Grand Slams

Page 1 of 812345...8...Last »

Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

Murrray fired a warning shot at Wimbledon.  Now can Djokovic reply?

The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA).  More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati.  As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.

1.      Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?

The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open.  Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two.  While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada.  A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York.  So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era.  Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward.  Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.

2.      Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?

The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors.  Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon.  One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano.  The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon.  That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three.  For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors.  Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.

3.      Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?

On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy.  Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open.  For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes.  That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11.  He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros.  Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent.  The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open.  They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.

4.      Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?

Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat.  The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover.  Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull.  She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup.  Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.

Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major.  Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts.  Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.

5.      What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?

About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger.  On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee.  The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four.  World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.

Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon.  Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned.  Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series.  Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months.  Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.

6.      Will home soil inspire the American men?

At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted.  With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity.  Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman.  The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years.  Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US.  The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there.  The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.

7.      Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?

In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer.  The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10.  Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year.  And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.

The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts.  One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena.  Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys.  American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success.  Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.

 

The Significant Seven: Memorable Women’s Matches From the First Half of 2013

Victoria+Azarenka+2013+Australian+Open+Day+aWPKxkVZP-ol

Victoria+Azarenka+2013+Australian+Open+Day+aWPKxkVZP-ol

Readers who enjoyed the article counting down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half may enjoy this sequel on the women.  As with the men, these matches do not necessarily feature the best tennis from an aesthetic perspective.  (In fact, some of them produced quite atrocious tennis for long stretches.)  What they did produce was meaningful results linked to broader trends that stretched across the first half.

Petra+Kvitova+2013+Australian+Open+Day+4+Fd0oTu9F8pNl

7) Laura Robson d. Petra Kvitova, Australian Open 2R, 2-6 6-3 11-9

The most accomplished lefty in women’s tennis met the most promising lefty in women’s tennis earlier in a draw than either would have wished.  Whereas Kvitova needed to turn a new leaf after a disastrous 2012, Robson sought to build upon a second-week appearance at the US Open.  Nerves defined much of their contest, not on this list for the quality of its tennis.  By the middle of the third set, however, it became clear that Robson could master her nerves better than the former Wimbledon champion could.  Unable to serve out the match the first time, she slammed the door at love on her second opportunity.  The encouraging resilience from Robson signaled her progress this season, which has included a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a second-week appearance at Wimbledon.  For Kvitova, the painful loss hinted that 2013 would look more than 2012 than 2011, as it has so far.

Serena+Williams+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+85Dyewk5jXVx

6) Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, Wimbledon 4R, 6-2 1-6 6-4

On the surface friendliest to the serve stood the two most formidable servers currently in the women’s game.  But grass specialist Lisicki trailed Serena 16-0 in major titles and 142-0 in weeks at No. 1.  By the logic of this Wimbledon, one should have guessed from the start that the underdog would prevail.  When Serena rallied from losing seven of the first nine games to win nine of the next ten, though, the writing seemed etched on the wall.  Nobody finds a way back against her from 0-3 in a final set at Wimbledon, or from 2-4, or from triple break point at 3-4.  Lisicki did all of those things and even survived the nerve-jangling finish as she served for the match, saving a break point with an ace and converting match point with a clean winner.  The victory ended Serena’s career-best winning streak, which had begun in March, and propelled Lisicki toward her first major final.  It marked her sixth victory over a major champion and third over a world No. 1 in just five Wimbledon appearances.  Even when the top three dominate, others still can spring surprises.

Honorable mention:  Lisicki’s semifinal epic against world No. 4 Radwanska bore several striking similarities to her victory over Serena.

Serena+Williams+Mutua+Madrid+Open+Day+7+LMQohkQePfSl

5) Serena Williams d. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Madrid QF, 6-3 0-6 7-5

Raise your hand if you would have expected Medina Garrigues to appear on this type of list when the 2013 campaign began.  No, I thought not.  And yet she posed Serena’s most formidable challenge of a clay season during which the world No. 1 went undefeated from wire to wire.  To be fair, Medina Garrigues received considerable assistance from across the net in becoming the first woman to bagel Serena since 2008.  The American spent much of the match showing us why she had not won a title on red clay in a decade, struggling to stay focused, patient, and disciplined against a grinder fond of the surface.  Then the last few games showed us why this year would be different.  Serena bent but did not break, rallying from within two points of defeat rather than letting her frustrations overcome her.  She would lose just one more set in the rest of the clay season, strewing 14 bagels and breadsticks across Madrid, Rome, and Paris.  Medina Garrigues, who lost 6-1 6-1 to Dinah Pfizenmaier this week, gave Serena the wake-up call that she needed to reconquer her least favorite surface.

Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams

4) Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, Doha F, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3

When 2012 ended, only one woman looked like a realistic threat to Serena’s stranglehold over the WTA.  But that woman, Victoria Azarenka, had just absorbed her ninth consecutive loss in their rivalry.  As competitive as some of those losses were, such as last year’s US Open final, Azarenka needed to stop the skid to bolster her confidence.  The Australian Open champion had started slowly in most of her matches against Serena, finding her rhythm only in the second set.  Always at her best early in the season, Azarenka started with more determination in Doha and won that crucial first set in a tight tiebreak.  She weathered the inevitable response from Serena in the second set and did what she could not do in New York, serving out the match comfortably in the third.  Azarenka still has not defeated the world No. 1 at a major, or when fully healthy, so much remains for her to prove.  (And Serena won a Premier Five final rematch convincingly in Rome.)  All the same, the victory in Doha confirmed suspicions that something like a rivalry might develop here, sometime.

Serena+Williams+2013+Sony+Open+Tennis+Day+6DWTKHM3Llcl

3) Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova, Miami F, 4-6 6-3 6-0

Six weeks after the previous match on this list, Serena’s dominance over her other key rivalry threatened to falter as well.  Not since 2004 had she lost to Maria Sharapova, thoroughly stifling the Russian in most of their recent meetings. Disappointment at the Australian Open and the Doha loss to Azarenka blunted Serena’s momentum heading to Miami, her home tournament, but most still ranked her a heavy favorite against Sharapova based on history.  For the first half of their final, history took it on the chin as the underdog methodically built a set-and-break lead.  But Serena vindicated history in the end, using a handful of long games late in the second set to reverse the momentum.  Once she regrouped, neither Sharapova nor anyone else could have done much to stem the torrent of blistering serves and forehands that flowed from her racket.  Miami marked the first of Serena’s five consecutive titles this spring and laid a cornerstone of confidence without which her winning streak might not have taken flight.  She extended her reacquired dominance over Sharapova in two straight-sets finals on clay.

Victoria+Azarenka+French+Open+Day+12+xo9xZAg37edl

2) Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros SF, 6-1 2-6 6-4

With Serena firmly entrenched on the WTA throne, the rivalry between Azarenka and Sharapova loomed ever larger.  Azarenka had won their two most significant meetings in 2012, an Australian Open final and a US Open semifinal.  Holding a surface advantage over the younger blonde on clay, Sharapova struck back at Roland Garros to recapture the edge in their rivalry.  A barrage of pinpoint returns and forehands swept the first set into her ledger, but Azarenka exploited an erratic passage of play to level the match.  At that stage, parallels linked this match with their US Open semifinal, which Sharapova had started in torrid form before steadily fading.  There would be no déjà vu on this day when the two rivals contested their second 6-4 final set in three majors.  Sharapova built a commanding lead in the third set, only to throw Azarenka a lifeline as she squandered a handful of match points.  The ear-shattering shrieks and ball-shattering blows from both competitors escalated with the mounting drama.  When a bullet ace streaked down the center stripe, Sharapova reasserted herself as the best of the rest—for now.

Victoria+Azarenka+2013+Australian+Open+Day+hUcK2F0iwt9l

1) Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na, Australian Open F, 4-6 6-4 6-3

Never a fan favorite, Azarenka has endured a discordant relationship with media and many fans throughout her tenure at the top.  The simmering turbulence there boiled into the open after she took a dubious medical timeout near the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens.  When Azarenka took the court against Li with her title defense at stake, the air in Rod Laver Arena felt heavier with hostility than humidity.  The Chinese star emerged the less battered of the two from a rollercoaster first set, high on tension and low on holds of serve.  Steady returning and unsteady emotions extended into the second set, when Li added a plot twist of her own by sustaining successive injuries.  Made of tenacious stuff, she gallantly returned to the fray after striking her head on the court.  But Azarenka’s head had grown clearer while Li’s head had grown cloudier, allowing the former to claw her way to an impressive title defense.  With almost nobody in her corner for one of the biggest matches of her career, Azarenka showed how she needs nobody but herself.  She echoed fellow world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in her ability to thrive on animosity and turn it defiantly to her advantage.

 

The Magnificent Seven: Memorable Men’s Matches from the First Half of 2013

Made for this sport, and for each other.

Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall.  This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half.  Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.

Grigor+Dimitrov+Mutua+Madrid+Open+Day+4+HM2eeoaWH7yl

7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3

During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite.  First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively.   Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo.  Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1.  When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled.  Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished.  Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris.  (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)

Stakhovsky

6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)

Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club.  An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals.  That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10.  Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday.  Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better.  Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.

Andy+Murray+2013+Australian+Open+Day+12+k4f6dCoC5CQl

5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2

Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back.  He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized.  Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set.  A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth.  All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently.  Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013.  Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.

Ernests+Gulbis+2013+BNP+Paribas+Open+Day+8+zPrYuWOT7Pnl

4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5

Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012.  Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years.  Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition.  To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset.  But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges.  He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.

Novak+Djokovic+Anna+Wintour+Wimbledon+Wirc7FI8J9Ul

3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3

Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications.  Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why.  Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic.  Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation.  We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.

Stanislas+Wawrinka+2013+Australian+Open+Day+8VO3Pl_Sw_Nl

2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10

Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year.  The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent.  Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began.  Or so we thought.  A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment.  Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return.  The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt.  Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments.  Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.

Rafael+Nadal+French+Open+Day+13+D1S4XRV0_S1x

1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7

The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line.  One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced.  Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth.  Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line.  Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph.  While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb.  Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.

***

Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.

Wimbledon Men’s Final Rewind: Andy Murray’s Historic Achievement, and More

The consummation of a long, tempestuous love affair.

The third major of 2013 ended today with an exclamation point as Andy Murray brought euphoria to a nation starved for a home-grown Wimbledon champion.  Here are some thoughts.

That was…historic:  77 years, and counting no longer.  It often must have felt like 777 years to Andy Murray and members of his team, so often did the media dangle British futility at Wimbledon over his head like the sword of Damocles.  With a convincing straight-sets victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Murray echoed his achievement in winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil last year.  He will open play on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2014 as the defending champion.

But also anticlimactic:  Considering the magnitude of the history at stake, and the quality of his opponent, one felt certain that an epic of breathtaking drama would unfold.  Instead, Djokovic played by far his worst match of the tournament at the most costly time.  He surrendered 40 unforced errors across three sets even by the generous standards of the Wimbledon scorekeepers.  Djokovic had much less reason to want this title desperately than did Murray, and it may have showed.  Not that any British spectator regretted the routine scoreline.

Symptoms of a real rivalry:  Through nearly 20 meetings now, the Djokovic-Murray rivalry has not caught fire to the extent that Federer-Nadal, Djokovic-Nadal, or Federer-Djokovic did.  Perhaps it is the lack of contrast between their styles, or the fact that they rarely seem to play their best against each other at the same time.  But the matchup in three of the last four major finals is the key ATP rivalry of the future, if not the present, and at least it has taken plenty of twists and turns.  After Murray swept the Olympics and the US Open, Djokovic swept the year-end championships and the Australian Open, only to see Murray bounce back at Wimbledon.  One cannot predict a winner between these two from one match to the next, not the case for long stretches of the Federer-Nadal and Djokovic-Nadal rivalries.

Return to normalcy:  Their Australian Open matchup felt like an anomaly when neither man lost serve until the third set, and Djokovic never dropped serve at all.  Wimbledon set this return-heavy rivalry back on track despite a surface oriented around the serve.  Murray and Djokovic combined for 11 breaks across three sets, and at least one of them rallied from trailing by a break in every set.

The grass is greener:  Murray’s decision to withdraw from Roland Garros in favor of maximizing his grass chances paid off in spades.  He has won his last three tournaments on grass and reached four straight finals on the surface.  With his victory over Djokovic, moreover, Murray has won eight consecutive sets against top-three opponents on grass.  Could it become his favorite surface?

No place like Down Under:  Despite his stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking and consensus recognition as the best player in the world, Djokovic has built most of his success on the Australian Open.  His dominance there include a 4-0 record in finals and a 6-1 record against the Big Four, contrasted with a 2-5 record in finals and a 5-14 record against the Big Four at other majors.  In fact, Murray now has matched Djokovic’s title count at other majors by winning one title each at Wimbledon and the US Open, none at Roland Garros.

Four in a row:  Earlier in his career, Murray was the member of the Big Four most likely to stumble early or severely stub his toe.  That trend has changed as he has reached the final at his last four majors, showing the consistency expected of a contender, and he has played a fifth set against only one opponent outside the Big Four in 2012-13.  His No. 2 ranking owes much to that improvement.

Del Potro lurking (again):  At the Olympics last year, Juan Martin Del Potro extended Roger Federer through a 36-game final set.  It depleted the Swiss star’s energy ahead of the gold medal match against Murray.  Something similar might have happened at Wimbledon this year when Del Potro battled Djokovic for 4 hours and 43 minutes ahead of the final against Murray.  On the other hand, Djokovic’s superb fitness has risen above similar burdens before.

No competition, no problem:  Not facing a single top-16 seed before the final, Murray did not struggle to raise his level when the level of competition spiked.  Of course, quarterfinal and semifinal opponents Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowicz played better than their rankings suggested.

Practice makes perfect:  The experience of losing last year’s final may indeed have helped Murray survive the only slight patches of adversity that arrived this year.  Winning the first set 6-4, as he did against Federer, he again found himself under pressure in the second set.  But this time Murray held off a second-set rally that could have turned around the Wimbledon final for the second straight year.  He did something similar in the third set, although by then a Djokovic comeback seemed implausible.

Hangover ahead:  After he won the Olympics and the US Open last fall, Murray faded sharply over the next few months while adjusting to his new status as a major champion.  One might expect a similar swoon after this equally important breakthrough at Wimbledon.  On the other hand, Murray may feel spurred to defend his US Open title, and he usually shines on North American summer hard courts.

More drama elsewhere:  France produced its second champion of this Wimbledon when Kristina Mladenovic partnered Daniel Nestor to win the mixed doubles title.  The pair rallied from losing the first set and survived a topsy-turvy decider to win 8-6.  The last set played on Centre Court in 2013, it epitomized many of this tournament’s unpredictable trajectories.

 

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on Marion Bartoli’s Magical Fortnight, and More

The most surprising pair of major finalists in recent memory.

Six of the ten Wimbledon finalists took to Centre Court on Saturday, spearheaded by a first-time women’s champion in singles.

Stage fright:  Since the start of 2010, the WTA has produced several first-time major finalists.  Some have dazzled in their debuts, such as Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros 2010, Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon 2011, and Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open 2012.  Others have competed bravely despite falling short, such as Li Na at the Australian Open 2011 and Sara Errani at Roland Garros 2012.  Still others have crumbled under the stress of the moment, and here Sabine Lisicki recalled Vera Zvonareva’s two major finals in 2010 as well as Samantha Stosur’s ill-fated Roland Garros attempt that year.  In an embarrassingly one-sided final, Lisicki held her formidable serve only once until she trailed 1-5 in the second set.  One hardly recognized the woman who had looked so bulletproof at key moments against world No. 1 Serena Williams and world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska.

Straight down the line:  Pause for a moment to think about this fact:  Marion Bartoli won the Wimbledon title without losing a set or playing a tiebreak in the tournament.  The wackiest major in recent memory found a fittingly wacky champion in one of the WTA’s most eccentric players.  Detractors will note that world No. 15 Bartoli did not face a single top-16 seed en route to the title, extremely rare at a major.  But she could defeat only the players placed in front of her, which she did with gusto.  Bartoli lost eight total games in the semifinal and final, assuring that the words “Wimbledon champion” will stand in front of her name forever.

Greatest since Seles:  Bartoli became the first French player of either gender to win a major title in singles since Amelie Mauresmo captured the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2006.  More intriguingly, she became the first woman with two-handed groundstrokes on both sides to win a major since Monica Seles in 1996.  One wonders whether more tennis parents and coaches will start to think seriously about encouraging young players to experiment with a double-fisted game.  That might not be a bad development from the viewpoint of fans.  Bartoli’s double-fisted lasers intrigue with their distinctive angles, despite their unaesthetic appearance.

Walter vindicated:  Earlier this spring, Bartoli served a deluge of double faults in a first-round loss to Coco Vandeweghe in Monterrey.  She had attempted to part ways from her equally eccentric father, Walter, only to find that she still needed his guidance.  Within a few short months of his return, Bartoli secured the defining achievement of her career.  One need not like the often overbearing Walter, or his methods, but his daughter is clearly a better player with him than without him.

Greatest since Graf:  Lisicki became the first German woman to reach a major final since Steffi Graf in 1999.  That fact might come as a surprise, considering the quantity of tennis talent that Germany has produced since then.  Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber have reached the top ten, while Julia Goerges has scored some notable upsets.  Yet none of them has done what Lisicki has, a tribute to the finalist’s raw firepower and ability to overcome injury upon injury.  One wonders whether Petkovic in particular will take heart from seeing Lisicki in the Wimbledon final as she battles her own injury woes.

The grass is greener:  In her last four Wimbledon appearances, Lisicki has recorded a runner-up appearance, a semifinal, and two quarterfinals.  She has not reached the quarterfinals at any other major in her career.  While the grass suits her game more than any other surface, Lisicki has the talent to succeed elsewhere as well.  For example, the fast court at the US Open should suit her serve.  Will she remain a snake in the grass, or can she capitalize on this success to become a consistent threat?

Rankings collateral:  Into the top eight with her title, Bartoli will start receiving more favorable draws in the coming months.  If she avoids a post-breakthrough hangover, she will have plenty of chances to consolidate her ranking in North America, where she usually excels.

Holding all the cards:  Two other finals unfolded on Centre Court today, both more competitive than the marquee match.  In the first of those, Bob and Mike Bryan claimed the men’s doubles title as they rallied from losing the first set to Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo.  This victory not only brought the Bryans their third Wimbledon but made them the first doubles team ever to hold all of the four major titles and the Olympic gold medal simultaneously.  They stand within a US Open title of the first calendar Slam in the history of men’s doubles.

Tennis diplomacy:  In a women’s doubles draw almost as riddled with upsets as singles, eighth seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai prevailed in straight sets over the Australian duo of Casey Dellacqua and the 17-year-old Ashleigh Barty.  The champions did not face a seeded opponent until the final, where the joint triumph of Chinese Taipei citizen Hsieh and People’s Republic citizen Peng illustrated how tennis can overcome rigid national boundaries.

Question of the day:  Where does Bartoli’s triumph rank among surprise title runs in the WTA?  I would rate it as more surprising than Samantha Stosur at the 2011 US Open but less surprising than Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros 2010.

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Men’s Semifinals

Fast forward six months.

We can anticipate a blockbuster meeting between two members of the Big Four in the Wimbledon final after all.  The route getting there took some intriguing twists and turns, however.  Here are some reactions to Friday’s action.

That was…expected:  For the seventh time in ten years, the Wimbledon final will feature the top two men in the world.  When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal tumbled by the first Wednesday, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray became overwhelming favorites to reach the second Sunday.  Credit to them for taking care of business and ensuring a worthy climax to the tournament.

But also better than expected:  With Djokovic’s semifinal opponent injured and Murray’s semifinal opponent highly inexperienced, two routs could have unfolded on Friday.  Instead, a captivated crowd saw more than seven and a half hours of high-quality tennis, courtesy of underdogs who showed determination and resilience.  Credit to Juan Martin Del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz for battling the favorites bravely.

Marathon man:  The world No. 1 played the longest major final ever last year at the Australian Open, and this year he played the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history.  Novak Djokovic’s super fitness and physical style of play predispose him toward these epics, as do the ebbs and flows that still characterize his emotions.  His five-set victory over Del Potro lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes, just five minutes shorter than the Federer-Nadal classic in 2008 and longer than the Federer-Roddick thriller in 2009.

The march of grass revenge continues:  Having defeated his 2009 Wimbledon nemesis in the fourth round and 2010 Wimbledon nemesis in the quarterfinals, Djokovic avenged his loss on grass to Del Potro in the bronze-medal match of the 2012 Olympics.  In the final, he will get a crack at the man who denied him a chance at the gold medal there.

That was then, this is now:  Djokovic’s Wimbledon semifinal followed almost exactly the opposite pattern of his Roland Garros semifinal.  He took an early lead, let it get away, took another lead, let that get away in a fourth-set tiebreak, but then closed the fifth set in style by winning his opponent’s last service game.  With just a month between those memorable matches, the similar situation combined with the contrasting result should give him even more confidence for the final.

E for effort:  Deep in the fourth set, Del Potro cracked an unthinkable 120-mph forehand, a speed comparable to the average first serves of many players.  He also saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before forcing a final set.  The Tower of Tandil came to play despite a painful knee injury, and he willed himself to retrieve more balls and survive longer in rallies than anyone could have asked of him.  Fans could see why he had not lost a set en route to the semifinal, where he made his most impressive statement at a major since winning the 2009 US Open.

But Z for zero:  On the other hand, Del Potro remains winless against the Big Four of Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, and Federer at majors since the start of 2010, with at least one loss at each major.  He has won at least one set in four of those six losses, but an 0-6 record is what it is.  Players don’t get points or trophies for “almost” in this cruel sport.

Murray’s mulligan:  For the second time, Andy Murray reached the final at consecutive majors.   The previous do-over did not end well when he lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Djokovic in straight sets, a year after falling to Federer.  Losing last year’s final at his home major likely taught the Scot some valuable lessons that he can apply to his second chance, though, and he came much closer in his first attempt than he did in Melbourne.  One can expect Murray to shed tears for one reason or another on Sunday, and the British fans will do their best to facilitate a happier ending to the remake.

Guru of grass:  Great Britain should count itself fortunate in producing not only a remarkable champion in Murray but one suited to succeed at his home major.  Murray has won 17 straight matches and reached four consecutive finals on grass, including the Olympics gold medal and the Queens Club title earlier this month.  He will hold the surface advantage against Djokovic on Sunday with his superior first serve and stronger forecourt skills.

Contrasting paths:  Just as in the women’s draw, one finalist has survived a significantly more difficult route than the other.  Like Lisicki, Djokovic has halted three top-15 opponents en route to the final, including two top-eight seeds.  Like Bartoli, Murray has not faced a top-16 seed in his first six matches.

Contrasting trajectories:  In each of his last three matches, Djokovic has started impressively in winning the first set and then stumbled in the second set.  He rallied to win that set from Haas and Berdych anyway, but he trailed the German 2-4 and the Czech by a double break.  In contrast, Murray has started slowly in each of his last two matches, dropping the first set before roaring back to win.  If this trend continues, the final could become a best-of-three affair after the first two sets.

Rubber match:  Djokovic and Murray have contested three of the last four major finals, equal to any span compiled by Federer and Nadal.  The rivalry between the top two men has not quite caught fire yet, although they split those two previous matches in New York and Melbourne.  Perhaps extending their clashes beyond hard courts will raise the successor to Federer-Nadal a notch higher in intrigue.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie:  Overlooked amid the drama on Centre Court, Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty reached their second doubles final in three majors.  The two Australians defeated two of the top five teams in the world to reach the final, where they will face Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai.  Their Fed Cup team will have a solid pairing on whom to rely in decisive doubles rubbers moving forward.

My picks for the singles finals:  I’m taking Lisicki in two and Murray in four.  This Wimbledon has belonged to the underdogs, and I think that it will stay that way.

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Semifinals in Women’s Singles and Men’s Doubles

It

At the end of a chaotic fortnight, a Wimbledon women’s final has emerged that almost nobody expected.  Here is a look at how it took shape on Thursday, and some key facts about the matchup, plus a detour into men’s doubles.

A tale of two semifinals:  Notching her sixth consecutive straight-sets victory, Marion Bartoli surrendered just three games to Kirsten Flipkens en route to her second Wimbledon final. Far more drama awaited in the three-set sequel, which brought Wimbledon patrons their money’s worth.  Extending to 9-7 in the third set, the epic clash between Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska twisted through several ebbs and flows from both players.  Each woman let opportunities slip away, and each extricated herself from danger more than once before Lisicki slammed the door.

A tale of two routes to the final:  A rare opportunity awaits Bartoli to win a major without facing any top-16 seed, any major champion, or any former No. 1.  The highest-ranked opponent to meet the world No. 15 this fortnight was No. 17 Sloane Stephens, much less experienced on these stages.  For her part, No. 23 Lisicki has upset three top-15 opponents, including two members of the top four in Serena and Radwanska.  All three of those victories came in three sets, exposing her to much more pressure than Bartoli has felt so far.

Back from the brink, again:  For the second time this tournament, Lisicki won the first set from a top-four opponent, played a dismal second, and fell behind early in the third.  For the second time, she erased that 0-3 deficit in the decider, held serve under duress late in the set, and scored the crucial break before closing out the match at the first time of asking.  The key break came at 4-4 against Serena and at 7-7 against Radwanska, both of whom played well enough to win their final sets against most opponents.  But not against this woman at this tournament.

Still Slamless: This loss may sting Agnieszka Radwanska for some time, considering the magnitude of the opportunity before her.  Not many Slam semifinal lineups will feature her as the only woman in the top 10.  The world No. 4 stood two points from a second straight Wimbledon final with Lisicki serving at 5-6 in the third set.  Radwanska would have entered that final as the clear favorite on account of her 7-0 record against Bartoli.  For all of her consistency, and all of her titles at lesser tournaments, that one major breakthrough continues to elude the Polish counterpuncher.  Once again, she will watch from the sidelines as someone with a much less impressive resume does what she cannot.

No time like the first time:  First-time major finalists have achieved some stunning results on the women’s side over the last few years.  Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka shone on their first trips to the second Saturday, both against the more established Maria Sharapova, while few can forget what Francesca Schiavone achieved during a memorable fortnight in Paris.  On the other hand, others have not risen to the occasion as well as they might have hoped in their first major final:  Sara Errani, Samantha Stosur, and Li Na among them. (Stosur and Li would find redemption with their second chances, though.)  Only a slight underdog, if an underdog at all, Lisicki should embrace the moment with her relaxed demeanor and fearless ball-striking.  She might start slowly, but she probably will not go quietly.

The magic number 23:   Both of Bartoli’s finals at majors, Wimbledon in 2007 and in 2013, have come against the 23rd seed after she defeated a Belgian in the semifinals (Henin, Flipkens).  Last time, the legendary Venus Williams held that seed, so the then-No. 18 Bartoli reached the final as a heavy underdog notwithstanding her ranking.  The double-fister has plenty of reason to fear this No. 23 seed as well, however, having lost to Lisicki at Wimbledon two years ago.

Stat of the day:  Saturday will mark just the second Wimbledon final in the 45 years of the Open era when both women seek their first major title.  The adrenaline will flow, the nerves will jangle, and somebody will walk off with the Venus Rosewater Dish who never expected to hold it a few weeks ago.

Dream alive, barely:  Switching to doubles for a moment, Bob and Mike Bryan stayed on course for a calendar Slam by reaching the Wimbledon final after winning the first two majors of 2013.  The inseparable twins have profited from the instability besetting many other doubles teams.  Nevertheless, they have won Wimbledon only twice in their career and needed five sets to escape the 14th seeds, Rohan Bopanna and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.  Even if the Bryans do not win the US Open, they would hold all four of the major titles and the Olympic gold medal simultaneously with one more victory, for they won their home major last fall.

Flavor of the fortnight:  Pitted against the history-seeking twins are the 12th seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, who upset Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek in a five-setter of their own.  Wimbledon has featured plenty of surprise doubles champions in the last several years, such as Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen, so one should not underestimate Dodig and Melo.  The latter also defeated the Bryans in Davis Cup, albeit with a different partner on a different surface.  And Dodig has enjoyed an outstanding Wimbledon fortnight, having reached the second week in singles as well.

 

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Men’s Quarterfinals

Thank God, not David Cameron.

The top two men stayed on course for a Sunday final, although in dramatically contrasting fashion.  Joining them in the semifinals are two men who never have advanced this far at Wimbledon.

Closer than it looked:  The straight-sets scoreline of Novak Djokovic’s victory over Tomas Berdych suggested yet another routine win for the world No. 1.  In reality, either of the first two sets could have tilted toward the underdog with just one or two more key points in his ledger.  Berdych took the first set to a tiebreak, losing it by a single mini-break, and led Djokovic by a double break in the second set.  The more easily ruffled version of the Serb from earlier in his career might have crumbled under that pressure.  But nothing has disturbed the top seed’s equilibrium this fortnight.  Reaching a fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal on his weakest surface, Djokovic eyes a second title in three years.

What a difference a year makes:  When Juan Martin Del Potro faced David Ferrer at Wimbledon last year, he won just eight games in an embarrassing rout.  One year later, Del Potro earned his revenge by straight-setting the Spaniard for his first victory in their rivalry since 2009.  Wimbledon remains the only major where Ferrer has not reached the semifinals, although an ankle injury may have played a role in his valiant but fallible performances throughout the tournament.  For his part, Del Potro continued to cope with a knee injury that flared up early in this battle of the walking wounded.  He now has reached the semifinals at every major except the Australian Open.

Something has to give:  Neither Djokovic nor Del Potro has lost a set at Wimbledon this year, heading into their marquee semifinal.  Del Potro has dropped serve only twice in the tournament, which should give him confidence as he aims to repeat his Indian Wells upset of the world No. 1.  It will not come easily, for Djokovic looks much sharper at Wimbledon than he did in that earlier tournament.

Heart attack for the home crowd:  British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted good luck to Andy Murray in advance of his quarterfinal against Fernando Verdasco.  Infamous for jinxing his nation’s contestants in all endeavors, Cameron nearly pulled off the impossible on Verdasco’s behalf.  The last Spaniard left in singles swept the first two sets from a flustered Murray, whom he had defeated en route to an Australian Open semifinal in 2009.  A second, even more implausible semifinal lay within Verdasco’s grasp, and a wide-open path to the title for Djokovic.  The seventh comeback of Murray’s career from a two-set deficit, culminating with a 7-5 fifth set, kept alive the prospect of a blockbuster final on Sunday.  Before that match, someone may need to deactivate Cameron’s Twitter.

Pole vaults Pole:  The least eventful quarterfinal of the day came from the section where most expected the thriller of the second Wednesday when the draw appeared.  From the quarter of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer emerged Jerzy Janowicz into his first major semifinal.  Never having reached the second week of a major before, Janowicz cruised past compatriot Lukas Kubot in straight sets.

Week of revenge?  Fourth-round opponent Tommy Haas defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2009.  Quarterfinal opponent Berdych defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2010.  Semifinal opponent Del Potro defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2012.  Likely finals opponent Murray also defeated Djokovic at the All England Club in 2012.  Judging by the fates of the first two, the world No. 1 could spend his week serving a heaping helping of revenge to his recent grass nemeses.

Nada, not Nadal:  For the second straight year, no Spaniard reached the semifinals at Wimbledon.  At least one Spanish man reached the semifinals at all of the other majors in 2012-13.  Expect that trend to continue with so little time separating Roland Garros from Wimbledon and most of the top Spaniards aging with few replacements on the horizon.

Question of the day:  Can Verdasco build upon his excellent result, his best performance at any tournament of significance since 2009?

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Women’s Quarterfinals

Maybe blondes do have more fun.

For the second time in three years, Wimbledon will crown a first-time champion on the women’s side.  That development seems fitting in view of the upsets that have riddled the draw.  Here are some thoughts on the women’s quarterfinals.

Match of the day:  It spanned three and a half hours, including rain delays, medical treatment, and multiple squandered leads.  At the end of it, Agnieszka Radwanska needed eight match points to close out world No. 6 Li Na and move within one victory of a second straight Wimbledon final.  The only woman in the top 10 to reach the semifinals, Radwanska cannot expect to get a better opportunity to join the elite club of major champions.  Despite a right leg injury that bothered her enough to call a medical treatment, she will do whatever it takes to secure these last two victories.

Upset of the day:  A year ago, Kirsten Flipkens did not even make the cutoff to play Wimbledon qualifying.  Now, she has moved to the brink of the final as the 20th seed after knocking off the only former major champion left in the draw.  Down a set to Petra Kvitova, Flipkens did not crumble under the onslaught of her opponent’s superior power.  An underrated serve and a surprising poise in tight moments helped the 27-year-old Belgian topple the world No. 8 in her Centre Court debut.  Her mentor, Kim Clijsters, would be proud of how crisply she played in the final set, committing just one unforced error.

Maid Marion immaculate:  Remember when Marion Bartoli struck nearly 20 double faults in a loss to Coco Vandeweghe this spring?  Or the coaching turmoil when she dismissed her father from her team before quickly summoning him back?  That same woman has won all ten sets that she has played at Wimbledon to reach her first major semifinal since Roland Garros 2011.  By defeating a top-20 opponent, Sloane Stephens, Bartoli legitimized a hot streak that previously had scorched only third-rate challengers.  Six years have passed since Bartoli’s only major final, which also came on these lawns.  A bit of déjà vu will await if she can solve Flipkens on Thursday.

Li’s lost chance:  Serving for the first set, the world No. 6 appeared to clip a line with her serve on set point but declined to challenge.  Li ultimately lost that set in a tiebreak and received the grim news in her press conference that the serve in fact did clip the line.  A correct challenge would have given her the first set and perhaps completely changed the trajectory of the second week.

No hangover for Lisicki:  Just 24 hours after she astonished the world, the woman who halted Serena Williams recorded a more routine victory over Kaia Kanepi.  Lisicki transitioned smoothly from heavy underdog to clear favorite, reaching her second Wimbledon semifinal in three years.  Like Flipkens, and arguably like the other semifinalists as well, her game suits grass better than any other surface.  Wimbledon lacks star power near its climax, but it should feature plenty of drama and high-quality tennis as these four women vie for a prize that most thought beyond the reach of any of them.

Petra, the enigma:  She looked like a serial major champion and perennial contender when she won Wimbledon two years ago, becoming the first woman of her generation to break through at a major.  But Kvitova has not reached a major final since then and has regressed even further over the last year, losing by the quarterfinals at her last five majors.  Unlike Radwanska, she could not overcome a physical issue that forced her to seek medical attention (an apparent breathing problem).  Kvitova has the weapons of a champion but not the mind or the will at the moment.

Americans in London:  With Stephens gone, we’re down to the legendary doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan.  The ageless twins moved within two victories of their third straight major title with a triple-tiebreak victory over the No. 8 seeds.  Keep an eye on the Bryans’ quest for a calendar Slam.  If they go to New York with a perfect record at majors this year, doubles could get some real attention.

Stat of the day:  The four semifinalists have reached four total major semifinals among them (Bartoli has two, Flipkens none) and two major finals (one each for Bartoli and Radwanska).

Question of the day:  Are you excited by the wide-open women’s semifinal lineup ahead?  Or uninspired by the absence of stars?

Wimbledon Rewind: Serena Stunned, Djokovic Dominant, Radwanska Resilient, Li Lethal, Ferrer Fierce on Manic Monday

The grass snake stings, then smiles.

Monday got manic in a hurry with a titanic upset in the women’s draw, only to settle down into more predictable outcomes for most of the day.  Catch up on any of the fourth-round action that you may have missed with the daily Wimbledon rewind.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Twists and turns pervaded the clash of rising star Jerzy Janowicz and grizzled veteran Jurgen Melzer.  In the intimate surroundings of Court 12, Melzer started the match on fire but gradually lost his momentum in the second set and later trailed two sets to one.  Able to rally in the fourth, he secured a clutch break in the tenth game to force a deciding set.  With his first major quarterfinal on the line, though, Janowicz refused to let the opportunity escape him as he edged across the finish line 6-4 in the fifth.

Comeback of the day:  The other half of an all-Polish men’s quarterfinal, Lukas Kubot trailed Adrian Mannarino by a set and later by two sets to one in the most important match of his career so far.  Nobody would have expected Kubot to reach a major quarterfinal in singles, yet he wrested away this five-set encounter from his fellow journeyman.  His semifinal chances may hinge on whether Janowicz or he can recover from their draining victories more efficiently.

Upset of the day:  None.  Tomas Berdych deserves credit for snuffing out the most plausible upset threat in Bernard Tomic.  Splitting the first two sets in tiebreaks, Berdych gradually asserted himself against the Aussie talent in the next two sets and avoided the nerve-jangling scenario of a fifth set.

Gold star:  Before 2013, Juan Martin Del Potro never had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.  This year, he has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set.  Del Potro overcame a knee injury to defeat Andreas Seppi after wondering whether he would be fit to play on Monday.  Despite all of the surprises at Wimbledon this year, all of the top-eight seeds in the men’s top half reached the quarterfinals.

Silver star:  Winless in two previous grass meetings with Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic seized control of the third from the outset and never let the veteran catch his breath.  Like Del Potro, Djokovic has not lost a set en route to the quarterfinals, but this victory impressed more than those that came before because of his history against Haas.  He will seek his fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal, not bad for a man whose worst surface is grass.

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  World No. 4 David Ferrer has not won any of his four matches in straight sets, three of them against unseeded opponents.  Struggling with a painful ankle injury, Ferrer fell behind early again on Monday before dominating the latter stages of the match, as he had in the third round.  Wimbledon is the only major where he has not reached the semifinals, so he will aim to end that futility by repeating last year’s victory there over Del Potro.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  Even with Nadal’s early exit, two Spaniards reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Joining Ferrer there was Fernando Verdasco, who rolled past Kenny de Schepper in straight sets.

Stat of the day: In addition to Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s draw, the quarterfinal appearances of Kubot and Janowicz gave Poland more Wimbledon quarterfinalists than any other nation.

Question of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray again took care of business efficiently today, dispatching 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  Can Murray continue his uneventful progress to the final, his path barred only by Verdasco and one of the Poles?  Or will the escalating pressure of the second week lead to some unexpected drama in the bottom half?

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of the greatest grass specialists in WTA history, Sabine Lisicki reached her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal by shocking heavy title favorite, defending champion, and world No. 1 Serena Williams in three sets.  Serena had not looked as sharp in the first week as she had at Roland Garros, but one expected her to prevail once she recovered from a dismal first set.  The defending champion dominated Lisicki in the second set and rolled to an early lead in the third, at which point many underdogs might have surrendered.  Lisicki is a different player on this court than she is anywhere else, though, and she swung freely with the match in the balance at 4-4 in the final set.  Hitting through her nerves and a staggering Serena, she scored perhaps the biggest upset in an upset-riddled draw.

Comeback of the day:  When Tsvetana Pironkova claimed the first set from Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon suddenly looked in danger of losing all of the top five women before the quarterfinals.  But grass specialists would split their two meetings with top-four seeds on Monday as Radwanska ground through a second straight three-set victory.  As has been the case with much of her 2013 campaign, she has not shown her best form while doing just enough to win.

Gold star:  Li Na had survived consecutive three-setters to end the first week, including an 8-6 epic against Klara Zakopalova.  She needed to fasten her teeth into the tournament more firmly, and she did by losing just two games to the 11th seed, Roberta Vinci.  Having defeated Radwanska in a quarterfinal at the Australian Open, Li will hope to repeat the feat in a Tuesday match between the two highest-ranked women remaining in the draw.

Silver star:  Only one woman has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set or playing a tiebreak.  Take a bow, world No. 15 Marion Bartoli, who has threatened only occasionally at majors since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2007.  Granted, Bartoli has faced no opponent in the top 50 to this stage.  She participated in a bloodbath of Italians by ousting Karin Knapp for the loss of just five games.  (None of the four Italians who reached the fourth round won a set on Manic Monday.)

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  The only former Wimbledon champion left in the women’s draw, Petra Kvitova had dropped sets in both of her first-week victories and easily could have done so again on Monday.  Former nemesis Carla Suarez Navarro took Kvitova to a first-set tiebreak and the brink of an emotional meltdown, but the Czech steadied herself once she survived it.  Kvitova can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Kirsten Flipkens, also fortunate to avoid losing a first set for which her opponent served twice.  Flipkens won their previous meeting this year in Miami.

All eyes on Andy:  A round after she upset Angelique Kerber, Kaia Kanepi sent home local darling Laura Robson in two tight sets.  The match could have tilted in either direction, so Kanepi’s experience probably proved vital in securing her second Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance.  She also earned the last laugh on British tabloids that lampooned her burly physique before the Robson match.

Americans in London:  In the wake of Serena’s loss, the United States plausibly might have gone home without a single quarterfinalist in either singles draw.  Sloane Stephens averted that disappointment by winning a second straight three-setter, this time against Monica Puig.  Trailing by a set, Stephens showed resilience in battling through a tight second set and then dominating the third.  She has won twelve matches at majors this year, more than many higher-ranked women.

Stat of the day: In Lisicki’s last four Wimbledon appearances, she has defeated the current Roland Garros champion every time.  Her repeated denials of Channel Slams protect a record held by compatriot Steffi Graf, who completed the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double four times.

Question of the day:  The first three majors will crown three different women’s champions for the third straight year.  With all of the top three gone before the quarterfinals, who becomes the new title favorite?  One might favor Kvitova, the only woman who has won here before, but conventional wisdom has taken it on the chin all fortnight.

 

Page 1 of 812345...8...Last »