Wimbledon is supposed to be a gentle garden party – pleasant tennis and good spirits. Today it was a raw, explosive circus with everything: depressing North Sea clouds, inspiring English sunshine, indoor tennis, outdoor tennis, a battle of the ages highlighted by a fierce downpour just as a legend (Venus Williams) had a match point, a clash of charismatic rebels (Nick Kyrgios with his ‘tude and the leaping Dustin Brown with his dreads), a long-coming feel-good story (the victory of Juan Martin Del Potro over the No. 5 seed Stan Wawrinka), a French civil war between doubles partners Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and the shock excellence of a pale Jersey girl, Christina McHale, who almost brought down the queen diva of the game, Ms. Williams.
And then there was the most explosive story of all, an unfinished symphony: the potential shock upset of the year by No. 28 Sam Querrey. Never mind that the big hitting American hadn’t beaten Novak Djokovic since 2012; that he had lost eight of their nine meetings and won only one set in their last four matches. The American swept to a 7-6 (6), 6-1 lead over Djokovic, who has won four Slams in a row.
But Wimbledon’s rains fell hard on the No. 1 player, who was struggling mightily on Court One. Novak hasn’t dropped a third-round match in a major has since 2009 and last year in the quarters he managed to squeak out a two-day win over the powerful Kevin Anderson. And the formidable Serb is hoping to become only the second man to win five successive major titles.
Djokovic, 29, is on course to win the first calendar-year Grand Slam in the men’s game since Rod Laver in 1969. Will Novak be saved by the suspension of the match? Time will tell.
Serena has biggest weapon in tennis history – her serve. She has long been No. 1 in the world. She’s been a relatively stable presence in a turbulent WTA world where no one can grab the crown: think Muguruza, Halep, Radwanska, Sharapova, Azarenka.
So why every time we look up does it seem Serena’s struggling and full of angst. Many a lesser player have given her fits. Diminutive Italians and Germans (Vinci and Kerber), big Spaniards (Muguruza) and here last year it was a darling Brit – Heather Watson.
But she’s done quite well against her fellow Americans. And today she would be playing the No. 65 player, Christina McHale, a pale Jersey girl who has lost more matches than she’s won.
Still, there was struggle, a real scare and dramatics: a thrown racket, dueling fist-pumps and a corner-to-corner rally, won by McHale, that brought down the house. McHale saw the ball beautifully, she battled with courage, she saved 13 of 17 break points, she won the first set. But she was playing Serena: proud, powerful Serena who said after her 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-4 victory, “I know that mentally no one can break me.” And deep into the decisive third set Williams would not be denied. She stepped in and pounded one return of serve after another, broke her foe’s serve and her will and prevailed, knowing that she is still on course to win her first Slam in a year and her 22nd major to tie the Open record of Steffi Graf.
SYMPATHY FOR A GENTLE GIANT: In over 11 years just three players outside of tennis’ruling gang of four – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray – have managed to win a slam. Two of them, former US Open champ Juan Martin del Potro and former French and Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka, met on Centre Court today. It was the first second-round match between Slam champions since 2009. One’s heart pulled for the gentle giant from Argentina. The appealing 6’6″ player has had four years of his prime ripped away due to wrist problems that led to four operations. John McEnroe noted, “Every player in the locker room is pulling for him. No one deserves to go through what he has. And people forget that he beat Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the semis [of the 2009] US Open before going on to beat Federer in the final.”
But sentiment takes you just so far. Just ask Marcus Willis. The head shouted that the No. 5 seed from Switzerland would prevail. It had nothing to do with the dandy fact that Stan the Man has three of the best nicknames in tennis. Henri LeConte called him “The Bison,” Roger Federer said he was a “Stanimal” and he proudly proclaims he’s “Stan the Man.” More to the point, Wawrinka is a beast off the baseline and his backhand – one of the most powerful in the game – is a unique weapon. Plus, Del Potro is a wounded warrior. He no longer can come over on his backhand, which is a clear liability.
Predictably, the Swiss won the first set. But Delpo, playing in his first Grand Slam since the 2014 Australian Open, stormed back to secure a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3 win. Del Potro, who has a fabulous draw, next plays France’s Lucas Pouille, the No. 32 seed, and could possibly make a good run. BTW: there was so much big hitting in the match that the BBC noted, “There are going to be some really sore tennis balls at the end of this match because these two really smoke it.”
The oldest player in the woman’s draw, 36-year-old Venus Williams, faced the youngest player (and the only teen) left in the draw, Russian Darya Kasatkina, 19. It turned into a massive three set struggle. And deep into the deciding set, when Venus had a match point, rains suddenly poured down and Williams gave us a dazed, dumbfounded expression for the ages. Eventually Venus prevailed 7-5, 4-6, 10-8 – amazing!
GO FIGURE: For only the fourth time in history there will be play on middle Sunday…Venus is playing in her record 19th Wimbledon. And now she’s dropping hints that she just might play in the 2020 Olympics in Japan…On Thursday 18 seeds were toppled……Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, the No. 3, was match point down at 3-5 in the third set against Ana Konjuh, but still won 6-2, 4-6, 9-7. Konjuh strained her ankle when she stepped on a ball…When asked to describe Nick Kyrgios in three words, Dustin Brown said, “Talented, crazy and nice” …Prior to Wimbledon the No. 702 player, Marcus Willis earned $300. Golf’s 706th-best player, South Korea’s Jin Park has earned about $37,000 this year.
Now It’s Civil War
Future is Bright for America’s Men After Years In the Wilderness
Read Twitter Abuse to Punish Myself – Heather Watson
It’s the Rocky of Tennis (on Marcus Willis’ run)
Troicki’s Epic Tirade Puts McEnroe and Tarango in the Shade
Court Scheduling is Sexist, Says Former Champion
Time for Tennis to Tackle the Dark Side of Willis Fairy Tale
POLITICAL POTPOURRI: As pundits debate how the Brexit adventure applies to American politics, let us just note that Donald Trump has told us that he will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it. Thursday France’s Gilles Simon, while complaining about the damp conditions told the chair ump, “If I get injured, I’ll sue you and you WILL pay.” Bill Clinton was famous for telling people, “I feel your pain.” At Wimbledon, well-clipped public address announcements end with a dash of faux-compassion when the announcer tells the fans, “We understand your frustration.”
AMERICAN NUMBERS: It has been 16 years since an American man, Pete Sampras, won Wimbledon, and 13 years since an American man, Andy Roddick, won a Slam. Twenty years ago, there were four Americans in the top 20 – Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang. John Isner is now the only American man in the top 20. Four American men are still in the Wimbledon draw. Since 2001, American women have won 10 Wimbledons. Serena has collected six, Venus has four. Coach Nick Bollettieri said America “has, right now, the best crop of youngsters that we’ve had in 12 years.” Isner asserted, “As a country we’ve sort of turned a corner…We have a lot of good young talent.”
BEST CHANT SO FAR AT WIMBLEDON: “Shoes off if you love Willis.”
JUST WONDERING: When was the last time we saw a more striking differential on the backhand side? Stan Wawrinka has one of the best backhands of the modern era and Juan Martin Del Potro only offers modest slices. But today it didn’t matter, in part because Del Potro has one best forehands in the game and slices can get nasty on grass…Is Wimbledon the best opportunity for Murray to beat Djokovic (if they land up meeting in the final)?
BEST QUOTE: “I was just so sad at home for the past two years and now my hands are shaking I am just so happy.” – Juan Martin del Potro
BEST ADVICE: Roger Federer told Marcus Willis, “Stick at it.”
IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR INDIAN WELLS, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR WIMBLEDON: Broadcaster Katherine Whitaker said, “It’s practically impossible to have Hawk-Eye on every court.”
“When you are an athlete, great is not enough. You want to be extraordinary.” – Venus Williams
“That’s a strange question.” – Stan Wawrinka, after a reporter asked whether it was sexist that the men’s No. 4 seed was on Centre Court and women’s No. 4 seed was on Court 12
“I don’t know why they bet on us [women] because our results are all over the place.” – Heather Watson
“For the other 51 weeks of the year, he is a footnote, an ant amid the boondocks.” – Oliver Brown on Marcus Willis
“It’s better to be in the top 10 than not in the top 10. But I want to go on. I want to win Slams.” – Venus Williams
THE PHENOM THAT FIZZLED: Dominic Thiem, the ATP’s hottest young prospect, lost to Jiri Vesely in straight sets in the second round.