Juan Martin del Potro overcomes early injury scare and David Ferrer to make semifinals
Boasting a 13-2 win-loss record, Novak Djokovic’s victory over Tomas Berdych in the Wimbledon quarterfinals seemed as if it had the certainty of predestination.
The niggling doubts that persisted were not a result of the failure to acknowledge the enormous head-to-head gap. Rather, they rested on the possible import of the nature of the losses.
One of them was a humbling straight-set defeat in the semifinals here in 2010, their only encounter on a grass court. The other was the last match they played, just two months ago, in the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters.
And then of course, there were those additional doubt-inducing facts — wasn’t it Berdych that took out Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2010 as well?
In the end, the sheer weight of statistics prevailed, but not without giving us a reminder why the exceptions were significant. The straight-set 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-3 victory hides the story of a match that was much more tightly fought, at least for the first half of its duration, than the scoreline reveals.
Playing within themselves
Berdych seemed to be hitting the ball much better than his World No.1 rival in this set, during which both players adopted a measured and clinical approach that suggested they had chosen to play well within themselves.
Berdych, in particular, was playing to his strengths, serving hard into the corners, and using his big inside-out forehand to move the Serb from side to side, and force him into Kim Clijsters-like splits to retrieve balls. There were two drop volleys of great delicacy that probably raised more than they deserved to expectations in the crowd.
After keeping parity until 5-5 in the tiebreaker, the set ended with the Czech tamely netting two balls.
Rather than press the advantage, Djokovic quickly found himself 0-3, down two breaks in the second set. And, rather than go into a shell of disappointment over losing the first set, his opponent seemed to play more freely, marked especially by some fine stroke-making from the centre of the baseline.
Inexplicably, Berdych let it slip, dropping serve twice himself to allowing Djokovic to level at 3-3, and slowly establish his supremacy on the match. Once the second set was won, the contest was well and truly over.
Yet, as Djokovic admitted, “it was a very close match; it could have gone either way. He could have won the first two sets…”
Meanwhile, on Centre Court, Juan Martin del Potro began his quarterfinal against David Ferrer in the most dramatic fashion.
The towering eighth seed injured his already heavily strapped hyper-extended left knee after slipping in the very first game, and lay in visible pain on a corner of the court while receiving treatment. He seemed destined to retire and was all but written off — for instance, three-time Wimbledon champion and television commentator John McEnroe remarked that he couldn’t “see how del Potro can go through a match like this”.
But it became quickly apparent that what seemed like a sporting attempt to please the crowd by continuing to play was really a serious stab at contesting the match, as del Potro unleashed a barrage of baseline winners to complement his monster of a serve.
He seemed to lose his stride a little during the third set, but hung in to win a close tiebreak and closing out the match 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(5). It seemed unlikely that he would have been able to pull off such an injury-defying feat on any surface other than grass, which confers a huge advantage on players who have one or two big weapons, especially the serve.
It is a sobering thought, particularly in this strange year of multiple upsets, as the tournament moves to the semifinal stages. Don’t rule out more surprises.