Clay-court fans and the backers of immensely successful clay-court players view the French Open as the crown jewel of every year.
The longtime chroniclers of tennis — those who have been around for at least 40 years in the press boxes and media centers of the sport — will calmly point out how marginalized grass-court tennis has become. The grass “season,” such as it is, really doesn’t amount to a season. It’s basically a five-week blip on the radar screen. Through 1974, three of the four majors were played on grass. Now, only one is played on lawns. On the men’s tour, grass doesn’t even have one Masters 1000 event. On the women’s tour, grass is bereft of a Premier 5 or Premier Mandatory tournament.
Yet, even with all these things being what they are, it’s still hard to refer to any tennis event other than Wimbledon as the centerpiece of the sport. This is tennis’s oldest major tournament, held in the place where the modern game developed. Centre Court is the cathedral of tennis, unsullied by the excess commercial logos seen at the central courts of the other three majors. Liturgy begins at 1 p.m. for most of the tournament, at 2 for the singles finals. The crowds might be partial, but they revere the game in ways you won’t see in Melbourne, Paris, or New York.
History breathes deeply at Wimbledon, and the silences between, even during, points are part of the sensory experience which makes Wimbledon akin to The Masters: a tradition unlike any other in its sport.
Here is a brief viewer’s guide for the next two weeks, highlighted by the scheduling plan which sets Wimbledon apart from the other three major tennis tournaments on the calendar.
First things first: Let’s track your favorite players, as we did for Roland Garros.
Roger Federer has already said when he’ll be playing. He’s on Tuesday because Wimbledon tradition mandates that the defending men’s champion should open the Centre Court order of play on the first Monday. Andy Murray is in the top half of the men’s draw, Federer the bottom half, so when Murray got the call for Monday, Federer knew he would play on Tuesday.
The composition of the first week for the men’s tournament is clear, then: The top half plays Monday-Wednesday-Friday, the bottom half Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday.
Top half players other than Murray include Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Ernests Gulbis, Tomas Berdych, Kevin Anderson, Grigor Dimitrov, and David Ferrer.
Bottom half players other than Federer include Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, Feliciano Lopez, John Isner, and Jerzy Janowicz.
For the women, a twist in the schedule occurred due to the fact that the defending champion retired from the sport. Marion Bartoli is not around to defend her title. Tournament officials decided to give the Centre Court treatment to the 2013 runner-up, Sabine Lisicki, instead of 2012 champion Serena Williams.
Lisicki is in the top half of the draw. Since she plays on Tuesday, the rest of the top half of the draw will play Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday. The bottom half will go Monday-Wednesday-Friday.
Top half players other than Lisicki include Serena, Andrea Petkovic, Eugenie Bouchard, Angelique Kerber, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic, and Jelena Jankovic.
Bottom half players of note include Victoria Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza, Dominika Cibulkova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Samantha Stosur, and Li Na.
That covers the first week. Now, on to the second week, which is when Wimbledon does something the other three majors don’t — but should — do.
Unlike the other three majors, Wimbledon goes quiet on the “Middle Sunday” of the tournament, but that’s not what the other three majors should do. “Middle Sunday” does, however, enable Wimbledon to offer the best second-week scheduling of all the majors. The tournament resets the draw by playing all of its fourth-round matches on one day. This day is the second Monday of the tournament — mark it down: June 30.
The name for Wimbledon’s second Monday is “Manic Monday,” viewed by many diehard tennis fans as the single best day on the whole tennis calendar. Every round of 16 match is played on the same day. These are not what you’d call “preliminary-round” matches, because they’re in the second week and serve as a gateway to the quarterfinals and beyond. Yet, the stacked order of play provides a quantity of tennis that won’t be matched for the remainder of the tournament. It’s a high-octane mix of quantity and quality. No other major has a day quite like Manic Monday.
Following Manic Monday, the women’s and men’s tournaments are split into different days so that they get their own stages. The women’s quarterfinals are on Tuesday (July 1), the men on Wednesday (July 2). The women’s semifinals are on Thursday (July 3), the men on Friday (July 4). The women play their championship match on Saturday (July 5), the men on Sunday (July 6).
From the quarterfinals to the finals, players get equal amounts of rest, which is why this schedule is more enlightened than what you see at the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens. It’s true that Wimbledon could tweak its schedule a little more — feel free to discuss this topic with me on Twitter — but the All-England Club should still be commended for how it handles the second week of Wimbledon.
The final note pertains to television coverage.
Unlike the French Open and, to a lesser extent, the U.S. Open — which are split into so many broadcast pies — Wimbledon coverage is relatively clean and straightforward. ESPN’s family of networks and its streaming arm, ESPN3, run the show. Tennis Channel runs replayed matches once ESPN2 and Co. are done.
Because ESPN controls the coverage, you don’t have to worry about tape-delayed or black-holed men’s semifinals. Even better is a recent innovation used for the first three days of the second week, Manic Monday followed by the two days of quarterfinals. On those three days — which have multiple matches in the same time windows — ESPN and ESPN2 team up to cover the matches on Centre Court and the other courts, especially Court No. 1. On Manic Monday, one of the two channels (ESPN or ESPN2) covers Centre Court, while the other one includes Court 1 and the second-tier show courts. On the two quarterfinal days, there’s a simple two-way split between Centre and Court 1.
There’s just one twist you have to account for this year as a viewer: With ESPN covering the World Cup, some coverage is going to be farmed out to ESPNEWS. The details can be found in this television schedule, courtesy of Tennis Panorama News.
Enjoy The Championships.