Yellow Balls

06.23.14

12 Things You Didn’t Know About the Quirky Stars of Wimbledon

Federer has two sets—of twins. 21-year-old Sloane Stephens isn’t afraid to trash talk Serena. And ‘Genie’s Army’ is out for blood. Here’s what you need to know for Wimbledon.

Thumb through the Wimbledon draw for 2014 and it’s safe to assume this: You’re probably more familiar with the names of tennis champions from years past than the ones that are competing at the sport’s most famous tournament over the next two weeks.

A sport that brought you John McEnroe and Pete Sampras and Chris Evert and Steffi Graf is no longer one rooted in the consciousness of the American public. It has been scooted into the corner occupied with label “niche,” swept there with cousins like track and field, golf and soccer.

But with The Championships getting underway Monday in London, the All England Lawn Tennis Club becomes the set for a series of mini-movies. The sport has its drama, played out by personalities that—while not household names to most of us, save a few—ooze with an offering of unabashed intrigue.

There’s no doubt you’ll sit down to watch at least some of the coming “fortnight” (British speak for a two-week period), so let us help you sound like you know what you’re talking about over bites of bagels and slurps of coffee. Here, 12 things you didn’t know about the world’s biggest tennis stars.

Roger Federer

Why You Might Know Him: He’s considered the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), having won 17 majors, including seven Wimbledon titles.

What You Don’t Know: The Swiss stalwart, already a living legend, has four little ones of his own, two sets of twins! His wife, former tennis player Miroslava Vavrinec (Mirka, to the insider fan) gave birth to two boys in early May, Leo and Lenny. Older sisters Charlene and Myla Rose are nearly 5.

And: Nicknamed a “genius” on the court, Rog is sort of one off of it, too. He speaks four languages—English, French, Swiss German and German—and conducts up to three hours worth of interviews after match wins.

Serena Williams

Why You Might Know Her: The 18 Grand Slam titles help, as does being one-half of the most famous sister pair in sporting history.

What You Don’t Know: She’s a regular on HSN (a $19.90 tie-dye infinity scarf, anyone?), she’s been linked romantically for the last two years to her older French coach (rumored to be donezo now) and has a 10-year feud running with Maria Sharapova (in which time Williams has never lost to her). 

Rafael Nadal

Why You Might Know Him: “Rafa” just won his ninth French Open (Roland Garros!) in 10 years, bringing his total major haul to 14.

What You Don’t Know: Perhaps the most routine-oriented athlete in sports, watch Nadal closely before he serves—every point. It’s a tug at his butt, then left shoulder and right shoulder, before he tucks hair behind ears and touches his nose. All before he launches his toss into the air.

Maria Sharapova

Why You Might Know Her: The five-time Grand Slam champion has been a corporate glamour girl since 2004.

What You Don’t Know: Sharapova has her own sugar line—Sugarpova—and last year was rumored to be considering changing her name to the brand before the U.S. Open (it didn’t happen).

And: Once engaged to NBA star Sasha Vujacic, Sharapova is now involved with up-and-coming tennis player Grigor Dimitrov.

Novak Djokovic  

Why You Might Know Him: He’s won six majors, including the US Open in 2010.

What You Don’t Know: Djokovic is the tour’s funny guy (even his Twitter handle is @DjokerNole). Last month, he invited a ball boy at the French Open to sit with him during a rain delay, offering the kid a swig of Perrier and a courtside chat. The YouTube views? 9.6 million

Li Na

Why You Might Know Her: She became the first Asian tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title. She now has two.

What You Don’t Know: If Novak is the men’s class clown, that title goes to Li on the women’s side. The affable 32-year-old never hesitates at publicly embarrassing her husband (his snoring, his bad habits) during interviews, and this year, after winning the Australian Open, said, “Max. Agent. Make me rich. Thanks a lot,” making the whole of Melbourne die with laughter.

Andy Murray

Why You Might Know Him: He’s the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

What You Don’t Know: Murray is quite the women’s tennis advocate—at least in practice. Murray often tweets about the women’s game and two weeks ago appointed former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo as his coach. Andy the feminist? The decision has been knocked by plenty of insiders, but Murray’s biggest tennis influence has been his mom, Judy, the British women’s coach.

Simona Halep

Why You Might Know Her: The Romanian played Sharapova in the French Open final this month, the first three-set final there in 13 years.

What You Don’t Know: Just over a year ago Halep was ranked outside the top 50 and was toiling along as a former top junior turned journeywoman. Now ranked No. 3 in the world, the soft-spoken Eastern European has been hard at work on the court—and off of it. She says she’s trying to improve her English for the growing media attention. How? She’s reading the Harry Potter series in English.

Venus Williams 

Why You Might Know Her: The other half of the famous Williams sister duo has seven majors in her career.

What You Don’t Know: She’s been playing professional tennis for over 20 years, but Williams has developed quite the off-court portfolio, too. She designs her own sports clothing line, EleVen, is a part-owner with Serena of the Miami Dolphins, has a stake in Jamba Juice (shot of wheatgrass, anyone?) and led the charge in fight for equal pay for women’s players.

John Isner

Why You Might Know Him: The 6-foot-9 American is the U.S. No. 1.  

What You Don’t Know: The former University of Georgia standout participated in tennis’ longer-ever match, played at Wimbledon in 2010. He and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut played over three days, totaling 11 hours, 5 minutes, the North Carolina native winning 6—4, 3—6, 6—7(7), 7—6(3), 70—68. Yes, 70-68.

Sloane Stephens

Why You Might Know Her: In early 2013 she became the first American teenager to defeat Serena—ever.

What You Don’t Know: After beating Serena at the Australian Open in January of last year, the American got into quite the public squabble with her compatriot, blasting her in ESPN the Magazine before trying to put out the PR-nightmare flame. She’s also dating fellow American tennis player Jack Sock.

Genie Bouchard

Why You Might Know Her: The 20-year-old Canadian made the Australian Open and French Open semifinals, being tapped as the next big thing in women’s tennis.

What You Don’t Know: It helps to have an army. Bouchard’s fans have christened themselves “Genie’s Army,” sporting red-and-white emblazoned T-shirts for her matches. And the must-give gift to Bouchard when she wins a match? Stuffed animals. She has dozens of them.