The Championships at Wimbledon are just beyond the half-way point, so we almost have the quarters filled-in and those battles set to go. Some very intriguing storylines. In a previous post, I thought Stan Wawrinka might be feeling a bit too much of his French Open hang-over to pose much of a threat on the grass at Wimbledon; he even had an early exit at his warm-up on the lawns at Queens Club. He has a huge game and has proved he can handle some big spotlights against big opponents. His two grand slams are vs. Nadal and Djokovic, for instance. And he overpowered both. But part of me thought his inability to sustain the 2014 breakthrough, his age (30), etc., meant more subdued expectations.
An interesting thought on his French win last month vs. his 2014 Australian Open is that he might not have felt completely validated in his win over Nadal because the Spaniard was dealing with injury in that 2014 final. Granted, a win is a win, but there might be some truth to him not gaining as much confidence as one might’ve thought from that first major. He failed to really capitalize on that big career win, which supports this argument. Fast forward to the 2015 French. He destroyed Federer (his royal mentor) in the quarters and bludgeoned Djokovic in the final. Both Federer and Djokovic have been in fine form, especially the Djoker, clearly the world’s #1. Apparently, those close to Stan have noticed a different Stan following this win, a much more confident Stan. Stan is into the quarters, playing some tight matches but advancing fairly business-like. Looking at the draw, we look to have Roger and Murray on a collision course in that one semi-final and Stan looking like he’ll face Djokovic in the other. That’s the top 4 seeds. So, upsets aside, we have good cooking at The Championships.
The first week had a few surprises, the biggest being that Nadal went down to a wild card German Rastafarian bloke who used to make a living stringing rackets on the tour. Nadal losing like this is not that shocking if you asked me. He’s been free-falling. He’s only 29 years-old. The whispers of his possible drug use (PED) earlier in his career would help explain this kind of decline. Granted, he has a very aggressive, physical style of play, but he’s only 29 and has battled injury throughout his career. A big red flag for drug use is this kind of physical deterioration, of the knees, hips, etc. It’s not a ankle, or an ACL type of injury that plagues drug users. Rather there seems to be this odd kind of deterioration. Tiger Woods is having the same kind of end to his career (a known PED user). Baseball players like Alex Rodriguez, the same. But beyond all of this speculation, Nadal is circling the drain at 29 and this really undermines the arguments that he is the GOAT. Such claims are hollow when you see this kind of loss this last week to Dustin Brown in the second round. As I have always said: he is a clay court specialist who did find success at the other majors. No doubt, he is a great competitor, but the rumors and this kind of inconsistency is tough to ignore. Of course, the other part of the argument for Nadal his record against Roger. I will listen to this; I saw all of it with my own eyes. But Roger at 33 is threatening to win his 8th Wimbledon and 18th overall. The Swiss bleeds and breaths class.
One final note on the grass: Djokovic fell behind to S.African Kevin Anderson 0-2, but battled back to even it at 2-2 before the match was suspended for darkness. The huge hitting Anderson was in complete control until the match turned. Early-on, Djokovic looked like the player who got run off the clay by Stan. Passive, seemingly not completely invested. His game is so balanced at such a high level perhaps he assumes he will find a way – though that seems to include him waiting for opponents to be overwhelmed, make too many mistakes, etc. There are some really strong players on tour; that strategy is doomed to failure. If he can win that last set vs. Anderson tomorrow, he has Stan waiting in the semis. That loss at the French is a huge statement of Djokovic’s legacy. I see the same vulnerability in his play at this tournament. He could shut me up and win this championship. He’s #1, which means he should win it. But I will not be surprised if he does not.
A bit of mountain running
The typical news sources are pretty good at giving us results and all that good stuff. I mainly want to weigh in on the recent efforts of some US mountain running folk. I have enjoyed following Peter Maksimow via Instagram. He was involved in the Team Colorado win at Mt. Washington, along with Andy Wacker, who is achieving some marvelous results himself. That team consisted of Andy Wacker, Zach Miller, Peter Maksimow, Simon Gutierrez, and Rickey Gates. Go Team CO! Legendary manpower. Maksimow and Wacker were then joined by Mario Mendoza and David Roche who together grabbed a team USA silver at the World Mountain Running Association’s Long Distance Championships in Zermatt, Switzerland. The Peter Maksimow show has been an entertaining feed – mountain running and beer (along with some solid facial hair) is a glorious marriage; the mountains of Switzerland, mountain running and beer is the great ménage à trois. Serious mountain running personnel, seriously historic races and great results from some American runners. Have to enjoy it. The 27 year-old Wacker seems to have a very bright future. His team silver was added to his individual silver.
Of course, Ricky Gates gave Kilian a run for his money at Mt. Marathon. Nice to see Ricky Gates continuing to perform in big races with such a big resume already in tow. The accessibility of these “stars” who kick ass and seem to still enjoy themselves, not taking themselves too seriously, makes this sport of the mountain so much fun to follow. I recall being a lot more in tune with this more styled and focused mountain running, especially that of the European genre – steep and technical slopes with very competitive mountain goats – a few years ago when I followed and wrote regularly about many of those historic and dramatic races. I look forward to getting back in-touch with the races, which only inspires my own taste of the mountains and beer, here in So Cal.
Speaking of some of those older battles I used to cover weekly, nice to see Marco de Gaspari grab the FKT of a crazy steep high point in the Eastern Italian Alps (Ortles -12,812 ft). Pretty inspiring stuff. Especially, the crew he had, including aerial coverage and ice cold champagne to celebrate the achievement. Great stuff.
Lastly, also nice to see we have more high-end mountain running on the horizon to determine the personnel to represent the US at even more high-end mountain running. From the site: “Nike Trail Running will sponsor the USA Mountain Running Championships coming up in Bend, Oregon on July 25. As the sole selection race for the US Mountain Running Team, this event has become the premier sub-ultra distance trail race in the United States and historically features the fastest trail runners in the nation.”
You go, Nike! Isn’t there a future that has our world governed by Nike, Apple, Google and Stone Brewing (the evil craft beer giant)? Facebook, by the way, jumps the shark in about ten years and sinks to the bottom of the world.
Max King apparently designed the national championships course. Given Max’s pedigree, the recent successes of Joe Gray and Andy Wacker, the field will certainly be stacked. Of course, the results of this July 25th race will determine the team to represent the US at the world championships to be held in the Snowdonia region of Wales in September. Can’t wait for that Selection Saturday.
PS If Kilian doesn’t destroy the counter clock-wise CR at HR100 next weekend, everyone pray for some sort of explanation. Granted, we shouldn’t be too surprised by anything, other than no surprises, but I can’t imagine he’s anything but completely rested and reaching great form for that adventure.