This past Saturday, Marketa Vondrousova became the latest player to add her name to the list of elite Grand Slam champions.
With her victory at the Wimbledon Championships, Vondrousova reminded us that she charts her own path on the court, relying on clever shot-making and an uncanny ability to frustrate her opponents.
Here's a look back at her captivating run along with a handful of lingering questions:
The two Wimbledon finalists, Marketa Vondrousova and Ons Jabeur, are known for their innovative playstyles. How do you think this approach contributed to their success in an event that is generally suited for traditional power hitters?
Courtney Nguyen: Creative players like Jabeur have always been able to flourish at the All England Club. Having a devastating drop shot, adaptability on your baseline groundstrokes, light footwork and an efficient serve are 90 percent of the battle. But you can’t talk about the recent Wimbledon results and not mention the changed conditions. The grass has been slower in recent years, and the addition of the roof also can slow conditions. Vondrousova knew that as well as anyone. The roof closed when she was 3-1 down in the final set against Jessica Pegula, and it was closed for both the semifinals and final. Before Wimbledon, the Czech’s only WTA title came under a roof.
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Greg Garber: This is precisely why I look forward to the grass-court season. The surface supports all kinds of games. These two adapted beautifully as they went through the draw, defeating players who had more firepower but were lacking their subtle toolkit. After Jabeur beat defending champion Elena Rybakina in the quarterfinals, Rybakina cited poor serving as the element that let her down. Two other Top 5 seeds, Aryna Sabalenka (Jabeur) and Carolina Garcia (Marie Bouzkova) lost to more well-rounded players when their service games weren’t up to par.
Alex Macpherson: The oddity of grass is that the playing styles it rewards most are complete contrasts: big-serving, first strike players, yes -- but also slice-and-dicers who use their feel for the nuances of the surface to blunt power. Former champion Ashleigh Barty exemplified this, as have former semifinalists such as Tatjana Maria, Kirsten Flipkens, Magdalena Rybarikova and Barbora Strycova. And even more important, if anything, is finding a level of comfort with movement in order to fully maximize preferred style. Jabeur possesses both power and finesse. It's no surprise grass has become her favored turf. Vondrousova always possessed the slice, the drop shots and the volleys, but the movement was the last piece. She said she felt slow on it before this year -- but during her title run, her speed was a revelation.
Jason Juzwiak: Grass is funny. In the early 1990s, Conchita Martinez had almost all of her earliest successes on clay courts, but she was able to apply that game to grass, eventually slicing what felt like a million passing winners beyond nine-time champion Martina Navratilova’s serve-and-volley power to win the 1994 Wimbledon final. Like the rest of the gang noted, the unique surface can reward seemingly contradictory game styles, and it often comes down to who is the best version of themselves on match day, which is what makes Wimbledon such a fascinating major.
Of all the feel-good moments at Wimbledon, which one stuck with you the most?
Garber: The progress of Sofia Kenin. She won the Australian Open in 2020 and made the final at Roland Garros later that same year. Since then, a series of injuries have kept her well down the rankings ladder. At Wimbledon, she needed to win three qualifying matches just to make the main draw. Then she defeated No.7 seed Coco Gauff in the first round and Wang Xinyu in the second. Kenin fell to unseeded Elina Svitolina 7-6(3), 6-2, but that loss looks a lot different after Svitolina made it all the way to the semifinals. Kenin is still only 24 years old and she saw her ranking move to No.91 from No.128, which will get her back into the main draws at majors.
Macpherson: I was on court for the final set of Elina Svitolina's stirring comeback win over Victoria Azarenka, and the atmosphere was as tense as the Wimbledon fortnight got. The crowd embraced the Ukrainian's story -- a new mother, fighting for something larger than herself even as her country continues to fight for its freedom -- and lived and died with every scoreboard fluctuation. Svitolina seemed down and out trailing 7-4 in the match tiebreak but came up with a series of remarkable shots to capture the win. When she slammed down that final ace out wide and sank to her knees as the crowd rose to applaud her, it was a moment that sent chills down the back.
Nguyen: I have to go with Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strycova winning the doubles title to give the retiring Czech her fairytale ending at the All England Club. Wimbledon was the first Grand Slam Strycova played, and it was where all her professional milestones came, most memorably coalescing in 2019 when she made the singles semifinal and won the doubles with Hsieh. After retiring to start a family, she wanted to say goodbye to the All England Club one last time. With a locked-in Hsieh at her side, the duo ousted No.3 seeds Elise Mertens and Storm Hunter – who had lost no more than three games in any match – in straight sets.
Juzwiak: I’m going to also go with Hsieh and Strycova’s final performance, which really moved me to a level I hadn’t expected. Here were two 37-year-olds who had recently been off tour for a combined total of nearly four years and who both only came back to action in April. They mainly returned, as Strycova said, “just to come back and feel the atmosphere” of one more Wimbledon. And after all that, they won the title? Legendary.
Heading into the tournament, the discussion largely surrounded the dominance of Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina. How do you foresee their bounce-back in the coming weeks?
Macpherson: I wouldn't say that Swiatek or Rybakina need to bounce back from a real setback. In her fourth Wimbledon, Swiatek moved up another level on her grass learning curve by reaching her first quarterfinal, including a brilliant win over a proficient grass-courter in Belinda Bencic. Rybakina came in undercooked and still made the last eight as well. The defending champion faded only at the end of an otherwise excellent match against Ons Jabeur. Sabalenka will have more scar tissue to overcome. Losing Grand Slam semifinals from leading positions (three of the past four) is an unfortunate habit to have developed, and her Australian Open victory now seems the anomaly in the pattern. Sabalenka has bounced back from worse, but if she makes the US Open semifinals, it'll be on everyone's mind -- including her opponent's.
Nguyen: I agree with Alex. I think the so-called Big Three did well for themselves at Wimbledon, though ironically, the one with the biggest work to do is the player who went the deepest. Swiatek’s match-point saving performance against Bencic should finally put to rest any questions about her competitive resilience. Rybakina made the quarterfinals in her title defense and lost in three sets to Jabeur. Nothing to stress about there. But Sabalenka was two holds of serve away from not only the Wimbledon final but also the World No.1 ranking. She’s 6-0 in her career in Slam quarterfinals. She’s now 1-5 in Slam semifinals.
Juzwiak: I think things will go just fine for the trio. Sabalenka and Rybakina dominated the hard courts in the first quarter of 2023 and I suspect they will pick up where they left off. Swiatek had a relatively iffy start to last year’s summer hard-court season -- then, you know, just went all the way to the US Open title, so she can reflect on that if she needs a quick confidence boost. Their Wimbledon losses surely disappointed them, to varying degrees, but they all made at least the quarterfinals. I doubt any one of them had their self-belief dented to the extent where they would falter during what should be a prime section of the calendar for each of them.
Garber: I don’t think any of them will do anything differently. Grass season has always been the palate-cleansing sorbet between the clay and summer hard-court seasons, and the Big Three have learned as well as any players that the key to success is a short memory. Swiatek had her best effort at Wimbledon, Sabalenka made her fourth straight Grand Slam singles semifinal and Rybakina may feel freer after leaving Wimbledon without the Venus Rosewater Dish.
Which player who was relatively quiet during the grass season do you expect to make some headlines during the upcoming US Open Series?
Garber: Caroline Garcia went 2-1 in each of the three grass-court tournaments in which she played – consistent, but not what you’d expect of a No.5-ranked player. This is just about the time she caught fire last year. She was forced to qualify at the Western & Southern Open, then ripped through the field, defeating three Top 10 players (Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka and Jessica Pegula) on the way to the title. That set up Garcia for a semifinal run in New York, which sent her flying into the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, where she beat Sabalenka in the final. It’s time for her to crowd that baseline, aim for the lines and do some damage on those summer hard courts in North America.
Macpherson: At Wimbledon, Bianca Andreescu said that now she's back with childhood coach Christophe Lambert, she's playing with more instinct and freedom and feels like she's recapturing some of the magic from 2019. Her level bore this out. Andreescu was unlucky to lose a top-quality third round to Ons Jabeur, a contest that went down to the wire and was ultimately decided by one loose game in the third set (and arguably a poor decision not to challenge in the second). What's lacking so far are actual deep runs in tournaments. There's no better place to rectify that than Andreescu's favorite swing on the calendar, one that culminated four years ago with the US Open title.
Nguyen: I second the vote for Andreescu. I’ll also throw my hat in the ring for Belinda Bencic and Victoria Azarenka. If Bencic converts one of those match points against Swiatek, who knows what Wimbledon looks like. And Azarenka played a great tournament, losing 11-9 in the match tiebreak to Svitolina. Back on North American hard courts, all three of those players are primed to do damage.
Juzwiak: I’ll focus on Bencic, who had a hot start to the year by winning two hard-court titles before being felled by injury. She’s played only two events since April -- the Slams in Paris and London -- but she was still able to make the Wimbledon second week and hold that match point against Swiatek, so her match-fitness appears OK. Bencic has done well for herself on North American hard courts. She won the WTA 1000 event in Toronto in 2015, and her three Grand Slam quarterfinals have all come at the US Open, including her lone major semifinal in 2019. I think she could easily get back to her early-season form in the US Open Series and make a real run at qualifying for the WTA Finals.