The first week was a thriller – but the real excitement is yet to come
All the big names are still in as Wimbledon reaches boiling point, writes Paul Newman
Monday 28 June 2010
Let the tournament begin. Wimbledon 2010 has already featured enough drama to fill a West End theatre for a year, yet as the 133rd Lawn Tennis Championships enter their second week there is a sense that the initial six days may have been a mere curtain-raiser for what is to come.
On the face of it, topping the first week's headline acts could be a tall order. Consider what we have seen so far: Roger Federer opening the Centre Court by losing the first two sets against Alejandro Falla; Rafael Nadal twice taken to five sets by lowly-ranked opponents; John Isner and Nicolas Mahut creating history with their 11-hour marathon; Andy Murray blazing a trail by winning his first three matches in straight sets while his fellow Britons delivered the home nation's worst ever Wimbledon performance; Novak Djokovic and Olivier Rochus staging the latest finish in All England Club history; and Victor Hanescu fined after "tanking" in a match in which he spat at the crowd.
However, for all the cliff-hanging drama of act one, not one of the leading players will be missing from the cast list when act two opens today. In the eyes of some, "Super Monday" is the best day of the tournament: it is the only day when all the remaining players are on court, the programme featuring all eight fourth-round matches in both the men's and the women's singles.
Despite the first-week labours of some of the leading lights – most notably Federer and Nadal – only two of the top 10 men's seeds have failed to make it through to the second week: Nikolay Davydenko (the No 7 seed), who always struggles on grass and is coming back from injury, and Fernando Verdasco (No 8), who appeared to pay the price of committing to a lengthy campaign during the clay-court season.
The women's field is just as strong. The only players among the top nine seeds who have not made it past the first phase are the French Open finalists, Francesca Schiavone (No 5) and Samantha Stosur (No 6), who have always felt more comfortable on clay. Two bigger names from lower down the seedings list, Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin, also remain in contention.
Who will have survived by finals weekend in five days' time? The men's competition in particular looks wide open. Federer has looked surprisingly vulnerable in the first week, although he has improved with each match. The six-times champion could have his work cut out today against Jurgen Melzer and prepared for his fourth-round match by hitting yesterday with another left-hander, Britain's Alex Bogdanovic. Perhaps the defending champion felt the need for some encouragement against a player who has lost in the first round on all eight of his appearances here.
What of the world No 1? When Nadal won the title here two years ago he arrived as champion of Queen's and dropped just one set en route to the final. This year, having gone out in the quarter-finals at Queen's, he has dropped four sets already and needed treatment for a knee problem against Philipp Petzschner on Saturday.
Djokovic, the world No 3, is through but is never entirely convincing on grass and has potentially the toughest route of all the top four players. If he were to win the tournament he might have to beat Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Federer and Nadal in his next four matches. Hewitt, his opponent today, believes he still has it in him to win a Grand Slam event and after beating Federer a fortnight ago – only the second time since 2002 the Swiss has lost on grass – the 29-year-old Australian could be one to watch this week.
Of the top four, none has played better than Murray. He is the only one not to have dropped a set, his serve has been broken only once in his first three matches and he appears to have recaptured the confidence that took him to the semi-finals here 12 months ago and to the Australian Open final this year. The Scot has a good draw, the only reservation being that he might have benefited had he been given a tougher test in his first three matches.
Roddick, who has lost to Federer in three Wimbledon finals, can never be underestimated, but the American did not look at his best in the first week and may pay for having played so few matches going into the tournament. The French have been enjoying one of their best Grand Slam events – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Julien Benneteau and Paul-Henri Mathieu are all through to the last 16 – but the lone Swede, Soderling, looks better equipped to go deep into the second week. The world No 6, who could meet Nadal in the quarter-finals, has not dropped a set in his first three matches and is striking the ball with awesome power.
Today's women's programme features two outstanding matches, Serena Williams against Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin against Kim Clijsters. Williams, like her sister Venus, has quickly settled into the form that has seen the Americans dominate here for the last decade. Sharapova, the 2004 champion, is a great fighter, but has yet to return to her former heights following shoulder surgery. Assuming Serena survives, it is hard to see the defending champion failing to make the final again.
In the other half of the draw, Venus Williams, the No 2 seed, has a seemingly comfortable route to the semi-finals, but thereafter the challenges will be severe. In the last four, the five-times champion could meet Henin or Clijsters. Today's confrontation between the two Belgians promises to be a cracker. Clijsters has won both their meetings since their comebacks, via a final set tie-break on each occasion, but Henin has been a better grass-court player in the past and may just have the edge today.
With the hot weather expected to continue through this week, the All England Club's courts will be hard and quick, leaving the fittest and the fastest among the best equipped to survive. It promises to be a memorable seven days.
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