Wimbledon 2013: All systems go for friends Murray and Djokovic to be reunited in another Slam final
Paul Newman gives his half-term report on a tournament which has produced plenty of surprises but still looks like winding up to a familiar conclusion
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have contested two of the last three Grand Slam finals – the Scot won in New York and the Serb in Melbourne – and on the basis of their form here so far the boyhood friends and rivals are heading for another confrontation. Both have reached the fourth round without dropping a set.
Murray has looked rock-solid in his first three matches and gave his best display yet when beating Tommy Robredo on Friday. He has stayed focused on his task – there was barely a scowl all week – and shown what a great all-round game he has on grass. Djokovic, however, looked even better in defeating Jérémy Chardy on Saturday, dropping just six points on his own serve and making only three unforced errors.
Of the other top men, David Ferrer has struggled through his matches, but Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro are major threats in Djokovic's half of the draw. Jerzy Janowicz, the world No 22, is the highest-ranked player left in Murray's section.
... and the women
Who can stop Serena Williams? The defending champion has extended her current winning streak to 34 matches and is looking better than ever. There has been little sign of nerves – which there were 12 months ago – and Williams has been winning her matches with plenty to spare.
The world No 1's biggest potential rivals, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, both made early exits, which leaves Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No 4 and last year's runner-up, as the next highest-ranked player in the draw. Radwanska's inventive game can trouble the very best, but if she meets Williams in the semi-finals she will surely need to play the match of her life to survive.
Li Na and Petra Kvitova are the only other top 10 players left in the field. Only four top 10 women's seeds made the third round, the fewest at any Grand Slam tournament in the Open era. Li is not always convincing on grass and has been taken to three sets in her last two matches by opponents she would expect to beat comfortably on other surfaces. Kvitova has not impressed in the first week and will need to improve quickly if she is to repeat her 2011 triumph, but if she finds her form she has the game to beat anyone.
Comeback kings and queens
When Tommy Haas began his latest comeback from injury two years ago he was ranked No 896 in the world. At the age of 35 he is back up to No 13 and playing some of the best tennis since he got to No 2 in 2002. Italy's Flavia Pennetta is his counterpart in the women's draw. The 31-year-old Italian, a former top 10 player, is currently No 166 in the world rankings after her own struggles with injury but is through to the fourth round here for the first time for seven years.
At 20, Bernard Tomic may be rather young to be making a comeback, but the Australian has put a difficult time behind him to reach the fourth round. Despite all the controversy surrounding his father, who is banned from the grounds of the All England Club following his physical confrontation with his son's hitting partner in Madrid in May, Tomic has rediscovered the talent which makes him one of the most exciting young players in the game.
Much of the first week was a triumph for experience over youth. The men's game, in particular, has become so physical that strength and stamina are often decisive. Five of the last 16 in the men's draw and four in the women's are over the age of 30. Nobody has flown the flag for the older generation more impressively than Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm, who at the age of 42 years and 281 days became the oldest woman to reach the third round at Wimbledon in the Open era. The previous oldest was 39-year-old Virginia Wade in 1985.
Upset of the first week
Honourable mentions go to Steve Darcis (who beat Rafael Nadal), Michelle Larcher de Brito (who knocked out Maria Sharapova) and Eugenie Bouchard (who took out Ana Ivanovic), but there was no greater giant-killer than Sergiy Stakhovsky. The Ukrainian beat Roger Federer playing old-fashioned serve-and-volley to cause one of the greatest shocks in Wimbledon history, only to lose to Jürgen Melzer in the next round.
Newcomer of the week
Kenny de Schepper, a big-hitting Frenchman, has sprung from nowhere to earn a place in the last 16, but who had heard of Monica Puig a week ago? The 19-year-old from Puerto Rico, who made her Grand Slam debut at this year's French Open, shocked Sara Errani, the world No 5, in the first round and has built on that result to reach the last 16. The Independent's Nick Bollettieri has been helping to guide her and thinks she could have a big future.
The American nightmare
Eleven American men started the men's singles competition and none made it to the third round. It was the first time for 101 years that no American man reached the third round.
The grass is alway greener (in the first week)
By the end of the third round there had been 13 retirements or walkovers, which equals the Open era Wimbledon record, set in 2008. Some observers –and one or two players – were quick to suggest that the number of injuries was down to the condition of the courts, but the suspicion is that this has simply been a freakish year. In the first week at Wimbledon the courts are always green and a little slippery. Croatia's Ivan Dodig is not complaining: he is through to the fourth round after two of his first three opponents retired with injury.
After a rain-interrupted week Andrew Jarrett, the tournament referee, did a good job to get the third round completed by Saturday night, though it has helped that there have not been many five-set matches in the men's draw. There were only 12 five-set matches in the first two rounds, which was the fewest here in the Open era. The previous fewest was 13 in 1981. The most was 26 in both 1969 and 1994.
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