by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—It was nothing like women's tennis we knew before the Williams sisters burst into the game. Heck, it wasn't even anything like their early triumphs at the U.S. Open or Wimbledon, this furious, vehement quarterfinal clash between defending champion Petra Kvitova and the four-time champ Serena Williams.
In all fairness, as much of the credit for this display of stereotype-shattering, convention-smashing tennis (that tinkle you hear is the sound of one of those notorious "glass ceilings" falling all around you) goes to Kvitova as to Serena, in exactly the proportions indicated by the 6-3, 7-5 score in favor of the American.
It's unlikely that anyone but Kvitova—at her best—could have matched Serena on this day when it came to ripping off forehands, concussive backhands, or those kabooming serves. And it's unlikely that Serena could have looked less secure, given the level of her game, were her opponent anyone but Kvitova. The big Czech (Kvitova stands 6-feet tall), with the big game, the big hook serve, and the big lashing forehand, reviewing her task, admitted afterward that playing Serena . . . "It is big difficult."
She elaborated: "I think it was great match from both of us, and I think that she just serve much better than me. I think there were some really important points that I could play better. I think that was the different."
None was more important than Kvitova's lone break point of the match, which was simultaneously a set point in the second set. But she never really had a look at it, as Serena pounded a 109 M.P.H. service winner to the southpaw's backhand. It was yet another shot that, with the roof closed, sounded like nothing less than an angry rogue wave breaking on a rocky beach.
"I loved it," Serena said of the experience, her first time playing with the lid on Centre Court. "It was amazing for me. There was no elements, no excuses. . . I loved the sound. It was really cool. . . The sound of the balls—it's kind of like a whoosh and a pop. It's really cool. It's almost like a video game but you're playing. It kind of flies through and you hear it when it lands."
Roger that. The match was as brutal as "Grand Theft Auto." It also was decisive and swift, with an elapsed time of one hour and 24 minutes. We didn't see a rally that lasted 10 strokes until the seventh game of the second set. And Kvitova made just one serious misstep after Serena dismissed that set point at 4-5, which may have prevented her from forcing a third set. In the very next game, at 5-5, Kvitova bolted to a 30-0 lead, but Serena won three points running. At break point Kvitova made a good serve, and Serena popped the return up into the air at mid-court—and Kvitova smothered the forehand reply into the net. It was the only ghastly error of the match.
The abrupt ending might have been disappointing but for the fact that the match was always close and tense, which is why it was great, and might have become great with a capital "G" had it gone another set—or had Kvitova been able to sink her teeth into the match instead of biting down time and again on air. But Serena kept her at bay by taking excellent care of her own serve—if "taking care" is an acceptable way to describe the winner's aggressive approach to those games.
Serena rained down 13 aces (almost 20 percent of her points were won before they started), and stood by watching as 46 percent (28 of 61) of her total serve points went unreturned. Kvitova's numbers in this department were also good (18 of 65, for 28 percent), but not in the same league. Each woman made just two unforced return errors in the entire match, a testament to the stinging efficiency of both their serves. But the most critical difference may have been Serena's outstanding backhand return. And making that shot is the first priority for a right-hander engaged with a lefty who has any serve to speak of.
"Yeah, I think she expected my serve will come to the backhand because she has a really great return from the forehand," Kvitova said. "So it wasn't nice to just have like second serve to the forehand; it was better for me to go to the backhand. Yeah, I think she knows it before. That's why she could play like that on the returns today."
Kvitova hit 31 serves to Serena's backhand, and just just 16 to her forehand. Serena won 48 percent of those points, an excellent number against the kind of lefty serve Martina Navratilova herself could only have wished to own.
Said Serena: "I feel like I've been returning really well in practice—much better than any of my matches—so I'm thinking one day it's going to come through. I can still return a lot better, but it just hasn't quite clicked yet. But today was definitely better than the other matches."
I'm not sure how much better Serena could return, but I know she won't have to return more productively to win this title. And heaven help any woman who gets in her way if she continues to play with comparable aggression. Richard Williams, Serena's father, has been vocal in his disappointment with the way his daughter has played in the last few rounds. Clearly, he made his point, for today Serena admitted, "I had a good talk with my dad. He motivated me and my sister, as well. I had a talk with Patrick (Mouratoglau), too. It was great. Like all three of those got me really motivated to do better and be the player that know I can be."
It's hard to resist awarding Serena the title right now, and that's not intended as a slight of her rivals. Even Kvitova, who's as cautious as any player about making predictions, was unable to engage in the customarly charade when that question was finally broached. Will Serena be impossible to beat?
"I can't say impossible," Kvitova replied. "She's human. Yeah, I think that's why she's the great champion, because she knows what she needs to play in the important points. So I think that it's really tough to beat her."
Will Serena win? Like so many points at either end of the court in this match, the answer was brief, to the point, and unqualified. Said Kvitova, "I think so."
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—Mornin'. We're all sitting on your hands here, wondering how much—if any—tennis we'll see today. This is the only tournament on the tour where part of the daily media package is the weather report. It often occupies most of an entire printed page. La Condition Humaine? Pshaw. It's the meteorological conditions that really count around here. "We're keeping an eye on two developing areas of rain, once currently over Dorset/Wiltshire, and a further currently affecting west Devon/Cornwall. . . " The first of those is likely to reach here by noon, bringing "more organized spells of rain for up to two hours."
As you well know, we never did get through Manic Monday and those 16 quality fourth-round matches, but my WTA upset special (Angelique Kerber over Kim Clijsters) did materialize. We'll have to see how my Brian Baker over Philipp Kohlschreiber upset pick pans out today. They're first on, at 11:30. At the moment, the sun is shin—whoops—forget that.
So on we go to the women's quarterfinals:
Most intriguing match-up: Without a doubt, defending champ and No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova vs. No. 6 Serena Williams. Both women have struggled here, sometimes mightily, but when they're feeling it, either woman can basically blow anyone off the court. Although Kvitova is the higher seed, Serena is 2-0 against her.
Most nerve-wracking match-up: Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Maria Kirilenko, and I'm talking about their nerves, not ours. Believe it or not, Radwanska could end up No. 1 next Monday. She needs to go two rounds farther than Victoria Azarenka (meaning Azarenka must lose today no matter what else happens), but the No. 19 seed Kirilenko also is looking at an enormous opportunity. The upper half of the draw (the other two there are Kerber and Sabine Lisicki) will produce a first-time Grand Slam finalist, and every one of these girls must be thinking, "Could it be me?" Radwanska leads the head-to-head, 5-2.
Least predictable match-up: Lisicki (No. 15) vs. Kerber (No. 8) is a compelling pairing. Lisicki hits harder, Kerber moves better. Both women are German, and that adds an extra dimension of urgency and pressure to such meetings.
Most ominous match-up: Azarenka (No. 2) vs.Tamira Paszek, who's been scorching the grass since arriving in England with a grand total of two wins in 2012. She ripped through the draw in Eastbourne, knocking off Marion Bartoli and Kerber. Last year, Azarenka had the bad luck to run into a suddenly hot player at every major, which helps explain why she didn't win her first Grand Slam until this year. Paszek started her tournament with an upset of No. 7 Caroline Wozniacki, and has only gotten stronger and more confident since. I'm sticking with this one for my WTA upset special.
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—At one point in the terrible punishment Victoria Azarenka was inflicting on Ana Ivanovic on Centre Court, a raft of pigeon feathers came fluttering down from the closed roof. It was received as a sign that all was well again—that Rufus, the Harris hawk employed by Wimbledon to keep the pigeon numbers down, was back on the job.
Azarenka was distracted momentarily, but she quickly returned to the job at hand, which was setting poor Ivanovic's tentative rehabilitation back to, oh, January of 2010. In no time, Azarenka polished off the former No. 1, 6-1, 6-0, sending a shiver down the spines of those who have been reveling in how unpredictable and competitive so mamy of the women's matches here have been.
Azarenka was asked about the pigeon right off the bat in her presser, and she said, "Well, I have no idea actually. I just saw some feathers coming down. Actually, I don't know how it got there. The roof was closed. It was kind of interesting, but there is nothing else to say."
It's unclear whether or not Azarenka actually hit the pigeon, but when queried she cut off the theme, cold: "Yeah, I really wasn't focused on that, sorry. It was not my concern there."
That's a pretty representative exchange for the impatient, impetuous, not entirely sunny-dispositioned Azarenka, aka Ms. Whoooo! Her sarcasm can be as stinging as her forehand, her opacity as grating as her ululations. But the No. 2 seed could re-claim the No. 1 ranking Maria Sharapova snatched out of her hands a few weeks ago by the time this tournament is finished (in any event, there will be a new No. 1 next Monday). The curious thing is that so far very few people seem to care about this aspect of Wimbledon.
Azarenka has progressed through the draw largely ignored if not exactly unnoticed. It isn't that the game of the former No. 1 and reigning Australian Open champion is unsuited to grass, nor that anyone has established superiority over her. She's not slumping, hurt, or in any other way less than the new favorite. It's just that despite having an exciting game and, if you can ignore the ceaseless cauterwauling, a fundamentally appealing style and look, nobody is getting all fired up about her. She's getting dangerously close to Ivan Lendl territorry in the "champion that nobody loves" category.
This mostly comes down to the fact that Azarenka is a bit of a hard case, a volatile combination of blunt and impatient. She's sometimes seems to be in as much of a hurry to leave the interview room as the tennis court, only that quality really only pays off at the latter. I shudder at the thought of how she must treat a waiter who's a little slow rolling out the cheese trolley.
Here's an unedited sequence from her presser today. Having demolished Ivanovic in an hour, you'd think she might relax and put her proverbial feet up for a bit:
Q. Why are there so many upsets in the women's draw this year?
A: "It's not really a question for me. I can only speak for myself."
Q. Is there a difference this year in the courts, the balls, the weather?
A: "You can always find some excuses. You can also find some differences or whatever. I don't know. I cannot speak for other girls. I'm trying to stay focused on my game."
Q. You find it very good, dropping only 13 games?
A: "Not counting, sorry. Really not counting. Just taking it one at a time."
Okay, they may not be genius-grade questions, but most of the other women have no trouble understanding that all they really need to do is jabber away for a bit and everyone walks away happy. That's just not the Azarenka way. Be that as it may, Azarenka's natural impatience may have been a drag on her development as a champion. And while today's match may not have been an exercise in problem-solving for Azarenka, the ones that lie ahead may demand the patience that has never been her trademark, although she did seem to embrace something like it shortly after her grandmother famously told her to slow down and enjoy life and stop being such as sourpuss.
It was almost as if something along those lines crossed her mind midway through her presser, because she suddenly seemed to slow down and relax, and by the end she was a regular chatty Cathy—at least by her own standard. Someone returned to the distractions theme and asked her to catalog the ones she's experienced.
"Unusual distractions? I can't really think of some. Sometimes it can be annoying when somebody is chewing chips right when you're serving. Doesn't really matter. You just have to stay focused on your game. Whatever is going on around is going on around. It's out of your hand. But the feathers, it was fun."
Given that this is Azarenka here, that last line make me wonder if she didn't hit that bird after all.
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—Maria Sharapova trailed Sabine Lisicki by a set and 3-5, and was serving at 30-0. The No. 1 seed was fighting for her competitive life and barely hanging onto it against the 5-foot-10, German-born, 22-year-old. During the next point, Sharapova left a ball short and Lisicki, who trusts power over finesse by a wide margin, moved forward and carved under the ball to drop a short one just over the net—so close to the sideline that when it was called out, Lisicki issued a challenge.
While the pixels and algorithms were humming into play, Lisicki turned to her father, Richard, seated in the guest box, and pressed the pads of her thumb and index fingers together, laughing and smiling. It was atypical behavior for an underdog at a critical time in a match, but the image spoke volumes about the confidence and relaxed attitude of the swaddled-in-white challenger.
The challenge was denied. Lisicki kept smiling.
Across the net, Sharapova was Little Miss Poker Face—an entirely appropriate reaction given the straits she was in. She would go on to hold serve with the help of that oh-so-close error by Lisicki, but it only forestalled the inevitable.
Granted, Lisicki made an adventure of her next service game, squandering two match points (one via an overly enthusiastic forehand approach shot that looked to be a sure winner; the other with a similiar set-up shot drilled into the net). Still grinning and oblivious to the menacing, slate-tray overcast that had already caused one stoppage of play (after Lisicki won the first set), Lisicki calmed down and won the next three points, finishing Sharapova off with an ace.
It was as fine a display of power tennis as we've ever seen by a woman at Wimbledon, and the 6-4, 6-3 triumph confirmed that Lisicki, despite a history of injury, is not a mere sideshow (Come, see the Troisdorf Thunderer bang out 20 aces and 40 unforced errors!) but a serious contender for this title. Lisicki was spanked in the semis here last year by Sharapova, whose game is only somewhat similar. Lisicki also pushed Sharapova to three sets at the Australian Open at the start of this year, but still lost, and had yet to win a match after three meetings. Was the win today "revenge for last year," she was asked?
"Yeah. For all three times," Lisicki gayly replied.
Sharapova could only say, "A lot of the credit goes to my opponent. She played extremely well today and did many things better than I did on this given day. You just have to hand it to her."
And you know Sharapova. She doesn't like handing anyone anything.
When I caught up with Sabine's father and coach in the player tea room later, he told me, "It was already starting to come together for Sabine at Charleston, but her injury stopped her. Now I think she's ready to do it. She was focused and the last match against Maria (in Australia) was close, so we knew she could win."
Lisicki has always been recognized as a dangerous talent, if prone in her first few years on the tour to losing control of those big groundstrokes and that 120 M.P.H. serve. At just about the time her game was coming together in 2010, she injured her ankle so badly that she was off the tour for five months and finished the year ranked No. 179. Lisicki fought her way back in 2011, crowning her resurgence here in London with wins over Li Na and former finalist Marion Bartoli, before being dismissed by Sharapova.
By Charleston time this spring, Lisicki was back up to No. 13. And at that tournament she led Serena Williams, 4-1, when she rolled an ankle—again. After returning at Rome, she lost in the first round in her next four events, leading right up to the eve of Wimbledon. After the last of those losses, at Birmingham, Lisicki decided she'd had enough rain and returned to train at home in Bradenton, Fla. for a week before the start of Wimbledon. "I got my confidence and my shots back," she said of that impulsive interlude. "I had fun on the court again."
The fun she had today was at the expense of a woman who was riding a 15-match winning streak; over that same period, Lisicki was 0-4. Sharapova was 39-5 on the year going into the match, Lisicki a pale 13-13. So how did this come about?
As Sharapova said, "She's always had that potential. . . I mean, if she plays at this level, of course she belongs at the top. If she serves as well as she did today and is as aggressive as she was, there's no doubt she has a lot of potential."
Sharapova also knows that you can't dismiss Lisicki as a mere carnival act. "Well, she stays really low," Maria explained. "She's a strong girl. She hits the ball really hard. If you don't get a good first ball on her, I mean, she likes to be the aggressive one and likes to start the point with a really heavy shot."
The analysis is not just accurate, it's a foolproof template for winning at Wimbledon. The Troisdorf Thunderer knows this, which helps explain why she continued turning those highbeam-eyes and smiling face upon the world long after she'd demolished the favorite and French Open champion. (This, incidentally, is habitual with Lisicki at Wimbledon. She also bumped out Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009 and 2011 champ Li last year).
Lisicki is rightfully proud of her serve and she makes no bones about her appetite for playing "aggressive" tennis. She feels comfortable moving on grass, a prejudice that, given her history of injury and the slick properties of the surface, can only be attributed to how good she feels in general. How happy she is to be here. "The atmosphere here at Wimbledon is just amazing," she said, wide-eyed as a first-time grounds pass holder. "You know, all the traditions make me feel very comfortable here."
Frozen grins excepted, players who are quick with a smile and manage to enjoy their experience at Wimbledon are among the most dangerous. If they gave points for attitude, Lisicki might immediately be bumped up to the favorite for the title. Her feelings are so clear and accessible that she answered just about every question put to her in the press conference with nary a qualifier, nor any of the familiar convoluted ambivalence that grips so many players. Is she going to feel more pressure now that she's in the quarterfinals? "I don't see any pressure for myself," she said. "I just go out there, enjoy it, and want to play the best tennis I can and keep improving. Why should I put pressure on myself?"
Of course, other players have been no less sanguine about their chances, and comparably happy and confident, only to have their dream-like state shattered, like the way Lisicki's countrywoman Angelique Kerber destroyed Kim Clijsters, 6-1, 6-1, in her final hope to win Wimbledon before she retires. Kerber and Lisicki will meet in the quarterfinals, and as Richard Lisicki said, "German against German, It will not be easy."
No, but unless Lisicki undergoes an overnight transformation, it will be fun.
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—Here we are again, at the best day in tennis: The second Monday at Wimbledon. We're down to the last 16 matches, the 32 players who survived the first week. The question, as usual, is, Will the sweet 16 survive the weather? Once again, it seems that the gods of tennis are planning to rain on the parade. For the first time this tournament, I walked down the hill from Wimbledon village wearing my rain jacket. It does not look good.
Nevertheless, we'll plough on. I made a poor call on Saturday, suggesting that Varvara Lepchenko might upset Petra Kvitova. A look back at their head-to-head might have warned me off it, but I made the change at the last minute when I felt guilty about making Sara Errani my upset pick for the second time. It just didn't seem fair to the combative little French Open finalist, so I elected to call for Kvitova's head instead. Then Yaroslava Shvedova goes and beats Errani, with a golden set to boot! Grrrr. . .
Anyway, Kvitova's performance against Lepchenko was, to my mind, one of those corner-turners. Kvitova came here a stressed and slumping defending champion, but she burst into the second week with the kind of match that can yield an enormous confidence dividend. Today, Kvitova plays Francesca Schiavone on Court 3, an entirely tame assignment given the advantages grass bestows on long-limbed lefthanders who can crack the serve.
Let's break down today's action in a slightly different way before we pick our upsets:
Most Interesting ATP Match: Brian Baker vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (No. 27), the German who is hoping to make his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in 33 attempts. No pressure or anything—Fabrice Santoro went 53 Grand Slam tournaments before he reached his first quarterfinal.
Most Interesting WTA Match: Serena Williams (No. 6) vs. Yaroslava Shvedova (wild card), the only woman in pro tennis' recorded history to record a golden set (she didn't lose a single point in the first set of her 6-0, 6-4 win over Errani in my Grrrr match on Saturday). Shvedova has been coming on strong in recent weeks.
Least Interesting ATP Match: Novak Djokovic (No. 1) vs. Viktor Troicki, a fellow Serb. That's kind of the problem, because Djokovic's role as a national hero, and the way his pro countrymen have benefited from Nole's success and stature, leave the other Serbs with a sense of indebtedness that's reflected in their records. Troicki is 1-11 vs. Djokovic. Good effort by Big Viktor to get this far, though.
Least Interesting WTA Match: Maria Kirilenko (No. 17) vs. Peng Shuai, a match I just can't get my head around. They each have a win against one another and it's their first meeting since 2006. The incentive is to advance in a soft spot in the draw, with the winner to meet either Agnieszka Radwanska or Camila Giorgi. That's a better assignment than most, so the better player (Kirilenko) will be under a lot of pressure to come through.
Connoisseur's Special, ATP: Mikhail Youzhny vs. Denis Istomin will look like a battle of unknowns to most spectators, but if you pay close attention, this is a pretty intriguing match-up. Istomin is an on-the-rise 25-year-old (and the first Uzbek to make the round of 16 at a Grand Slam) and Youzhny an accomplished Wimbledon veteran striving to make the quarters for the first time. In fact, he's the only man to make six previous fourth rounds without ever penetrating to the final eight.
Connoisseur's Special, WTA: Kim Clijsters vs. Angelique Kerber (No. 8) is a tantalizing match-up between a part-timer—but former world No. 1 and multiple Grand Slam champion—and the fast-rising German who's won more matches this year than any other WTA player. Kerber is a lefty, but her serve can be attacked, and the return is one of Clijster's strengths.
Upset Special, ATP: Baker has been an inspirational story, and for an unseeded player he must be pretty happy to have Kohlschreiber at this juncture.
Upset Special, WTA: Kerber over Clijsters sounds good to me.
As usual, much of this might be academic. . .
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—The perverse part of me had hoped that at the stroke of 11 p.m. last night, a borough of Merton bureaucrat with a terribly British-sounding accent would come on the PA system and to declare that the battle between Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis—by that point a whisker's distance from the 11:02 finish—was over for the day.
"We are so sorry, ladies and gentlemen. . . Andy and Marcos. . . but we are turning out the lights now. Safe home, and remember that if you're riding a bike, wear white."
It would have served the All England club right, because the host club of Wimbledon has an agreement with Merton borough officials to end play by 11 p.m. on any given night—a concession negotiated when Wimbledon won the right to roof the Centre Court. And we all know how what sticklers the AEC officials are for rules.
Example: Many years ago, before the massive renovation turned the grounds into a fair simulacrum of a giant, multi-level, ivy-covered aircraft carrier with funny little green rectangles strewn here and there (I'm not knocking it, I really like that martial vibe), the press and royal boxes were adjacent to each other, separated by a low wall and served by a common hall where service folks and others could access either box. A guard was always posted in the short distance, just a few feet between doors opening directly onto either box.
One day an acquaintance was in the royal box and, as we wanted to speak, I passed him a note over the wall suggesting that we meet in the hall. We both slipped out into the hall, but even though we ended up standing just a few feet apart, the guard wouldn't let either of us actually join the other. We had to backtrack, leave our respective areas, go down two flights of stairs and outside, to meet in front of Centre Court.
I can think of a dozen Wimbledon stories of that kind. I used to marvel, walking around, at the abundance of signs issuing warnings and advisories about everything from keeping your shirt on (a rule of which I approve) to which side of the staircase to take, to where "babes in arms" were prohibited. The only thing missing was a sign warning you to curb your dog. I'm surprised the AEC didn't embrace a pet-friendly policy solely in order to put up a few pet related admonitions.
Things are a bit more relaxed these days, a little less tsk-tsk-y. Both the AEC and city bureaucrats seemed cool about the Murray vs. Baghdatis match running two minutes over. But note that quite a big deal was made all around (including here) about this bit of rule-bending. It was like generating headlines because someone dared to feed the ducks.
So that was a fitting end to a truly eventful week. Let's review the top 10 events from it, working our way down to the most resonant, intriguing, or noteworthy of them all.
10. No. 12 seed and 2010 runner-up Vera Zvonareva loses the first set to Kim Clijsters, 6-3, and is leading the second 2-1 (on serve) when the familiar tears begin to well in her eyes. She calls for the trainer and tournament doctor to report a respiratory ailment that caused her to cough and have trouble breathing. She leaves the court for five minutes for treatment. When she returns, Zvonareva plays four more games, but calls it quits after Clijsters breaks her at love to take a 4-3 lead.
Curiously, Vera re-emerges not long thereafter on Court 4, where she joins partner Marcelo Melo of Brazil to win a mixed-doubles match, seemingly breathing free and easy. All I can say is that I'm glad Zvonareva isn't British; I can just imagine the fun the tabs would have had with her "breathing" problems.
9. Benoit Paire is so disgusted with his game during his third-round match with rehabilitated American Brian Baker that he decides to tank the final game of the third, so flagrantly that nobody could possibly mistake his bizarre shot selection and strokework for mere incompetence. But the real killer is that after he blasts one stupid shot beyond the baseline to advance his purpose, he actually issues a futile challenge. Here's my theory: He wanted to see if he could be so baffling and ridiculous that it completely throws off his opponent—thus enabling Paire to get back in the match. And I am serious about that.
8. After her outstanding upset of Bo. 20 seed Nadia Petrova, Italy's Camila Giorgi sets a record for giving the shortest press conference in tennis history. Here it is, in its glorious, 15-word entirety. She was asked if her next opponent, Agnieszka Radwanska, was a big challenge:
"Yeah, it will be interesting match. It will be a good match. I think so."
7. Gilles Simon makes some not very well thought-out remarks about equal prize money and is made to pay, and pay. And pay. And pay. And pay more, and keep paying as a segment of the press corps reveals that the concept of journalistic "objectivity," or even fairness, is a sad joke. Simon, seeded No. 13, is beaten by Xavier Malisse in the second round.
6. Sabine Lisicki officially complains to the chair umpire about the grunting of her second-round opponent, Bojana Jovanovski, claiming that it prevents her from hearing the ball being hit. Jovanovski is not punished, but this minor incident may be remembered as a tipping point, because the WTA also is in the process of developing a hand-held 'Grunt-o-Meter' that will allow chair umpires of the future to monitor the volume of grunters, presumably with a maximum level that, if exceeded, would result in a warning or penalty. Maria Sharapova, chief grunter No. 1, approves. Victoria Azarenka, No. 2, won't even discuss the issue with the WTA, saying only: "Good luck with that."
5. Rufus, the splendid four-year old Harris Hawk used to scare off the pigeons that like to roost and do aerial ballet at Centre Court, is stolen sometime between Thursday night and his Friday morning start time for work at Wimbledon, 5:30 a.m. He had been left in his travel box in a car in a private driveway near Wimbledon overnight, with the back window open to allow for fresh air. His owner, Imogen Davis, and local authorities have launched an appeal hoping find the hawk, which would be very hungry if it hasn't been fed. Late-breaking update: A cage "with some sort of eagle" inside was reported abandoned in a hedge in Southfields, near Wimbledon, but at this time I can't confirm that Rufus has been recovered.
4. Marin Cilic defeats Sam Querrey in the second-longest (time-wise) Wimbledon match of all-time, 17-15 in the fifth set. The match lasted five hours and 31 minutes—almost exactly half of the Isner-Mahut epic that haunts all Wimbledon records. Surprisingly jocular after the exhausting effort, Querrey was asked if that 70-68 in-the-fifth landmark went through his mind at all as the games rolled on in his own match. he replied, "We were getting looks during the match, so I just didn't see that continuing on for 60 more games. . . Just another match now, thanks to Isner-Mahut. They set the bar pretty high." Everyone, including Querrey, laughed.
3. Serena Williams hits a Wimbledon record 23 aces in her 9-7 victory in the third over a very game Jie Zheng. Okay, so it's not like the 113 aces John Isner tagged in the 70-68 match (see what I mean?). Or even like the 103 aces Mahut himself hit in that epic, or even the 78 aces Ivo Karlovic hit—on clay no less—in a Davis Cup match. But it was a terrific performance against a very tough competitior who made only 17 unforced errors in the long match—and hit but one ace. Serena's serve was never broken in the 37 game match. That's incredible, in a WTA match.
2. Two-time champ and No. 2 seed Rafeal Nadal is upset in the second round by Lukas Rosol, who plays out of his gourd and just hits Nadal off the court—something nobody, but nobody, has ever done nearly as persuasively as the Czech. That it was Rosol's once-in-lifetime example of being in the right place at the right time became obvious when he was beaten by Philipp Kohlschreiber in his next match.
1. Yaroslova Shvedova's "golden set" (winning a set without losing a single point) against French Open finalist Sara Errani. If you have any doubts about the degree of difficulty involved in this, read my Tennis magazine colleague Tom Perrotta's terrific column on it at the Wall Street Journal blog, The Daily Fix.
The amazing kicker? In 2006, Shvedova came within a point of a golden set after winning 23 points in a row against Amy Frazier. But then she double faulted—and ultimately lost the match, 1-6, 6-0, 6-0. This time, she won 6-0, 6-4.
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—This may not have been the greatest day in American men's tennis at this tournament; the history is as long as it is rich. But it may have been the most eventful, and in any case it almost certainly was the longest. It began when Brian Baker strolled languidly into the bright sunshine flooding Court No. 2 at almost exactly 11:30 a.m., and ended in the gloaming almost 10 hours later, at 9:03 p.m., when Sam Querrey failed to get a good swing on Marin Cilic's serve and thereby lost the second-longest match (5:31) in recorded Wimbledon history.
The time in between was occupied with a remarkable number of highs and lows, sometimes within one set or match, sometimes in the press room, or in the simple contemplation of time passing—or not passing, as must have seemed the case for Querrey and Cilic, two combatants who seemed bent on venturing into Isner-Mahut territory like a pair of deluded, punch-drunk romantics. Time passing, because the other loser on this long day for the U.S. at Wimbledon was Andy Roddick, whose time here is slipping ever more quickly through the hourglass.
By the time the mellow late evening light washed over a disappointed Querrey's visage—he collegially patted Cilic on the tummy a few times, right after the handshake at the net, as if to say, Phew, am I glad that's finally over, pard!—two American men had advanced to the second week of the tournament, and they were not the ones most pundits or fans might have predicted. They were Baker and Fish, while Querrey and Roddick were finished.
I wrote about Baker earlier today so lets focus on the other three matches and the themes they engendered:
David Ferrer (No. 7) d. Andy Roddick (No. 30), 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-3: The score of this match constitutes an accurate comment on just how things went out on the Centre Court, where Roddick has been such a regular fixture for so many years. They're at once a testament to Ferrer's ability to wear down opponents, but perhaps also to the high mileage on Roddick's odometer.
Roddick took great big cuts from the get-go, which is is no great feat in and of itself. But he also swarmed over Ferrer and drove him back by playing up on the baseline or inside the court, and that's a considerably tougher trick to turn. He overpowered Ferrer in the first set and seemed to have him under control for almost all of the second. You have to like Roddick's chances when he can get into a tiebreaker, especially against an opponent who, unlike the American, can't shoot out the lights with his serve.
It's probably small consolation to Roddick that there were only two mini-breaks in this 18-point tiebreaker, back-to-back ones at that, in just the third and fourth points served. There were four set points—two for each man—but Ferrer was the one who converted when Roddick, despite making a good serve, belted an inside-out forehand beyond the sideline.
It began to get away from Roddick after the tiebreaker, and it did so slowly but with almost agonizing inevitability, as Ferrer calibrated the game he uses to wear down opponents the way water wears down stone. Soon, Roddick's aggression and energy began to decline.
Roddick fell behind 0-40 serving the seventh game of the third set. He staved off the first two set points with whistling service winners, but Ferrer got the third one into play and eventually Roddick made a forehand error. Ferrer hung onto his serve like a determined terrier to win the set, and his ability to also do that in the next set was the key to his win.
As Roddick left the court, he seemed to take a longer than usual look around, and blew a kiss to the crowd. Even before he had made it through the portal leading to the inner sanctum of Centre Court, television commentators were interpreting his slow departure and the heartfelt gesture in the most dramatic manner.
Of course, the first thing the British press wanted to know was whether he was finished at Wimbledon—could he give a definitive answer?
Roddick replied, "No." The question was slightly reconfigured and again he said, "No."
After an interval and a few questions about the match and Roddick's form, someone (oddly enough, the fella had a British accent) asked him if too much was being made of that kiss he blew to the crowd. Roddick said, "Yeah. That's just another way of going about it. I understand that journalistic ploy and that's what you're supposed to do and stuff. I certainly appreciate the softball questions in between, but, again, I don't have an answer for you (about returning in 2013). I'm not going to be able to give you much else."
On the whole, though, Roddick was in a good spirits and a philosophical mood, "You know, honestly, going into Eastbourne I was hoping I'd win a match because I hadn't won a match in so long. So you tell me I win seven straight and have a chance to move on against a guy that is five in the world and played a pretty good match—that's some progress in a short period of time."
And do not for a moment think that Roddick is unaware that the Olympic tennis event will be held right here at the All England Club—or that it will be a veteran-friendly, best-of-three format. As Roddick said, "a crapshoot."
Last hurrah at Wimbledon? I think not.
Mardy Fish (No. 10) d. David Goffin, 6-3, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (6): The wind appeared to distress the 21-year-old wild card from Belgium in this match. After all, his career record on grass going in was just 2-1 (compared to Fish's 45-25). That edge in experience proved insurmountable, as Fish called upon his veteran wiles to win a match many thought he might lose because of the toll taken by his last one, a long five-setter. After all, before the start of Wimbledon, Fish hadn't played a match since April because of that awful heart-related health scare he's been dealing with.
"It was windy out there, sort of tricky conditions," Fish said. "I used that to my advantage, for sure. Growing up in Florida and playing in windy conditions most of my life, that doesn't bother me, those types of situations. You know, so I played a lot of matches like that. So, yeah, I was very satisfied to play well, to play that way. That guy can play on any surface so it was a good win."
Fish also was asked about Roddick's legacy, and he mused: "I think he'll go down as one of the best grass-court players to ever play. Certainly could be one of the best grass-court players to never win Wimbledon, you know, and three finals all to Federer. You know, that's unfortunate. There is a lot of guys who have won Grand Slams that haven't had to play Roger Federer in the final to win."
He went on to elaborate, "He was the alpha male in our generation, certainly the biggest name by a good distance. He handled the burden of the press and the pressure and the expectation for 10 years, and there were some guys to come and go as he stayed there. Unbelievably consistent. Doesn't get enough credit for it. He finished the year, finished in the Top 10 in the world eight straight years. Pretty amazing."
It sounded a lot like a eulogy, so someone asked Fish if he would be surprised if Roddick didn't return to play at Wimbledon in 2013. He said, "Yeah, I would."
Marin Cilic (No. 16) d. Sam Querrey, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (7), 17-15: The key to this epic, according to Querrey, was his own failure to hold the advantage gained when he broke Cilic in the very first game.
As for the rest of it, it was a familiar enough grass-court saga, especially in the fifth set, when both men succumbed to that hypnotic, dance-like ritual of hold-hold-hold. Yet this wasn't quite the serving contest we saw in the Isner-Mahut classic; the quality of the rallies bordered on the exceptional, given the fatigue that both men must have felt by about the middle of that final, long set.
Querrey was self-effacing about that afterward, saying, "Yeah, a lot of times both of us are tired, and the ball didn't have that extra umph on it, and the ball maybe slows down a bit. I think guys can get a little—you get a little nervous. Maybe you're not hitting quite as tough. We had great rallies in the end, especially the 30‑all in the end, but that's how it goes."
That sells the quality of the players' efforts short, but it does point toward an emerging streak of toughness in Querrey. So did his bearing and comments in the post-match presser. He sat down, grinned, and when asked if he felt gutted he answered: "I'm a little tired, but it was a good match. It was a fun match. I had my chances, but you know, he kind of came through at the end."
The loser understood better than anyone that in a match like that one, either man's advantage at any point in the fifth set was tenuous at best, and that a tired mind is one prone to doubts and second-guessing itself. He hit two double faults in the critical 31st game of the fifth set, the one in which he was broken, and tried to explain how things like that happen: "It's just little things here and there, you know, challenges that are in or out. You know,I had the two double faults. That hurt me. (That was in the penultimate game, after which Cilic served it out.) You know, 30‑all and second serve and you kind of tell yourself to take a swing at this one. Right before you're (thinking) like, Just make it in. . . it's little tiny things here and there."
And despite his fatigue, Querrey was able to articulate what Roddick has meant to him, and his career:
"He's probably the greatest kind of influence on me growing up. He was the guy that I know. He's been our highest‑ranked American basically for 10 years. He was the guy when I was first a Davis Cup practice partner. He was on the team when I was 17, 18. He would let me come to Austin where he lived, five, six, seven times, to practice with him.
So for me, he was, you know, he's been monumental in my kind of upbringing and watching him. You know, he's so generous with letting me come to his house. I know he's done that with tons of other guys, too. So, I mean, he's been great to me. I mean, I think all the guys would say he's been a great leader for U.S. tennis, and just an awesome guy."
Querrey sat back, folding his arms over a gray t-shirt with colorful surfing image and the message: Have an Awesome Day.
Thanks to you, and Mardy and Brian and Andy, we did.
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—It was 1:29 p.m. on this blustery, sunny day, and out on Court 3, things were getting desperate for Benoit Paire. He trailed Brian Baker by two sets to one and 0-3 in the fourth; occasional cries of "Allez Benoit!" rent the air like the forlorn wail of seagulls. The Frenchman looked to be in grave danger of holding serve.
Yep. That's no grammatical misstep. From the time Paire had been broken for 1-2 in the third set, he'd been doing his level best to solidify his burgeoning reputation as a kind of Roger Federer of head cases, while continuing to stimulate hopes that that he might become a plain old Roger Federer—a more remunerative and honorable achievement for sure, but not nearly as exciting.
Paire hit a lunatic high point in the third set; serving at 1-3, he was broken with a cross-court forehand winner, after which he performed a post-modern Michael Jackson crotch grab. As he yanked up on his shorts, he gave the crowd a great view of his multi-colored underwear (whether said crowd wanted it or not). After a quick Baker hold, Paire made no effort to disguise the fact that he was trying his best to tank the game, and set, by hitting truly screwy shots—some of which inadvertently landed in the court. He also added a chapter to the game's history of great mysteries when, while doing his "best" to lose that game, he wasted a challenge on an out call—one that had gone aganst t him.
"You think he is crazy now?", a French colleague asked me. "You should have seen him two years ago, before he calm down."
I took pains to describe Paire's antics because they could not have been easy to handle for Brian Baker, the level-headed rehab case who has overcome seven years of horrific adversity to resurrect a career that once promised so much, but deferred payment. And I couldn't help but marvel at the difference between the two men. Paire spends a lot of time debasing and wasting his considerable talent, while Baker is level-headed, and more thankful for the mere chance to play the game at this level than you or I can ever know. Was any of this going through Baker's mind, while Paire tested his nerves by alternating some spectacular shotmaking and periods of play with bouts of petulant and insolent indifference?
"Yeah, I mean, he was a little out there," Baker said later. "You could tell that some games it looked like he would take off a little bit, but then he would come up and slap a couple winners, too. It is difficult to play a guy like that, but I think it was more difficult, just to have the conditions today. It was really blustery out there. Never felt like the wind was even in the same direction in every game."
All in all, Baker navigated the cocktail of challenges with great aplomb, but then that quality may be Baker's most potent weapon, and the trait most responsible for the way he's skyrocketed back into the Top 100 despite not even owning a ranking as recently as June of 2011. It was two kinds of cool clashing on Court 3 today, Paire's "I'm crazy, gifted, bearded, and I curse in four languages and smash racquets any time I want" type, and Baker's sort, which declared: "I'm just here to play tennis and will show you so little of what I'm thinking or feeling that it will make the back of your neck go all prickly when we get to a big point." As is almost always the case, Baker's cool was more successful.
After the match I visited with Baker's dad, Steve, a Nashville lawyer who once worked at the same law firm as disgraced former U.S. Presidential candidate John Edwards. "What I find hard to believe," Steve told me, "is how he got to be such a better and more solid player without being even exposed to this level of competition for seven years. It's obvious that his ordeal has made him stronger, and he's 27 now, not 22. But that still doesn't seem enough to explain it all."
Brian Baker doesn't meet with much more success when he tries to explain what's been happening to him; all he knows is that he doesn't want it to stop. But perhaps all that anxiety and adversity has had a cumulative effect, and left him better prepared than a typical happy-go-lucky pro—like Paire?—to meet challenges of the kind he faced today. That challenge was twofold; the pressure of making it to the haven of the second seek at Wimbledon, and the ambient conditions.
"I think it's a little bit easier to handle some of the ups and downs," Baker said. "Even being older (helps), too. Even though I haven't had the experience over the last five or six years because I haven't played, just being a little older, a little more mature. I mean, I know things aren't going to go my way the whole match. You have to be able to handle some adversity. It definitely happened today. It's never easy closing a match out, and I was fortunate the last volley went in."
Baker was talking about his second match point and, as Steve Baker pointed out, the fact that his boy didn't look nervous, or holler "Come on!", or throw upper cuts after winning points was a mite deceptive. The true measure of how much he wanted to win this match was expressed in the first match point, when Baker powdered a forehand approach shot two feet beyond the baseline. Paire would use his cavalier magic to conjure a break point, but Baker regained his composure and reeled off the next three points to end it.
Later, Brian would admit, "When I'm on the court I know I definitely have nerves. Closing out the match you definitely know what's on the table, what you can accomplish. I mean, I missed a few shots at the end that I probably wouldn't miss if it was the quarters of a challenger and not trying to get to the round of 16 at Wimbledon. It is crazy, kind of, what's going on. But I'm still trying to stay focused on the task at hand and not get too wrapped around. Because once you do that, I think it's tough to be able to play your best tennis once you're happy that you've been there. So I'm trying to every match go in there hungry and try to win the next one instead of, I'm in the round of 16 of Wimbledon; this is awesome."
Steve Baker knows his kid, because he's lived a parallel life with him in tennis. Steve still has to blink his eyes to convince himself that he's here at Wimbledon again, nine years after his first trip to the All-England Club. "We were here for the juniors," he told me, "we thought he could win it."
Brian was just four when his father took him to the tennis club, and the pro there first planted the seed that would grow into a career in tennis. "It wasn't so much that Brian was able to hit the ball," Steve said. "The pro said a lot of kids can hit a ball at four. It was that Brian could move to the ball on either side and swing and make good contact that impressed him."
Curiously enough, that anecdote about Baker at age four may be all you need to know about his game today; the rest is just connecting the dots. Baker doesn't have that explosive, Rafael Nadal-esque movement, nor the balletic glide of Federer. But he moves with ease and economy, relying on anticipation and a great sense of court space instead of ham-sized quads or calves of steel. His two-handed backhand is a thing of beauty, and perhaps most impressive when he's returning serve. But so many of Baker's great assets are intangibles.
The lack of a big serve (Baker's fastest was 123 M.P.H.; his average was 113 on first serves and 94 on seconds) may be an obstacle for Baker going forward, but what he has is well employed, and the tennis brain behind it is of the highest quality. He knows how to turn his low ranking, and his story, into an asset, admitting, "I'm kind of happy being the hunter going in there."
And it's been made manifest often enough—a happy hunter is usually a deadly one.
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—Greetings from sunny Wimbledon, where it looks like we've got a good shot at getting through today with no rain delays, or so we were just informed, in an oh-so-British accent, by the elderly, paternalistic PA announcer who is as much a fixture around here as geraniums or a tipsy Grace Jones. I have come to think of him as the Great Ancient Orator, GAO for short, and aspire to meet him someday.
The GAO is the official voice of Wimbledon on the grounds. He's the one who welcomes the spectators in the morning and, depending on the kind of day it is, provides us all with inescapable, voluble updates on what the "Met office" is predicting, weather-wise, for the next few hours, or when the covers are likely to be removed form the courts (as you can imagine, the GAO is a busy old coot a lot of the time). We're led to believe that he's also genuinely got our backs, as he tells us what the temperature will be and reminds us on sunny days to put on the sun block. I see a great commercial tie-in here in Wimbledon's near future.
These public service annoucements are, like everything else at Wimbledon, highly ritualized. Sometimes I think the fellas who run this place ought to be walking around in robes bearing mystifying signs and symbols rather than the familiar, conservatively cut gray suits, wearing those ugly purple and green ties. Each day starts with announcements that herald the first two noteworthy events of the day—the "Opening of the Gates" and "Delivery of the Weather Report."
The Opening of the Gates ritual that has the makings of a good skit (think Monty Python, or the "Festivus" episode on Seinfeld), and it's preceded by the first PA announcement of the day. As those who have queued up, sometimes overnight or longer, are beginning to get really antsy, the voice of the GAO booms out over the loudspeakers mounted on the wall along with the concertina wire. He declares that the gates are about to be opened and gently reminds the eager invaders of tennis' inner sanctum, "For your own safety, we ask that you please do not run."
Then the gates are open and everybody runs like crazy, shoving and tripping all over each other, to stake out a favorite post for the start of play. Happens every time.
The morning greeting follows once the dust has settled, and it contains a few set pieces of advice, like the reminder that you can only leave or enter the show courts on odd-game changeovers, or after the first three games of any set, so if you want to see your favorite player you'd better settle in and make yourself comfy early. Left unsaid is: Make sure you don't find yourself having to pee when it's 4-all in the first set. After those are knocked off, we get—with some introductory fanfare ("Now, as I'm sure many of you will be happy to hear. . .")—to the Delivery of the Weather Report.
In this, the Grand Old Orator gives us fairly precise details about what to expect for the day, but for all the hair-splitting and speculation emanating from the Met Office, we all know that that the weather report here is always the same: It could rain at any time, who knows? And on especially sunny, warm days, like today, the GAO kindly and cheerfully reminds us to avoid sunburn and ends his oration for the day with a warning about the perils of dehydration—"Do drink plenty, and of course I do mean water."
Well, I know that's not much of a preview of the day's events, but you just never know when a spell comes over you. For the record, here's the speed version: Serena Williams is money in the bank, but I fear for the two Andys. For Murray, Marcos Baghdatis is not necessarily the first guy I'd want to meet after Rafael Nadal has been plucked out of my path; and while David Ferrer is no grass-court wizard, he'll get a lot of balls back—and if Andy Roddick can't take control within the first two or three touches he may be in trouble.
Men's upset special: David Goffin over Mardy Fish (seeded No. 10). I have to believe that five-set nightmare Fish had to endure against British journeyman James Ward took a lot out of him, and Goffin can get a lot of balls in play. He could become the first man in the Open era to reach the round of 16 in the first two Grand Slams he's played (the resonance is slightly diluted when you know that the other guy was not, say, Bjorn Borg or Nadal, but Italy's Francesco Cancellotti).
Women's upset special: Varvara Lepchenko over Petra Kvitova (No. 4): Lepchenko has improved by leaps and bounds in recent months and is over the moon over having been named to the Olympic squad of her adopted home, the USA. Kvitova, while the defending champ, hasn't faced as tough a competitor as Lepchenko thus far.
And that's what I've got for you today, folks.
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—The aftershocks of the earthquake that shook this little corner of London when Lukas Rosol bombed Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon continued to rattle the windowpanes and send tremors through the trellises here today.
Almost every player who did a press conference was asked his or her reaction to the upset. Some, like Juan Monaco, were asked about nothing else. I'm just glad Monaco was a straight-sets loser to Viktor Troicki, because subjecting a winner to that treatment would have been insulting.
The comments that most vividly summed up the fairly uniform—and predictable—reactions were those of Rosol's Davis Cup teammate on the Czech Republic's side, Radek Stepanek. He said, "Everybody was definitely shocked, because, you know, it was like he put million on red yesterday, it was there, every single time. When I saw his face he didn't even know that he's on Centre Court, and he just went after his shots hitting winners from everywhere. He was just swinging, swinging, and, you know, it was very impressive from his side what he did yesterday."
As for the beaten two-time champion's woes, the emerging theme among our knowledgeable Spanish-speaking friends was that Nadal was not quite right at this Wimbledon. Over the past three months, he must have felt that great burden Novak Djokovic being lifted off his shoulders. And once the weight was entirely gone, at the end of the French Open, Nadal was floating on air—and suddenly lacking the appropriate degree of gravitas and determination it takes to win Wimbledon, where so many dangerous characters are nursing their secret or open ambitions.
There may be some truth to that, but it could be the most irrelevant item of truth floating around the place. And it's also undermined by the fact that Rosol was nothing less a man possessed yesterday—something that would not have changed no matter what kind of mood Nadal was in. Or let's put it this way: Had Nadal won that fifth set, as almost everyone predicted that he would, wouldn't the main theme have been how lucky Nadal was that that it took the gremlins working the pulleys and levers 45 minutes to close the roof? It gave Nadal time to re-group in a general sense, some would have said, while others sagely noted: It gave Rosol way too much time to think about the magnitude of what he was about to accomplish!
About that, Djokovic said: "Rafa knew what's best for him. Obviously it distracted him a little bit because he was playing well in that fourth set. But that's what happens. These are the conditions. You cannot affect the weather."
Djokovic wouldn't come out and say it, but he implied that the player's job is to deal with the conditions. And one indisputable fact is that on that score, Nadal has had far, far more experience than Rosol. Didn't he beat Federer on that selfsame Centre Court, back before it had a roof, in the dark? I don't think Nadal handled the delay badly, as the quality of his play in the fifth set proved; I do think that Rosol handled it amazingly well. If anything, Rafa's attitude bespoke a puzzling lack of that champion's toughness that we know he has. He doesn't need to search for or make excuses, certainly not the way Rosol played.
When Maria Sharapova weighed in, she offered the same perspective as other top players. "When the guy's firing missiles left and right, going for broke, I just think it's one of those days. Yeah, it's tennis. We can never underestimate who we're going up against. We always say how you can be ranked 1 or 100, and they still have to put the net up for you to play the match. That's why we're here."
Speaking of those still present, Sam Querrey sniffed out one of the leading themes that emerged from this disaster for Nadal. "I'm sure the British press sees a nice little path for Andy. He's lost to Nadal the last couple times. And Nadal's been in the final I think five years in a row."
Well, five years with a time-out in 2009, to be precise. But the point he made is a good one, and it helps explain why so many players today were prevailed upon to contemplate Nadal and Rosol. Murray's chances of winning Wimbledon have improved dramatically, just as Roger Federer's chances to win the French Open in 2009 did a flip when Nadal lost in the fourth round. Oh, Murray has plenty of guys to worry about in his half, but none of them are named Nadal. Murray has been beaten by Nadal in their last five Grand Slam encounters—four of them in semifinals.
This is all great news for Murray, but for one fact: The sudden surfeit of pressure that it will bring to bear upon him, pressure that it's hard to imagine he anticpated. The same was true for Federer, back in '09, but there's an important difference here. Murray is the great British hope in the British Grand Slam, and he doesn't have the same reservoir of Grand Slam confidence that Federer had accumulated by the time his big chance in Paris arrived. Nadal's competitive body is still warm, but the British press is already hard at the calculations of just how much this will help Murray's quest. The problem is that we're not talking about a semifinal here; Murray needs to win four more matches to get to the final. He'll be lugging the pressure for a solid week. Djokovic felt obliged to spell it out for one over-eager British reporter:
"This is a draw of 128 players. Everybody, especially in the opening rounds of the tournament, has big motivation to make a surprise, to go out there and play their best tennis. You can't underestimate any opponents. You have to go slowly. I'm sure Andy is aware of that."
Murray most certainly is cognizant of his position, but that isn't going to make it much easier. He's going to have to navigate some very challenging mental and emotional territory, both in his own head and on the printed page. It's a tough position to be in, if not as daunting as having to beat Nadal and (potentially) Djokovic or Federer in a final.
When Stepanek was asked if he thought it likely that Rosol would go farther in the tournament, his reply was priceless. "I think you will have the answer in 24 hours."
In a curious way, now that Nadal has lost you can ask the same question, substituting the name of Murray for Rosol.