Categorized | Editorial, News

Week One at Wimbledon: Federer and Nadal with a pulse, barely! Murray and Soderling Looking Strong

As customary, the middle Sunday at Wimbledon serves as a no play holiday which is a welcomed respite.  No words can fully underscore the uniqueness of the events that transpire this week.  From a seemingly never ending first round match, to the champions of the last two years limping their way into the last 16, to the Queen making a rare appearance, to a scandal involving Victor Hanescu.  Here’s a homage to the initial six days and a take on what’s ahead.

The French are known for their flare and Nicolas Mahut is undoubtedly part of the establishment.  In the second round of qualifying, Mahut outlasted his opponent 24-22 in the third set to advance.  Then, Mahut went five sets to make it into the main draw. In the first round of the main draw, Mahut faced John Isner. On Tuesday, the match was interrupted due to darkness after the two split four sets.  When the players returned on Wednesday, the night ended with a 59-59 draw in the fifth. Even the scoreboard was exhausted, crashing when the score got to 40+.  On Thursday, the match concluded when Isner hit two consecutive winners to break Mahut and grab a 70-68 victory.

The encounter which lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes, shattered all previous records and redefined the meaning of marathon match. The fifth set alone spanned 8 hours and 11 minutes.  However, despite a full day’s rest, Isner could not recuperate.  The next round, Thiemo De Bakker, who won his prior round 16-14, dismissed a depleted Isner in just 1hour 14 minutes.  For Isner, the physical consequences may reverberate for months.

While defending champion Roger Federer did not go to such extremes, it was a struggle to survive nevertheless.  Federer was nearly a spectator as 60th ranked Alejandro Falla forced Federer to climb out of a two sets to love deficit, even serving for the match.  With a bit of “luck” as Federer put it, he moved on.  The Swiss’ second round was also tough as qualifier Ilijac Bozoljac prevailed in the second set tiebreaker. Federer carried the match by capturing the fourth set tiebreaker.  The third round, Federer played close to flawlessly against Arnaud Clement.

Rafael Nadal also willed himself to advance.  After a routine initial round, Nadal required five sets the second and third round against Robin Haase and Philipp Petzschener respectively.  More importantly, Nadal had a flare up of his niggling knee problem and was treated for elbow issue.

Following a five setter with Oliver Rochus, Novak Djokovic thumped his next opponents Taylor Dent and Albert Montanes in the subsequent rounds.  British hopeful Andy Murray has been efficient, booting his counterparts in straight sets.  Even the Queen’s first appearance at Wimbledon since 1977 did not distract her subject as Murray dispatched Jarkko Nieminen in the second round.

After an uncomplicated primary round, Andy Roddick was rattled a bit by Michael Llodra and Philipp Kohlschreiber the next rounds, pushed to four sets by each.  Roddick has friendly company into the second week as Sam Querrey secured a fourth round berth after a five set tussle with Xavier Malisse.

Unsurprisingly, his second tournament back from injury, Nikolay Davydenko fell in the second round.  Shocking though was Fernando Verdasco, the 8th seed, Marin Cilic, the 11th seed, Marcos Baghdatis, the 24th seed, and Stanislas Wawrinka, the 20th seed, all exiting their first day out.

Robin Soderling, the 6th seed, has been on cue this week.  The Swede has sailed through his matches, duration under two hours.  His first event since his back injury, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s performance has been mixed.  In the second round, Tsonga went five sets after having a two sets to none lead against Alexandr Dolgopolov.  Yet, the following round, Tsonga cruised against qualifier Tobias Kamke.

This tournament has seen a revival of the French veterans.  Paul-Henri Mathieu knocked out 13th seed Mikhail Youzhny and De Bakker in the second and third round respectively to earn a spot in the final 16 at a major for the first time since 2008.  Also, Julien Benneteau is into the second week after surviving two five set matches.

Conversely, Gael Monfils had his fortnight cut short by Lleyton Hewitt in the third round.  Monfils was no match for Hewitt who recently beat Federer in Halle. The Aussie is grooving on grass despite two hip surgeries.

After coasting for two matches, Tomas Berdych had to shake off Denis Istomin in five sets in the third round.  In the round of 16, Berdych could have faced Victor Hanescu, but the Romanian retired after a bizarre incident.

In front two sets to none, Hanescu was forced to a fifth set by Daniel Brands.  Irked that play was not stopped since in his opinion it was too dark, Hanescu got irritated.  A series of purposeful foot fault followed.  Then, the crowd got under Hanescu’s skin resulting in him spitting in its direction.  After being cited for a code violation, Hanescu retired stating a thigh injury.  Hanescu has been sanctioned with a substantial fine for “unsportsmanlike conduct” and the episode is still under review.  Brands, who ousted Davydenko, is the beneficiary as the 22 year old reached his first round of 16 at a major.

Taiwanese Yen-Hsun Lu also caught a break with Cilic sent out early.  The 27 year old is likewise in his maiden fourth round at a major. Tenacious David Ferrer fought his way into the second week.  Ferrer regrouped after squandering a two sets to love advantage against Jeremy Chardy in the third round.  Jurgen Melzer equally dealt with adversity to arrive to the fourth round.  In the second round, Melzer toppled Victor Troicki in five sets and came back after dropping the first set to Feliciano Lopez in the third round.

On Monday round of 16 play begins with Federer and Melzer opening the proceedings on Centre Court.  Despite their decade on tour, astonishingly, the two have never met on court.  This has been a breakthrough year for Melzer, the world number 16 and 2010 French Open semifinalist.  A lefty like Falla, but with more confidence, Federer will need to be at his best, particularly on the backhand wing, if he plans to remain in the hunt for  a record seventh title.

Another first meeting is Berdych and Brands battling for a quarterfinal spot.  As a semifinalist at the French, Berdych should have no trouble moving on to his initial Wimbledon quarterfinal where he could see Melzer or Federer.

Nadal faces Mathieu for the tenth time and has a perfect record against the Frenchman.  Therefore, the Spaniard is unlikely to fall.  Similarly, Soderling encounters Ferrer whom he has vanquished five out of seven times.  As such, Soderling could clash with Nadal in the quarterfinals.  With the way Soderling has been striking the ball, the Swede may prove an unsolvable puzzle for the world number one.

Deadlock in their head to head at 3 a piece, Tsonga and Benneteau battle for a quarterfinal berth while Murray takes on Querrey.  Although Murray has won their three prior matches, their last meeting was in October 2008 and Murray has not been up to snuff since the Australian Open.  Conversely, Querrey captured the warm-up title at Queen’s Club. Consequently, the American could provide the upset and reach his first quarterfinal at a major, possibly the semifinals with Tsonga or Benneteau as his potential quarterfinal opponent.

Already twice this year, Roddick has given Lu his marching papers.  So, it’s almost a given that Roddick will claim the quarterfinal slot.  However, the same cannot be said  for Djokovic in Hewitt’s case.  Although Djokovic has a 3-1 record versus Hewitt, the two have avoided meeting the last two years.  With Djokovic service woes, Hewitt has the door ajar to form part of the last eight.

It’s unfathomable that the excitement of this last week can ever be replicated moving into the second week.  Many questions have been raised with the performances of Federer and Nadal in the primary rounds.  For these two men who have had a lock on Wimbledon since 2003, the outsiders, Roddick, Soderling and Murray may have found a way in.

Comments are closed.