Pass The Spaghetti And Hail Musetti

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Bill Simons 

Wimbledon 

ENTERTAINING AND A LITTLE BIT CRAZY: In some ways, it’s a shame that Latvian Jelena Ostapenko fell today to Czech Barboro Krejcikova. It’s not just that the No. 13 powerhouse has the best pout in tennis – her gestures and expressions never fail to amaze. “You have to love her. She’s entertaining – and a little bit crazy,” observed Mary Joe Fernandez. Wimbledon Radio added, “Ostapenko has magic and mystery. On a good day her shots leave scorch marks on the court. On her bad days, it’s all about unforced errors.” Today the imperious diva kicked her coach out of the friend’s box and Krejcikova kicked her out of the tournament 6-4, 7-6(4).

IS CALIFORNIA IN THE UNITED STATES? Here’s one reason I love Wimbledon.

I’m about to take the elevator up two floors to the media cafe when the New York Times writer, Matt Futterman, comes by and busts me. “C’mon, Bill, you’ve got to get your steps in!” But I’m quick to defend myself. “Cut me a break, Matt – I’m walking over an hour a day.” As I wait for the elevator, I meet Timur, a writer who looks a bit Chinese to me. “Where are you from, I ask?” He replies, “Kazakhstan and then asks here are you from?” I answer “California.” He then asks, “Is California in the United States?” “Yes,” I say. Then I explain that my sister and brother-in-law had a great time when they visited Kazakhstan last year (although I skipped the part about how my brother-in-law was pickpocketed). 

Anyway, I then got a quick tutorial on Kazakhstan. Then I looked out the corner of my eye I saw Brad  “Winning Ugly” Gilbert stride by in his semi-famous floppy hat, followed by gentleman Tim Henman in an elegant, flawless suit and a lance corporal from the British army sporting a red sash and a beret. You don’t see that in Flushing Meadows.

FRITZ FALLS IN FIVE: Of late there’s been plenty of good news for Taylor Fritz. He won the Easbourne warmup and bravely came back from two sets down against No. 4 Alexander Zverev to win the Grand Slam match of his career and make it to his fourth major quarterfinal.

The man who two years ago faltered at crunch time in a quarterfinal showdown now had a great opportunity to become the first American to reach a Wimbledon semi since John Isner in 2018. 

At first the Californian used his familiar formula for success. Quicker and more confident than ever, he hit power forehands and serves and blasted his underrated backhand, overcame four break points and gained the lead. 

Like his bestie Tommy Paul did yesterday against Carlos Alcaraz, he claimed the first set over his foe. The Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who has such a lovely name and lyrical backhand, seemed at a loss. This was his first ever Slam quarterfinal. He’d never beaten Fritz on a fast court and he had few answers. The bookies didn’t give him much of a chance. 

But then everything switched. Musetti relaxed. He said, “I tried to change my mind and my attitude.” The Italian flipped the script. He amped up his game, moved with ease and unleashed dazzling variety as he began to tame Fritz’s forehand and bully the American. 

Okay, he said he wasn’t tired after his marathon match against Zverev. But his serving was subpar and his timing was thrown off by the wind. He was frustrated by Musetti’s often spinny, often slow slices. Visibly upset, his confidence dipped and he barked at his box. Taylor, who’d been so mentaly strong against Zverev, now seemed vulnerable and uncertain as he lost the second and third sets. 

Pam Shriver noted that Taylor had faltered in three previous Slam quarterfinals. She asked, “Is he going to be another Rublev or a Pegula [who together have lost in 16 Slam quarterfinals]?”

Taylor’s timing was thrown off both by the wind and his foe’s wicked wand. The American powerhouse, who’d only lost his serve twice before in the tournament, seemed at a loss to hold. In contrast, observed Wimbledon Radio, Musetti’s “grass court form this summer has been a revelation.”

Fritz did fight back, and won the fourth set. The American seemed in control as he went up 30-0 in his first service game. But the Italian lifted his game and hit an amazing forehand winner on the line, while leaning backward, to break. His backhand was a delightful grab bag of wonders. 

“Musetti is oozing with confidence and self-belief,” observed Marcus Buckman. Lorenzo’s mind was clear – his strokes had power and creativity. After the match he quipped, “I saved the best for the end.” Musetti hit a delicate drop shot that induced a nasty tumble from Fritz. Then, a point later, as the golden sun shone bright, Fritz’s hopes to reach the semis set, just as they’d done against Rafa Nadal in 2022 at Wimbledon.

Yes, the US did have splendid moments at this year’s Wimbledon. Overall, seven American men and women reached the fourth round, the most in 20 years. But, as has been the case since 2003, when Andy Roddick won the US Open, American men fell short. 

Italy’s (and the world’s) best guy, Jannik Sinner, lost yesterday. But so what? Musetti, along with his fellow Italian, Jasmine Paolini, will be in the semis.

When Novak Djokovic’s name was mentioned on Court 1 today there were boos. But the Serb will be favored Friday – he has a 5-1 winning record over Musetti. Lorenzo will call on beauty and power and his fierce Italian support, while Nole’s backers hope he has a “gooooooood” match. But to British fans the Serb is certainly tennis’ villain du jour.

A PRETTY GOOD COMMENTARY: When Carlos Alcaraz first began to surge against Tommy Paul, a fan called out to the Spaniard, “C’mon, pretty boy!”

NO KIDDING: Commentator Tim Henman said, “It’s realistic to think that, moving forward, Carlos Alcaraz can be in the same conversation with Roger, Rafa and Novak.”

TENNIS’ INJURY PROBLEM: Tennis is getting more and more physical. Athletes are bigger and better. They earn more money and can afford physios, trainers and massage therapists. That’s one reason there have been a record 37 five setters at Wimbledon this year. 

But the sport has been plagued by injuries. The game’s most charismatic player, Rafa Nadal, who’d been struggling with his body for months, chose not to play. Before Wimbledon Andy Murray had surgery and the tournament favorite, Aryna Sabalenka, pulled out with a shoulder injury. Plus, Djokovic came to London just a few weeks after meniscus surgery. Then players began to drop.

Hubi Hurkacz and Grigor Dimirov pulled out of their matches. Alexander Zverev claimed he played his fourth round match against Fritz on one leg, Yannik Sinner got woozy. 

Then today,  the rising Aussie Alex DeMinaur pulled out before his much-anticipated quarterfinals with Djokovic with a hip injury. He was gutted, and so were fans. BTW, it wasn’t ideal for many when instead of seeing the Djokovic vs. De Minaur quarterfinal, Centre Court patrons instead took in the mixed doubles match that featured Joe Salisbury and Heather Watson facing Jan Zielinski and Hseih Su-wei.

FASHION COMMENTARY OF THE DAY: One British fan commented on Tommy Paul’s headgear, saying, “I’m not sure about that hat backwards look – it’s not very elegant. But it probably works for him.”

Also reporting: Vinay Venkatesh

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