Fields of Glory (VII): Wimbledon Manic Monday Preview (ATP)
Late into Saturday night extended the first week of Wimbledon, which nearly sprawled into Sunday as Murray recorded another memorable victory under the roof. After the 24-hour ceasefire unique to the All England Club, the most eventful day of the tennis calendar looms with every encounter in the fourth round on Monday. If one day in the British summer of late sunsets barely can hold so much drama, one preview article cannot hold it at all. We present the Manic Monday men’s preview here before returning with the women’s preview for the day on Sunday evening.
Ferrer vs. Del Potro: When they met in a lackluster Miami encounter this spring, the boundless energy of Ferrer contrasted with the lethargy of his far taller, far stronger opponent. Their only clash on grass unfolded similarly with the Spaniard outmaneuvering the gangly Del Potro along the baseline despite his relatively modest serve. Seeking the second week of Wimbledon for the second straight year, the only remaining major champion in the lower half of the draw has dropped just one set through his first three matches while showing no signs of the knee injury that hampered him late in this clay season. Since his injury In 2010, though, he has not regained the same level of competitive determination that he exuded when defeating Nadal and Federer consecutively to win the US Open. A quiet personality unlike his overpowering game, Del Potro may need to impose himself more overtly on this match to prevent the Spaniard from monopolizing the emotional energy, so critical in the best-of-five format.
Neutralizing Roddick’s serve with remarkably pinpoint returning, Ferrer could unsettle the Argentine with a similarly precise display on Monday. While Roddick allowed him to play his comfortable baseline style by staying deep in the court, Del Potro should drag the world #5 out of familiar territory by forcing the action earlier in the rally. One of his previous victories over Ferrer, long a thorn in his side, came on the fast, low-bouncing hard court of Tokyo in 2008. If physical firepower outweighs emotional fire, as it often does here, Del Potro could repeat that result.
Cilic vs. Murray: As the minutes ticked down on a clock that might as well have had a fuse attached, the intensifying air of urgency inspired Murray to play some of his most assertive tennis in the third round. Close to falling behind two sets to one against an opponent who had defeated him here before, he reversed the momentum not just with his elastic movement but with penetrating groundstrokes on the run off both wings. A few games before he delivered the coup de grace to Baghdatis, the perennial cause of British cardiac arrest lashed a vicious cross-court forehand for a clean winner off a sideline, illustrating the shot-making that he can produce when he chooses. Frustratingly unwilling at times to trust those talents on surfaces where they shine, Murray has let heavier hitters overpower him sporadically at majors.
Among them was Cilic, who dispatched him in straight sets at the 2009 US Open before the Scot avenged that setback just one major later. Fading into decline around the same time as Del Potro, although for less obvious reasons, the once-promising Croat may have reinvigorated his career during his current winning streak. A supreme test of his confidence came in the second-longest match ever at Wimbledon and a 32-game fifth set against an equally imposing server in Querrey. Having watched a two-set led disappear, Cilic needed to hold serve 11 times to stay in the match, a task that he accomplished without facing a single break point. In a divergence from his reputation as a return-oriented player, Murray also has excelled on serve throughout this tournament, finding aces and service winners at turning points against Karlovic and Baghdatis. Both men rely more heavily on their backhands than their forehands, so expect some crackling rallies between those strokes. Deploying his inside-in forehand to devastating effect over the past few weeks, Cilic should force Murray to defend his weaker wing more relentlessly than did his previous opponents.
Tsonga vs. Fish: Much longer than ten months ago feels their fourth-round meeting at the US Open last year, an engaging if occasionally perplexing five-setter between two chronic underachievers who produced career seasons in 2011. Clearly superior through the first three and a half sets there, Fish let the Frenchman off the hook late in the fourth set with a single error-strewn service game, the start of a deluge of unforced errors in which the American ultimately drowned. Tsonga repeated that outcome more efficiently at the World Tour Finals, the climax of a span during which he reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, the quarterfinals of the US Open, the final of the Paris Indoors, and the finals of that year-end championships. Not accustomed to maintaining such consistency, he faded sharply early in 2012 before bursting back into form at an ideal moment with a quarterfinal charge at Roland Garros.
With a series of marquee fast-court tournaments in the current weeks, Tsonga’s current surge of momentum could earn him impressive laurels this summer, but only if he overcomes opponents like Fish. Among the more surprising survivors of a first week that claimed Nadal, Berdych, Venus, and his friend Roddick, the American delivered his most convincing effort to date in a commanding triumph over recent sensation David Goffin. A habitué of tiebreaks, he reached the quarterfinals last year before falling to Nadal in four sets and should earn plenty of holds on his serve alone. The opposite of Tsonga’s nonchalant swagger, Fish’s attitude often resembles a harried businessman with too much on his mind, most of it sobering rather than pleasant. Perhaps this inner intensity stems from the recognition that he squandered the prime of his career by failing to fully commit himself, leaving him with a fleeting time window to accomplish his goals. Whatever its source, this mentality can translate into either negative emotions or the absence of positive emotion, a dangerous position against someone as relentlessly optimistic and exuberant as Tsonga. In contrast to many ATP baseline battles, this match should feature many cat-and-mouse points in the forecourt and few prolonged rallies.
Baker vs. Kohlschreiber: Compelled to qualify by the uncharitable whims of the AELTC, this intriguing story of resilience and defiance of odds merely accelerates with each passing tournament. A finalist in his ATP debut at Nice, Brian Baker won a match at Roland Garros and two sets from Simon before winning no fewer than six matches on these lawns. Only one set has he lost in the main draw at Wimbledon, admittedly against an unimpressive trio of opponents. When the second week begins, the competition stiffens somewhat but not sharply. Having defeated Nadal in Halle, Kohlschreiber defeated the man who defeated Nadal at the All England Club when he reduced Lukas Rosol to a one-day wonder in the third round.
No doubt delighted to avoid the Spaniard, notwithstanding his recent success against him, this flamboyant German projects more power behind his serve and groundstrokes than his compact frame would suggest. On the other hand, he lacks much nuance in style or pace, striking nearly every ball with maximum velocity and minimum imagination. Having honed relatively elongated strokes, especially on his backhand, Kohlschreiber shares Gasquet’s ability to fit those swings to a surface that offers him less time to construct them. Also armed with a scintillating backhand, Baker will look to unleash his greatest weapon with depth down the line. In a match between two men who lack overwhelming first-strike power, the ability to redirect the ball and open the court during the rally should prove vital. When the draw appeared, almost nobody would have selected either man as a Wimbledon quarterfinalist. How will each of them respond to this rare (in Baker’s case, unprecedented) opportunity?