Wimbledon 2014: Half-time court report from SW19
As we enter the second week of Wimbledon 2014, Paul Newman assesses the successes and the failures, the shocks and the sure things from the first six days at the All England Club
How the leading men are shaping up...
There is often talk of a new wave of players being about to knock the Fab Four off their perch, but as the second week begins the men’s draw has a familiar look to it. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer have all reached the fourth round with plenty to spare and might just provide the tournament with its dream semi-final line-up on Friday.
Murray and Federer have been the most impressive of the four, neither having dropped a set in their first three matches. Murray’s masterful third-round victory over Roberto Bautista Agut, the world No 23, was the best performance of the week by any of the top four given the quality of his opponent. Federer has looked a class apart in his three matches, but the former world No 1 has tended to slip up early in the second week at recent Grand Slam events.
Nadal has dropped the first set in all three of his matches, which will be of some concern to the Spaniard’s camp, even though he eventually came good each time. The world No 1 may not be able to afford such slow starts against better opponents. Djokovic looked vulnerable against Radek Stepanek but is quickly adjusting to the surface, having not played a warm-up tournament.
... and the women
Serena Williams, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka were all first-week fallers, but the women’s field still contains four top 20 players who are former winners or beaten finalists. Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova could yet stage a repeat of their 2011 final, while Agnieszka Radwanska and Sabine Lisicki were runners-up in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
Sharapova, the 2004 champion, has been in awesome form, dropping just seven games in her first three matches and showing no signs of fatigue following her French Open triumph. Kvitova showed steely resolve in holding off Venus Williams in the third round and could benefit from being in what appears to be the weaker half of the draw.
Radwanska has dropped only nine games in her first three matches, while Lisicki, after a year dogged by injury, has come to life on her return to the All England Club.
Nevertheless, the highest ranked player left in the women’s tournament is a 22-year-old Romanian who had won only two matches at the All England Club before last week. Simona Halep, the world No 3, has won seven titles in the last year and was runner-up at the French Open earlier this month, but this is only her fourth appearance in the main draw here. She reached the second round in both 2011 and 2013 with victories over Bojana Jovanovski and Olga Govortsova respectively. She is now through to the fourth round, in which she faces Zarina Diyas.
The comeback kings and queens
Vera Zvonareva went out of the tournament on Saturday night, losing to Diyas, but last week constituted a notable comeback by the 2010 runner-up. Following shoulder surgery the 29-year-old Russian missed all of 2013 and had played only five matches this year, winning just one of them, before arriving at Wimbledon. She is currently the world No 566.
It might hurt to acknowledge two players found guilty of drugs offences, but Marin Cilic and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova are both enjoying their first Wimbledons after spells out through suspension. Cilic, who served a four-month ban last year, beat Tomas Berdych, the 2010 runner-up, in straight sets to reach the fourth round. Zahlavova Strycova, who was out for six months last year after testing positive for a banned stimulant, reached the last 16 by knocking out Li Na, the world No 2.
Can you describe winning tennis matches after a broken engagement as a comeback? Whichever way you look at it, Caroline Wozniacki has responded well on the court following her split with Rory McIlroy and has won her first three matches here in straight sets.
The golden oldies
The thirtysomethings have not made as big an impact as they have at some recent tournaments, but Federer, Tommy Robredo and Feliciano Lopez are still going strong. Robredo knocked out Jerzy Janowicz, a semi-finalist last year, in the gloom on Saturday night and now faces Federer. Robredo beat Federer for the first time in 11 attempts in the fourth round of last year’s US Open.
Lopez is enjoying a wonderful summer on grass. The 32-year-old Spaniard, who was runner-up at Queen’s Club and champion at Eastbourne, meets John Isner today with a place in the last 16 at stake.
In the women’s draw, 28-year-old Shuai Peng is the oldest player left in the competition. Serena Williams and Li had been flying the flag for the thirtysomethings in recent times but neither made it to the second week.
Eyebrows may have been raised when Wimbledon awarded a wild card to Nick Kyrgios, but the 19-year-old Australian has richly rewarded their investment in him. The world No 144 gave an indication of his grass-court prowess by winning a Challenger tournament in Nottingham – for which he had to qualify – in the build-up to Wimbledon. Now, after beating Stéphane Robert, Richard Gasquet and Jiri Vesely here, he takes on Rafael Nadal.
Zarina Diyas is an exception in that she is a leading player from Kazakhstan who was actually born in the country. Kazakhstan has become an international force through importing players, mostly from Russia, but 20-year-old Diyas is from Almaty, the country’s former capital. Diyas, who faces Simona Halep in the fourth round, qualified for a Grand Slam event for the first time at this year’s Australian Open, where she reached the third round.
Tereza Smitkova, a 19-year-old Czech, is also making her Wimbledon debut. The world No 175 has already beaten Coco Vandeweghe, who won a grass-court title in the Netherlands in the build-up to Wimbledon, and Bojana Jovanovski, who is ranked 130 places above her.
We never expected to see you here
As well as the Czech Republic’s Smitkova, the unlikely survivors into the second week include Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer, who had never gone beyond the second round in seven previous visits to Wimbledon, and Italy’s Simone Bolelli, who has been ranked outside the world’s top 100 for the last year.
Upset performance of the first week
There are plenty of contenders, but the most remarkable win of the first seven days was Alizé Cornet’s victory over Serena Williams, the world No 1 and favourite for the title. Cornet, the world No 24, had never reached the second week here in seven previous attempts, but the 24-year-old Frenchwoman clearly has found the key to getting the better of Williams, having also beaten her in Dubai earlier this year.
The country with the most women left in the tournament is the Czech Republic, who have become a major force in the Fed Cup in recent years. The four remaining Czechs are all in the bottom half of the draw. Petra Kvitova, the 2011 champion, next faces Shuai Peng, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova meets Caroline Wozniacki, while Lucie Safarova takes on her fellow countrywoman, Tereza Smitkova.
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