Isner vs. Tipsarevic: The last of the North American serving leviathans in the draw, Isner has outlasted Roddick and Raonic largely by earning a more comfortable route. Although he suffered a disastrous loss to Falla at Wimbledon this year, his grass form rebounded with a minor title in Newport. Perhaps the American has benefited from the return home to recharge his batteries after the wearying European spring. Much less imposing in physique is the stocky Serb, who will need to focus mostly on making contact with Isner’s serves. An underrated server himself, Tipsarevic defeated Roddick at Wimbledon four years ago and matched blow for blow with Raonic through a triple-tiebreak duel in Chennai when this year began. When Isner ventures towards the forecourt, he must beware of his opponent’s precise passing shots. Two fierce competitors at their best, these two similarly ranked players both have dazzled when shouldering their nation’s flag. While Isner defeated Federer in Davis Cup this year, Tipsarevic has salvaged many a tie for Serbia in which Djokovic could not participate.
Ferrer vs. Nishikori: At the 2008 US Open, the Japanese sensation enjoyed his breakthrough moment at the expense of the indefatigable Spaniard. As that five-set thriller crashed towards its conclusion, Nishikori revealed himself as a grinder similar in mentality to Ferrer. Injuries have hobbled him at times, retarding his development, but a victory over fellow rising star Tomic here augurs well for his chances. Unfortunately for Nishikori, Ferrer has recorded the best year of his career to date with titles on every surface and quarterfinals or better at all three majors. Although he prefers hard courts and especially clay to grass, he may shine in the opportunity to emerge from Nadal’s shadow as the leading Spanish threat. At Wimbledon this year, Ferrer returned serve so crisply that one almost lost sight of his unremarkable serve—until it failed him in both tiebreaks that he lost to Murray. Long doubles matches may have depleted his energy, but he has not needed to exert himself unduly in singles, losing twelve games in two matches.
Simon vs. Del Potro: Not since Sydney in January has Del Potro lost to an opponent outside the top 10, an impressive statistic by any standard. This match lies within his control for better or for worse, for Simon will aim to extend the rallies until the Argentine mistimes one of his mighty groundstrokes. At last year’s US Open, that strategy worked to perfection in producing a ghastly match littered with unforced errors from routine positions. In 2012, Del Potro crumbled against the similarly counterpunching Ferrer in a pair of lopsided losses at Miami and Wimbledon, suggesting that the steadiness pivotal to his championship run in New York continues to elude him. Those precarious legs can leave him off balance on grass, and he gains less from his serve than many men of his height, perhaps because he rarely moves forward to capitalize on it. But Simon has not excelled on grass either, an average volleyer and inconsistent server who shares Del Potro’s preference for slugging it out from the baseline. Expect an atypical grass encounter to unfold.
Baghdatis vs. Murray: In the latest match ever witnessed at the All England Club, Murray avenged a loss to the Cypriot flagbearer at his home major in 2006. Like most of the Scot’s victories during the fortnight, this four-setter lurched from one momentum shift to the next. Baghdatis once led by a break in the third set, two service holds from a two-sets-to-one lead, before Murray suddenly found his first serve and forehand to seize control entirely. Whereas he has advanced routinely past a pair of overmatched rivals, Baghdatis needed to rally from losing the first set of a collision with Go Soeda that spanned two days. Considering the crowd support lavished upon both of these men, Centre Court should resonate with visceral intensity more than it usually does at Wimbledon. And both men have basked in such situations before, Murray building upon it to shed his customary passivity and Baghdatis to sharpen his wayward focus.
Hewitt vs. Djokovic: When they met at the Australian Open, Hewitt managed to steal a set from the eventual champion in an echo of their Wimbledon encounter two years ago. After he demolished the nascent Serb at the US Open in 2006, the proud Aussie fighter has succumbed in all five of their following meetings, winning two total sets. For the first time since 2010, Hewitt defeated a noteworthy opponent when he ambushed Cilic a round ago, an impressive victory considering the Croat’s summer surge to two titles and the second week of Wimbledon. Oscillating dramatically in form from Sunday to Tuesday, Djokovic looked thoroughly fallible against Fognini and then nearly invincible while pounding 14 aces and 34 winners past a luckless Roddick. If the world #2 masters every department of the game as effortlessly as he did then, Hewitt will find little reason to hope. On the other hand, a more pedestrian performance would open the door to dramatic intrigue, if probably not to a colossal upset.
Venus vs. Kerber: Dismissed with relative ease by the German in Madrid, the five-time Wimbledon champion hopes to turn the tables in the wake of two encouragingly emphatic victories. Kerber has won more matches than any woman in the WTA this year, setting herself on pace for more than 80 victories by the end of a campaign during which she has asserted her legitimacy as a contender for the most prestigious prizes on every surface. A semifinalist at two of the last four majors and a quarterfinalist at the third, she rarely has flinched from even the most intimidating opposition. But she has flinched occasionally on the verge of closing out a victory, and the presence of a living legend across the net will test Kerber’s nerve should she take a lead. Faced with a marked spike upwards in the quality of competition, Venus must serve exceptionally well and finish points quickly to stifle a foe who can outlast her from the baseline even on a fast court. While conventional wisdom suggests that the American’s frail medal hopes die here, her history in this setting and Kerber’s relative inexperience might produce a minor surprise that keeps the sentimental favorite alive another day.
Serena vs. Zvonareva: In an uneventful Wimbledon final two years ago, the American dispatched a Russian challenger who would finish runner-up at the next major by an even more resounding score. Notorious for her tempestuous emotions, Zvonareva reverted to her familiar self-defeating habits not long after that 2010 breakthrough that signaled an ephemeral peak in her career. Barely winning any meaningful matches this year, the bronze medalist in Beijing did defeat Serena on the grass of Eastbourne at the outset of the latter’s comeback. Fourteen months and six titles later, a completely different level of challenge awaits her. Having lost only one match since Miami, the reigning Wimbledon champion seeks her 14th straight victory and 27th in her last 28 matches at the All England Club. Serena usually improves her form as the tournament progresses, so two devastating victories over former #1 Jankovic and the talented Urszula Radwanska have set the standard high for the rest of the week. Perhaps we should call it a gold standard?
Hantuchova vs. Wozniacki: Never lacking for talent, imagination, or any of the attributes that inspire gasps of delight, Hantuchova also never lacks for nerves, untimely recklessness, or any of the attributes that inspire gasps of horror. A bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde character throughout her career, the leggy Slovak often bursts onto the scene when least expected but has not sustained more than brief flashes of success. So heavily does she rely upon risky, low-percentage gambits that her execution must remain at an excruciatingly high level to defeat an elite opponent. When it does, however, Hantuchova’s game becomes one of the most thrilling to behold in the WTA, as Wozniacki learned the hard way at Roland Garros last year. The Dane has endured three consecutive three-setters on Centre Court at the All England Club, losing the first to Paszek at Wimbledon but edging through her first two at the Olympics. Perhaps following the advice of her new coach, she has served more boldly this week and attempted down-the-line groundstrokes a little more often relative to her usual, safe cross-court options. Unlikely to reap many rewards by moving the Dane laterally, Hantuchova might succeed by bringing her forward on uncomfortable terms, from where more angles open. The lofty setting of Centre Court may awaken those paralyzing anxieties that have crippled the Slovak so often, though.
Ivanovic vs. Clijsters: Winless in five meetings with her fellow former #1, the smiling Serb succumbed meekly to Clijsters early in her career before mustering stalwart efforts in their last two meetings, both since the start of 2011. Holding five match points against Clijsters in Miami, Ivanovic allowed that heartbreaking encounter to slip away and squandered a less commanding third-set lead in Brisbane to start the season. A friend of the Belgian off the court, the gentle Roland Garros champion may lack the feistiness to crush the dream that this veteran has nourished throughout her comeback. Proceeding smoothly through the draw so far, Clijsters has brought enormous motivation to this tournament, where she would delight in ending (or nearly ending) a magnificent career with a medal. If her body does not betray her, as it has too often, her balanced baseline game and explosive movement should prove too stern a challenge for the more one-dimensional Ivanovic to overcome once more.
Sharapova vs. Lisicki: Dominating the German through their first three meetings, the Russian flagbearer suffered a sour surprise in the fourth round of Wimbledon, where Lisicki avenged her loss in their semifinal a year ago. Now the revenge motive belongs firmly to Sharapova, who savors the prospect of exacting retribution upon upstarts who have toppled her at significant tournaments. Crushing Peer in her Olympics debut, she edged through a compelling encounter with home hope Laura Robson that eerily duplicated their scoreline at Wimbledon last year. For her part, Lisicki has played three consecutive matches on these lawns that have ended in twelve-game third sets, dropping the first to countrywoman Kerber but snatching two such cliffhangers here. Always tiptoeing along a narrow path between brilliance and disaster, the German saved a match point against Shvedova and often becomes more dangerous with each obstacle that she survives. Whereas the 2004 Wimbledon champion has advanced past the fourth round there only once since 2006, Lisicki has reached two quarterfinals and a semifinal at her most productive major. All the same, she must capture the initiative early and maintain it consistently, as she did a month ago. If Sharapova sinks her teeth into a tightly contested battle, her experience and unsurpassed willpower should prove vital advantages under the pressure of a firefight with few protracted exchanges.