Experience, divine treasure: maturity “is everything” at Wimbledon 2023
LONDON – Since May 5, 2003, the day Carlos Alcaraz was born in a hospital in El Palmar, in the Spanish region of Murcia, only four men have won Wimbledon: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
That year marked the beginning of the tyranny of the ‘Big Four’ on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, the only Grand Slam without rebels in the last two decades. And in Wimbledon 2023, with Alcaraz as world number one, Djokovic and Murray are presented in the main draw as the only ones who tasted glory in the most traditional theater of tennis. Both players living different presents, but with several similarities.
“I’m not planning to retire after winning the tournament here,” says Murray with his traditional humor, but spiced with the confidence that gives him a present unthinkable four years ago, after he left tennis with a bad hip. Surgeries, a new metal hip and much love for the sport through, the Briton arrives at London with a grass-court campaign to applaud: with humility made a downgrade and played in the Challenger tour. He won two trophies and grabbed a bunch of rhythm and confidence.
“Where I am now compared to 2019 is like the night and the day. From a mental perspective, in the way I enjoy the game, and how I’m still able to compete with these guys,” Murray proudly commented in front of the media in the much bigger and modern new press conference room.
“There’s no reason why I can’t have a good tournament. I’ve played on the big stages here more than anyone else…there’s only one player in the draw with more experience than me, which is Novak. I’m the only one of us here who has beaten him on these courts. I have to use experience as my main advantage and build confidence from there. I think I’m one of the best grass-court players in the world and I’m physically very good,” explained the 2013 and 2016 champion.
In the vicinity of Church Road, one of the things that is most appreciated in the days leading up to the tournament is the calm. You hear the silence on Centre Court watching its pristine grass, you walk quietly without the crowds that will pack every corner of the venue. But around court 14 there is noise, and many people with credentials hanging from their necks are enjoying what is happening there.
Bringing back memories of the 2013 final, Djokovic and Murray trained for half an hour, the maximum time allowed by the organization, so that the grass does not wear out too much. Together on a tennis court for the first time since last year’s Laver Cup: “With Novak I practiced a lot, even when we were both competing for Grand Slams. With Roger I never did it after 2007. Rafa… I practiced a few times, but I don’t think Rafa and Novak ever trained together.”
Djokovic has a historic double opportunity at Wimbledon. Not only can he equal Margaret Court’s record number of Grand Slam titles (24). He can also tie Federer as the top male winner at Wimbledon, with eight crowns. And if wanted, the pressure is triple counting London as the third stage to conquer on the road to the Grand Slam, so as to arrive in New York with the chance to equal Rod Laver’s achievement in 1969, as the only owner of the four majors in one year in the male’s Open Era.
Achievements that produce a hunger so characteristic of the Serb: “I don’t need Carlos (Alcaraz) or anyone else to motivate me. I am hungry for more Grand Slams, for more titles”.
Djokovic’s favoritism in this edition is perhaps the greatest he has ever experienced. There are shocking statistics: he has been undefeated for a decade at Centre Court (Murray’s was his last defeat there) and has won more matches in Wimbledon than the rest of the top 20. 86 wins for one player, 85 for 19 players younger than that player.
For Murray, what Djokovic did at Roland Garros was phenomenal. “And it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down,” he says. Especially so was the “clinical” performance he had against Alcaraz in the semifinals. And for the young Spaniard himself, a great lesson for what may come in the future: “The next time I play him I’ll have that memory so that the same thing doesn’t happen to me.”
The champion of Queens dispatched a brief and very sharp reflection on that afternoon in Paris when he was eaten by the nerves that produced the cramps that finished him. “Djokovic puts a lot of pressure. Experience is everything. It was my second semi-final, I think Novak played 40? For me, it’s everything,” he acknowledges.
Daniil Medvedev, back at Wimbledon after the ban put on Russian players in 2022 due to the military invasion in Ukraine, at 27 is a mix of experience with youth. “Older players talk about experience because it’s true that physically they are not like they used to be, so they must start to use something else to actually physically not get tired. But look at Novak, he’s 36, we saw him against Carlos and it was precisely Carlos who had the nerves and cramps. And Carlos is probably physically stronger.”
Will experience or youth weigh more in this edition of Wimbledon 2023? The answer will come on Sunday, July 16. Or maybe sooner if someone is able to row against the odds in a hostile scenario for the inexperienced.