We’ve had some first week here at Wimbledon.
The climax — late on a cold, blustery Saturday night, with the members of the Royal Box wrapped in green and purple blankets — was as gripping as a lot of what had preceded it.
The last two spots in the round of 16 had yet to be decided, and Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, in concert with their opponents Marcos Baghdatis and Sam Querrey respectively, chose to give the weekend crowd, already inclined towards it, plenty to drink about.
Murray had to beat not just Baghdatis, who was playing his brand of quirky, extravagant tennis, but also the clock. Wimbledon has a strict 11 p.m. (3.30 a.m. IST) curfew. This is done, the officials say, to ensure the safety of the spectators dispersing and the comfort of the local residents. When Murray yelped in victory, the clock read 11.02 p.m. — an allowance of two minutes, for, at 5-1 in the fourth, the denouement was near.
Had Baghdatis not wilted after giving Murray a severe headache, the match would have had to be continued on Monday, allowing Cilic an extra day to recover from his exertions on No. 2 Court. But Murray, in winning 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, made sure of at least a slight advantage before their pre-quarterfinal on Monday.
Second longest match
Cilic had to exchange gunfire with Querrey for five hours and 31 minutes, which made it the second-longest match in Wimbledon history after Isner-Mahut. He prevailed 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(3), 17-15.
There weren’t too many extended rallies between the giants, who are both 6ft 6in tall, and so Cilic wouldn’t have felt as drained as he would have after the same time on a clay-court or a hard-court laid to play slower.
But grass taxes the back and lower body with its slight lower, sometimes inconsistent bounce. And as Cilic said, he missed both lunch and dinner. On Sunday, he had to load up on pasta and rice, replenishing carbohydrates, and “hit for an hour” so he didn’t “get lazy” and stiffen up.
On the other hand, the British No. 1 had a relatively more relaxed time of it. Murray’s chances have improved — in an adoring nation’s eyes — after Rafael Nadal was blasted off Centre Court by Lukas Rosol. But he still has Cilic, and — should he win — either David Ferrer or Juan Martin del Potro to face before he makes the semifinals.
Nadal mightn’t be there, but there’s every possibility Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be.
Tsonga has Mardy Fish, who he has never lost to, and one of Brian Baker and Philipp Kohlschreiber to contend with. Fish and Baker have been the feel-good stories of the bottom-half. Fish, who had a medical procedure in May to correct an irregular heart beat, has been working his way back to his best, which was a quarterfinal appearance here last year.
Baker was an incredibly-talented American junior, on par with Tsonga, Baghdatis, and Stanislas Wawrinka in 2003. He was tipped as a future top-ten player and Grand Slam contender by Mats Wilander. But five operations — three on his hip, one on his elbow, and one sports hernia — cost him six years. He never gave up on the love of his life, however.
Now 27, the 6ft 3in Baker is playing the sort of wholesome tennis that takes players into the second week at majors. Baker and Kohlschreiber make for an interesting match — they both own flexible all-round games with no noticeable weaknesses; Kohlschreiber has a service edge but only if he serves like he did against Rosol.
On the other hand, Baker, who came through qualifying, has the confidence of six wins behind him.
Time for champions
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are on course for their semifinal match-up in the top-half, but neither has been at his best. Although they have troublesome opponents in their path, this is where they shine: the second week is a time for champions.
A Federer-Murray final is what most people here want. That way they’ll have either Britain’s first men’s singles champion in 76 years or a much-loved royal making history again.
Nothing to lose, you see. It will be a cracker of a final should it materialise, but if Wimbledon has shown us anything over the last week, it’s that she gives people what they want by denying them what they want.
Men: Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Victor Troicki; Richard Gasquet (18) vs. Florian Mayer (31); Roger Federer (3) vs. Xavier Malisse; Denis Istomin vs. Mikhail Youzhny (26); David Ferrer (7) vs. Juan Martin del Potro (9); Andy Murray (4) vs. Marin Cilic (16); Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (5) vs. Mardy Fish (10); Brian Baker vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber (27).
Women: Maria Sharapova (1) vs. Sabine Lisicki (15); Kim Clijsters vs. Angelique Kerber (8); Agnieszka Radawanska (3) vs. Camila Giorgi; Maria Kirilenko (17) vs. Shuai Peng (30); Serena Williams (6) vs. Yaroslava Shvedova; Francesca Schiavone (24) vs. Petra Kvitova (4); Tamira Paszek vs. Roberta Vinci (21); Ana Ivanovic (14) vs. Victoria Azarenka (2).