Wimbledon is a mythic tournament, the place where titans like Roger Federer, Venus Williams, Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, et al. create legacies and write their names large in the annals of glory. But sometimes Wimbledon is nothing less than a wake-up call, and so it was for the two champions of Sunday: Andy Murray and Jelena Jankovic.
The last we saw of them at Wimbledon, they were flaming out in bitter disappointment: Murray, the Scotsman and designated great Wimbledon hope for the entire United Kingdom, was beaten in the semifinals by Andy Roddick ("No shame in that," Murray would say, despite his keen disappointment) and Jankovic was busy plumbing the depths of the horrific slump with which she celebrated her No. 1 finish for the year 2008. She lost in the third round at Wimbledon to 17-year-old U.S. qualifier Melanie Oudin.
The difference in Murray's and Jankovic's situations adds up to a valuable lesson for all tennis players who aspire to be more than journeymen. Recovering addicts of various stripes can tell you that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can pull yourself together and begin working your way back up toward the light. Heck, Andre Agassi, the master of self-reinvention, might tell you that as well. But by and large, the best policy for a top player is to nip the losing problem in the bud, as Murray seems to have done.
Murray was on a steady upward arc through 2009, and he said after winning Sunday that he was determined to bounce back rather than tumble further. He wiped away the bitter aftertaste of his Wimbledon loss masterfully, surpassing Rafael Nadal as No. 2 in the world in the process, by winning the Montreal Masters over a fatigued Juan Martin Del Potro.
As he said afterward, "I could have gone away and become a worse player and not work on anything, or go and practice harder and become better so the same thing doesn't happen the next time around."
Jankovic, a few thousand miles down the line in Cincinnati, might have confirmed the wisdom of that attitude, given how she'd let the No. 1 ranking and big chunks of her growing reputation slide this year, at exactly the time she might have consolidated her status and established her legitimacy as the top woman player. She had a terrible Australian Open, and it launched her on an apparent quest to touch rock bottom, which she probably hit in her Wimbledon loss to Oudin.
Granted, unforeseen events played a part in Jankovic's swoon. For one thing, Jankovic overtrained in the offseason, and the 15 additional pounds she toted around in January of this year didn't make her more powerful; they made her slower. For another, her omnipresent mother, Snezana, was stricken ill a little later and underwent surgery. So what grand ambitions she had were waylaid, and she let things go from bad to worse. But she now has to be considered a contender at the upcoming U.S. Open, where she reached the final last year.
Murray, too, was a losing U.S. Open finalist in 2009, beaten by Federer. He might be a safer bet to match or surpass his performance of last year, but I wouldn't discount the potential value of this win to Jankovic. Sometimes, the ones who hit rock bottom pop back to the top with a special brand of determination and vigor.
Just ask Andre Agassi.