10 a.m. As well, players scheduled for one of the stadiums who want to practice on the match courts (like Roger Federer, here on Court 4) will have to get on them even earlier.

Women’s qualifying draw expanded

Following in the footsteps of the Australian Open, Wimbledon will expand the women’s qualifying draw to 128 players to match the men’s draw.

The US Open has long had this. The Australian Open announced the expanded draw for 2019. With Wimbledon joining its ranks, the only Grand Slam tournament (so far) to remain at 96 players is Roland Garros. But they may well follow suit.

There’s a price to pay for this, though.

As it is, the qualifying at Roehampton basically needs perfect weather to finish on time. And that can be a challenge. Many years, it doesn’t. 

So the concession made to make this happen is there will no longer be qualifying events for doubles.

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With the expansion of the Wimbledon women’s qualifying to 128, the qualifying in both men’s and women’s doubles will be history at Wimbledon in 2019. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

That’s really a shame. It was such a great opportunity for additional players who might not otherwise had the chance to earn their way to the All-England Club.

As well, in expanding the women’s singles qualifying, the men must pay the price through no fault of their own.

And there will be no more fun longshot stories, like this one:

Alabama alums make Wimbledon debut

Or this one:

Qualies stories: The Hsieh family

Quad wheelchair events added

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The addition of the quad wheelchair event means Aussie rock star Dylan Alcott will have a shot at a Wimbledon title in 2019.

There was an invitational quad doubles event in 2018. And beginning in 2019, singles and doubles quad events will be added to the regular “Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ ” wheelchair singles and doubles events.

It adds more events to an already packed docket, and more wear and tear to the courts.

The men’s doubles still will be best-of-five sets (as far as we know). The mixed doubles still plays out the third set, as do the junior events.

Wimbledon is going to have to be even luckier with the weather than it was this past year, when a prolonged heat wave meant that play was barely disrupted.

Gerry Armstrong promoted

Longtime Championship referee Andrew Jarrett has given his notice to the tournament, as he plans to retire after next year’s edition.

(The 2018 event, with all of its controversies about schedule and match stoppages and court assignments and … the roof, might well have aged him 10 years).

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Jarrett has been the Championships referee since 2006.

Veteran Gerry Armstrong has already been appointed his successor for 2020. But unlike Jarrett, who held the job 13 years, it will be only for a three-year term.

Jarrett will be there to show Armstrong the ropes and “enable a considerable and important period of handover.”

Armstrong’s officiating career began 46 years ago. His father George also was a chair umpire, notably for the 1975 men’s singles final between Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe.

The son was in the chair for 13 Wimbledon finals – including four men’s and four women’s finals before moving “upstairs” as assistant referee in 2007. He’s been the qualifying referee since 2012 and referee for the wheelchair event since 2014.

There are more “enhancements” to come for 2019.

But we’ll have to wait until the annual spring press conference, to be held April 30, 2019.

First Slam, first main draw for American Kevin King

MELBOURNE, Australia – On the first day of the Australian Open, there were five major casualties amongst the highly ranked American players.

And then, there is Kevin King.

King faced No. 15 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the late-night match on Margaret Court Arena with few expectations.

But just by being there, and playing on the second-biggest court at a Grand Slam tournament, King was already a winner.

He lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-1, but he was competitive and, best of all, didn’t look overawed by the occasion in the least.

This was the 26-year-old’s first ever appearance at a major. It was his first career attempt at qualifying. And he made it.

And it comes a year after having surgery to repair labral tears in both hips within a three-month period.  

Here’s what King looked like in his 6-4, 7-6 (6) victory over Aussie serve-volleyer John Patrick Smith.

In the first round, King defeated No. 31 seed Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus (ranked No. 179) 7-6 (2), 6-2.  In the second round, his victim was 21-year-old Czech named Zdenek Kolar (ranked No. 229). Smith is ranked No. 219.

That is a Grand Slam qualifying draw you want to take advantage of. But it can be easier said than done with all the players are generally even, and all feel that opportunity keenly. King came out of it with the big prize – a spot in the main draw and $50,000 (AUD) in guaranteed prize money.

King’s only previous Grand Slam experience was a first-round loss in doubles at the US Open last year, after receiving a wild card from the USTA.

He has qualified for two ATP Tour main draws in his career (his hometown Atlanta event in 2013 and Bogotá in 2014) and lost in the first round both times.

Mechanical engineering degree

A native of Peachtree City, Ga. (about 40 minutes outside Atlanta) King graduated from Georgia Tech at age 21 with a degree in mechanical engineering and two all-America nods. This, after not even having an ITF junior ranking.

He returned to Georgia Tech a few years ago as a volunteer coach, as he dealt with the hip issues that cost him a full year – from Nov. 2015 to Nov. 2016. He had been playing his best tennis when it happened, which factored into his decision to fight to return.

The two-time all-American at Georgia Tech graduated in four years with a degree in mechanical engineering while he was at it. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Fourteen months ago, he had no ATP Tour ranking. 

A year ago this week, King was at No. 853 and grinding through a 128-player qualifying draw at a low-level Futures event in Sunrise, Fla. He lost in the second round. After 16 Challengers and eight Futures tournaments, he did well enough to book a trip Down Under.

As a tennis player, he had made just one trip outside North and South America – a two-tournament Futures tour in France in 2015. The trip to Australia for a Challenger and then the qualifying was exponentially the furthest he’s ever gone for tennis.

The reward: he’ll be on Margaret Court Arena against a former Australian Open finalist. And regardless of the outcome, he’ll break into the top 200 and reach a new career-best ranking.

Winning a Grand Slam is an impressive accomplishment. But it’s not the only way to win the week.

Qualies stories – Martic def. Krunic

ROEHAMPTON – For the second time in two Slams, Petra Martic got through qualifying in most dramatic fashion.

At the French Open in Paris a few weeks ago, Martic defeated Maryna Zanevka of Belgium 7-6(3), 6-7(2), 7-6(5) in the final round to make it.

At Roehampton Friday, Martic defeated Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 to reach the Wimbledon main draw.

Martic was down a set and a break in the second, when Krunic seemed to have it well in hand. But the 26-year-old Croat pushed it to three.

She was down a break in the third set as well. Krunic had six match points in attempting to serve it out at 5-4 in the third, Martic saved them all. She needed four of her own in serving it out.

No wonder the hug at the net was so poignant.

Martic

To her credit, it was Krunic who reached out first to Martic, despite her own significant disappointment. That is one gracious player in defeat, right there.

Here’s what it looked like.

Krunic was the No. 1 seed in qualifying. And that has to feel like the worst place in the world to be. After a final on the grass at Manchester two weeks before, the 24-year-old returned to the top 100 at No. 99. That would easily have gotten her into the Wimbledon main draw. Except it happened after the deadline.

So there she was, in command against Martic. And she let it slip. Krunic also lost a tough one in the final round of the French Open qualifying, also after winning the first set.

For Martic, it was the continuation of a great comeback story.

Injury woes for years

It all began with a foot injury in 2012, when the talented 21-year-old was on her way up.

The Croatian stood out among the legion of ball-bashing types with her smooth movement, good serve, unusually good slice and willingness to move forward.

At the French Open that year, she upset No. 10 seed Angelique Kerber, No. 29 seed and excellent clay-court player Anabel Medina Garrigues, and No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli to reach the fourth round.

Her singles career high of No. 43 came that year. But a foot injury scuttled her summer, and forced her to miss the Olympics in London.

Then came a right hand injury in 2014.

By last year, she thought she was going to be out of the game with a back injury. She missed 10 months, and when she got to the French Open qualifying this year, her true ranking was at No. 290 (she used a protected injury ranking to get into the qualifying).

It was her first time in a Grand Slam main draw in two years. And she took full advantage. Her win in the first round was her first at a Slam since 2013 Wimbledon.

Martic seemingly had it against Elina Svitolina, too. But her higher-ranked opponent pulled it out.

Martic

Here’s a good piece from the WTA site about her effort in Paris.

Martic doesn’t have an easy one for her first-round match at Wimbledon. She faces No. 20 seed Daria Gavrilova of Australia.

But after the last few years, this is probably all gravy. The last time she was at Wimbledon, she lost in the first round of qualifying to Urszula Radwanska. And then, she didn’t play against until this past April.

She is 23-5 since her return, which began at a $25,000 ITF tournament in Italy.

(Tennis.Life is bringing you a series of stories from the just-completed Wimbledon qualifying, where so much drama plays out on makeshift grass courts and the outcome means so much to the players involved. Too often, these stories go unnoticed. But they’re a huge part of the fabric of tennis).