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Todd’s Tennis Takes – Wimbledon Rnd of 16 Update

The first week is done, packed full of highlights to note before we preview Monday’s 8 Mens matches – the Nadal upset, Isner disappointment, Berdych loss, and even two stories from the women’s side that were so compelling, I’ve decided to break the Todd’s Tennis Takes ‘no women’s tennis’ policy and mention them.

The Nadal Shocker, by the numbers: First time he’s failed to make at least the QFs of a slam since the 2007 US Open (lost to Ferrer in 4th round)…worst slam result since he lost in the 2nd round here back in 2005 to Gilles Muller, who lost to Benneteau in round 1 here this year…since his ’05 result, he’d made the finals here every year he played (missed Wimby in 2009)…1st time that any of the Big 3 (Fed, Djok, Rafa) failed to make the QFs of a slam since Wimby 2008 when Djoker lost to Safin in the 2nd round, and Safin eventually made his 7th and last slam semi, losing to Fed…Safin is also the last #2 seed to lose here in the 2nd round, exactly 10 years ago to Olivier Rochus, who’s also still playing and took Almagro to 5 sets in round 1 this year.  It’s the first time a #2 seed at any slam has lost in the 2nd round since Roddick lost to the Argentine Jose Acasuso at the French in 2005.

I watched the first 4 sets of the match and was astounded at the play of Lukas Rosol, a career journeyman who turns 27 next month, is ranked 100, and has never been ranked higher than 65. This was just the 6th career slam he’s played in, making the 3rd round only once before at the French a year ago. He’s 6’5” with a monster serve, and hit 67% of his 1st serves for the match, winning 83% of those points. He was hell bent on going for broke, and was zoned in enough to hit 65 winners vs. just 29 unforced errors – a stellar ratio for aggressive, bold play. And Nadal was not playing poorly, as he had 41 winners to just 17 unforced errors, and also made exactly 67% of his first serves. Just one of those weird, rare moments in sports when an unheralded but talented athlete gets in the zone and shocks a legend of the sport. Unfortunately, Rosol had no follow-up in the 3rd round, losing meekly to #27 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-3, 7-6.

Isner Disappointment – In an interview with Bill Macatee before his 2nd round defeat at the French, Isner talked of hoping to someday win a slam, which I thought was a ridiculous notion. Since then, his slam record is 0-2, losing to aging vet Paul-Henri Mathieu in Paris, and then Columbian grinder Alejandro Falla 1st round at Wimbledon. Comments like that could now be considered delusional. As it is, he’s a full year older than Nadal, two years older than Djoker and Murray, and the same age as Jo Wilfried Tsonga – so how is he gonna win a slam? How is he even going to make a slam semi? He’s a slow lumbering big man with a spotty backhand, shaky volley skills, and spotty slam results – only once in his last ten slams has he moved beyond the 3rd round. This is not the stuff of future slam semifinalists, let alone slam winners.  It’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back from these poor results once he returns to America and his favorite surface, hard courts. My prediction is he never makes a slam semi, and will be lucky to replicate his best slam result to date – QFs a year ago at the US Open.

Berdych Loss to Gulbis – There are two sides to this story: Berd Dog losing in the first round of a slam for the 3rd time since upsetting Fed in the QFs on his way to the finals here in 2010, and Gulbis teasing us yet again with his prodigious talent, only to immediately disappoint and crash out in round 2, losing to 136th ranked qualifier Jerzy Janowicz 9-7 in the 5th. With a billionaire father and a carefree, light-hearted attitude, Gulbis just doesn’t have the mental makeup or motivation to fully take advantage of his ample God-given tennis gifts – size, power, speed, touch…gifts that prompted me to write about him in 2008 as a future top 5 player… woops, got that one wrong.  His career high is #21, and currently he’s at #87. Too bad for tennis. As for Berdych, he never followed up his strong Wimby 2010 performance with anything close, immediately losing 1st round at the US Open later that summer, making just 2 slam QF appearances, and winning just 2 titles since then, despite being in his prime at only 26 years old. A major disappointment.

Women’s Stories –  It is generally the policy of TTT to stick to the men, but two amazing ladies stories deserve our attention. The first is 21 yr old Austrian Tamira Paszek, who is on a phenomenal grass court run since the Eastbourne tuneup event a few days before Wimbledon started. First she beat Pironkova in the Eastbourne QFs, a young Bulgarian who’s best surface is grass – she beat Venus in the Wimby QFs in 2010, beat her again in the 4th round a year ago, and then took a set off Sharapova here this year, completely zoning for the first 6 or 7 games of the match. Next up for Paszek was world #9 Marion Bartoli, and she again won, coming back from a set down and 0-4. In the final she met 2011 US Open semifinalist and world #8 Angelique Kerber. Here she saved four match points to win her first title since 2010 in Quebec. She drew former world #1 and current world #7 Caroline Wozniacki in the 1st round here, saved 2 more match points in the 2nd set, and beat her 6-4 in the 3rd. That made 3 straight top 10 victories for the short but strongly built Austrian cutie – very tan, pretty face, and big beautiful brown eyes. She had another tight, come-from-behind encounter in the 3rd round with tall, broad-shouldered Belgian beauty Yanina Wickmayer, a former top 20 ranked US Open semifinalist, currently ranked 36th and still only 22 yrs old. Paszek lost the first set, but won the 2nd in a tiebreaker before taking the 3rd 7-5. Throughout this run Paszek has shown no nerves on big points, totally going for her shots and for winners. Next up is a very winnable match against #21 seed Roberta Vinci, a clay court specialist, before then likely facing Azarenka in the QFs for the 2nd straight year here (Az buried her 6-3, 6-1 in the ’11 QFs).  

The other big story on the women’s side is Yaroslava Shvedova, a 24 yr old from Kazakhstan who’s battled injuries the last couple years after reaching a career high #29 in 2010 (currently ranked #65). Shvedova made the QFs at Roland Garros last month, and moved into the 4th round here after becoming the first woman ever (and only 2nd player ever) to win a golden set in an official tournament – winning all 24 points, never losing a single rally. And she didn’t accomplish this feat playing some stiff – it was against French Open finalist Sara Errani…and Errani had only one unforced error in the set! The only guy to pull this off was Bill Scanlon in 1983…but not at a slam. Next up for Shvedova – a tall (5’11”), strong, powerfully built athlete – is Serena Williams, who looked very vulnerable in a tight win over Jie Zheng 9-7 in the 3rd, after losing the 1st set. Don’t be surprised is if Serena is ‘shocked’ in the 4th round here.

Now…onto possibly the best tennis day of the year – the 2nd Monday at Wimbledon when all 16 men’s and women’s 4th round matches are played. Let’s take a close look at the men’s matchups.

Djokovic vs. Troicki – It is almost bizzare how often Djoker has met his fellow Serbian over the last 3 years – this is their 10th meeting since the beginning of 2010 and their 3rd at a slam. Djoker won the 9 prior meetings, 6 of them in straight sets. I don’t expect Djoker to have much trouble making it 10 in a row since 2010, and bringing his career record vs. the 34th ranked Troicki to 12-1. Troicki survived two tough 5 setters in rounds 1 & 2 just to get here, his first 4th round appearance at Wimbledon.

Gasquet vs. Florian Mayer – Gasquet cruised in the 3rd round against Almagro, beating the clay-loving Spaniard 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Mayer meanwhile is playing in his first slam 4th round since making the QFs here way back in 2004 as a 20 year old. He had a tight battle in the 3rd, beating Janowicz 7-5 in the 5th, and I don’t see the German making his 2nd Wimby QF this year – rather, it should be Gasquet making just his 2nd career slam QF appearance (yes…rather surprising – ’07 Wimby was the only time he ever made it out of the 4th round at a slam).

Federer vs. Xavier Malisse – The veteran Belgian has taken out two talented seeds on his way to the 4th round – Simon in 2nd round, Verdasco in the 3rd. Head to head, X-Man won their first meeting in a 1999 Davis Cup match…before Fed then won their next 9 encounters, including a 2001 Wimbledon 2nd round battle that went 5 sets. Fed has looked vulnerable here, going down 2 sets to none against Benneteau in the 3rd round before winning a tight 4th set tiebreaker and then cruising to a 6-1 win in the 5th. Malisse loves grass (semis here in 2002), but will likely lose his 10th straight to Fed come Monday.

Denis Istomin vs. Youzhny – This is the first slam 4th round appearance for the 25 yr old, 39th ranked Uzbekistani who upset #23 seed Andreas Seppi in the first round. Youzhny seems ageless, saluting his way to the 4th round here after a rather easy 4 set win over #8 seed Tipsarevic in the 3rd round. This marks the 7th time the 30 yr old Russian has made the 4th round here, and he’ll be looking to finally break through to the QFs after failing in his prior six attempts. Seeded #26, I think the Russian will take out the tall, smooth-hitting Istomin.

Ferrer vs. Del Potro – Quite a height contrast here with the 5’10” Spaniard going against the 6’6” Argentine. Del Potro had no trouble at all in his 3rd round encounter against another small speedster, Kei Nishikori (6-3, 7-6, 6-1), while Ferrer was one point away from going down two sets to none a couple times in the 3rd round against Roddick before winning that 2nd set 7-6(8), and then cruising in the 3rd and 4th sets 6-4, 6-3. Wimbledon is the only slam Del Potro hasn’t made the QFs at…that will likely end come Monday.

Cilic vs. Murray – Cilic won a mini-marathon in the 3rd against American Sam Querry, taking him out 17-15 in the 5th – the 2nd longest match in Wimbledon history at 5 hours, 31 minutes…still just half as long as the legendary 11 hour, 5 minute Isner/Mahut Epic. Cilic is the #16 seed here and has now won 8 straight matches on grass having won Queen’s Club two weeks ago. Murray remains maddening to watch, happy to play paddy-cake with his opponents, passively waiting for them to take the first aggressive shot. It almost got him into 3rd round trouble against Baghdatis, a former semifinalist (2006) and quarterfinalist (2007) here, as he was down a set and a break before winning in 4 sets. Cilic is tall (6’5”), a good mover,  just 23, and a dangerous former top 10 talent – Murray better be careful here, lots of pressure on him with Nadal out.

Tsonga vs. Fish – Surprisingly, these two have only met twice before on tour, both times in 2011, including the US Open where Fish took a 2 sets to 1 lead before Tsonga dominated in the 4th & 5th sets 6-4, 6-2. Fish has looked good here after not playing for a couple months, his backhand in particular looking very smooth in his easy 3rd round win over David Goffin. Tsonga has lost only 1 set in his 3 matches so far, and has a rather smooth path to his 2nd straight semi appearance here if he can handle the veteran American. I think he will, though Mardy could take a set.

Brian Baker vs. Kohlschreiber – The amazing comeback story of Brian Baker continues, as he’s taken full advantage of a rather fortuitous draw, beating Rui Machado (ranked #96), Nieminen (#44), and Benoit Paire (#55) in the first 3 rounds and losing just one set in the process. Kohlschreiber survived a 5 set 1st round battle with Haas before then cruising to a pair of straight set wins over Malek Jaziri and Rosol, the Nadal Slayer.  The 27th  seeded German is making his first appearance in the 2nd week at Wimbledon, while the cool, calm, and composed American is playing in just his 5th slam, the first three being the US Open as young kid in 2003, ’04, and ’05, before injuries took him off tour for 6 years. Oddsmakers have Baker as a 7/4 underdog – odds the American could easily buck as he’s battled against much longer odds than that just to make it back to the tour.

Special Postscript:   In the last month, the tennis world has lost two beloved legends – Barry MacKay, and Bob Kelleher. MacKay, known as ‘Bear’ for his large size and first name, was a talented and accomplished player in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s who won the NCAA singles title in 1957, played Davis Cup from ’56 to ’60, and made the semis at Wimbledon and quarterfinals of Roland Garros during his career. He became a longtime broadcaster after his playing days, and I had the pleasure of working with him during the 2011 Australian Open for nine straight days – what a wonderful man! Always happy and smiling, very appreciative of the stats and research I provided him…it was a joy to work with him and I was bummed he wasn’t able to work with us during the 2012 Aussie. He is very missed.

Kelleher was a tennis player in his youth and in college who then went on to captain the U.S. Davis Cup squad in 1962 and ’63. He took flak for allowing Arthur Ashe onto the team, of course a decision widely applauded soon afterwards. His greatest accomplishment in the sport, though, was pushing to let pros into the slams and hence ushering in the era of Open tennis in 1968…also the year I was born. He later became a judge who also did legal work for many pros including Ashe, Billie Jean King, and Pancho Gonzalez. He had a tennis court in his back yard for much of his life in Los Angeles, and was a beloved figure in St. Malo, CA where he would invite tennis guests like Agassi, Bud Collins, Gonzalez, and others into the community at various times. He too is very much missed.

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