Sport

Manic Monday on Centre Court

All eight fourth round matches in both the gentlemen’s (yes, they like that at SW19) and ladies’ draws played on one high-octane day of grass-court tennis. An array of courts filled with the world’s top players because they can’t all get on Centre on this day. Yet, this has been a tournament of shocks and early upsets; more seeds fell in the first week than in the local farmer’s field.  Players that don’t normally get a look-in have found themselves in the fourth round of the world’s finest Grand Slam. Fewer household names were a part of ‘Manic Monday’ (fittingly, The Bangles’ song was on the radio on the way to London) at Wimbledon this year. And, appropriately, there was another substantial upset on Centre Court and, luckily for British hopes, Mr Murray wasn’t involved.

German Sabine Lisicki is a very strong player and would prick the ears of some in Britain when her name was mentioned, because of her success at Wimbledon in the past. Her game is perfectly suited to grass, with a huge 120mph serve and a powerful forehand. Though, however good we know she is, it was still a rousing upset to take down the defending and five-time champion on her own turf. Roared on by a full house on Centre Court, Lisicki ousted then overwhelming tournament favourite Serena Williams in three sets in a highly dramatic match, which lasted just over two hours.

The fourth-round encounter encapsulated an area of tennis that makes it so great. Momentum. It swung back and forth from the German to the American repeatedly. Many thought the world number one had it, Serena included, after storming back into the match with a 6-1 second set and a 3-0 lead in the decider. But, the 23rd seed capitalised on some uncharacteristic errors by Williams to level the third set at 4-4 and then subsequently break, to serve for a place in the quarter finals at 5-4.

What followed was Wimbledon at its absolute best. An enthralling final game, with tense, tight rallies, where Serena (complete with those gaudy shorts/pants under her white dress) had her break-back chance but it was relentlessly snuffed out by the German’s serve. Lisicki finally prevailed 6-2 1-6 6-4 and sank to the ground in disbelief in front of a shocked and standing crowd. Serena insisted afterwards that it wasn’t a shock. It wasn’t a shock that Lisicki would push her hard out there on grass, but it was that she’d ultimately defeat her.

Next up on the order of play, an opportunity to assess the two favourites to reach Sunday’s final. Firstly, no more shocks were required from the British public for the next couple hours or so, as home favourite Andy Murray stepped on court to face Russian Mikhail Youzhny, who defeated Viktor Troicki in the third round on Saturday. The Scot dominated the early baseline exchanges and comfortably won the opening set six games to four. After being up by a break in the second set, he allowed Youzhny to break straight back and surge into a 5-2 lead, just losing his concentration for this short period (something which, of course, can’t happen should he reach the final).

 

Sitting there though, you always felt Murray could switch it on when he wanted to. Capitalising on the Russian’s nerves and stepping up the length and power of his groundstrokes, the world number two propelled himself into a second-set tiebreak. Even then though, Murray double-faulted to give the fiery 20th seed a 4-2 lead at the changeover. However, he hadn’t dropped a set at The Championships so far and wasn’t about to do so today. Winning four straight points from 3-5 down, the second seed secured a two sets to love lead, effectively demoralising the Russian at the other end. In the end, it was a relatively comfortable 6-4 7-6 6-1 victory for the Scot, to the delight of the Centre Court crowd, who really have taken to him since last year’s tears.

game

Murray’s combination of power and finesse really is a sight. He hit a stunning cross-court forehand pass on the stretch to get the early break in the second set and angled a backhand return at 7-6 in the tiebreak to take the two-set lead, after playing a delicate drop shot which just grazed over the top of the net. He cracked down 15 aces past Youzhny throughout the match too. One weakness which Youzhny did manage to take advantage of occasionally was the second serve. It was coming down at 70-80mph and if that’s not placed perfectly, it’s going to be whipped straight past you. Both Serena and Lisicki were serving faster second serves in the previous match.

The Olympic and US Open champion advances to face surprise quarter-finalist Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday. That bottom half of the draw is looking pretty rosy too for the Scot, with possible semi-final opponents being Lukasz Kubot or big-serving 24th seed Jerzy Janowicz, instead of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal as would have been predicted after the draw. Then, of course, may come the world number one, Novak Djokovic, who was the final match on Centre Court on Manic Monday.

The Serbian’s contest with veteran Tommy Haas mirrored many parts of the match that came before it. Djokovic comfortably won a set 6-1, this time the first of the match. He was a break down in the second set but, predictably, came from 2-4 down to triumph 6-4. Then, there was also a tiebreak. The majority of the 15,000 were behind the German to try and snatch a set off Djokovic and, roused by their support, he managed to break the Serbian back when he was serving for the match at 5-3 and then take the set to a breaker. Interestingly, the top seed recognised his lack of support by sarcastically clapping to the crowd when Haas managed to break back.

If Murray looked in good form though, Djokovic was great. You sit there in amazement at the shots he manages to retrieve; his defensive skills are second to none. There were many lengthy rallies in the fourth-round match and every time you felt that the Serbian wouldn’t blink first and come out on top over the German. Tougher challenges await for the Australian Open champion as he takes on Tomas Berdych on Wednesday, potentially followed by either David Ferrer or Juan Martin Del Potro. Incidentally, Del Potro is the only other person, besides the top two, to not have dropped a set thus far. For all the tournament’s shocks, that top half of the men’s draw is as would be expected with seeding. So, after cries of Djokovic having an easy draw at the start of the two weeks, there has certainly been a shift in Murray’s favour since.

It’s not often that you get to watch both world number ones and the men’s number two on one day, on one court. Manic Monday has to be the greatest of the days on the tennis calendar. Can Murray do it this year? Surely he’ll make the final, you’d say. On the women’s side, well, won’t Serena be kicking herself. Gone now are seeds one to three, and what a chance for the crafty and delicate fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska to win her first Grand Slam, after reaching the final last year. Based on her performance against Williams, Lisicki should take the title. But as we’ve seen throughout Wimbledon 2013, the beauty of sport is that old cliché: that you never know what is going to happen on the day.

Matt McGladrigan

Image Credited to Carine06

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