Updated:Jul 4, 2021 8:06 pm
It’s summer, so pour out the Pimms and tuck into a bowl of strawberries and cream because Wimbledon is back! Yes, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world made a welcome return after a two-year hiatus, having been cancelled last year due to the pandemic.
It was not quite business as usual, however. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, there was reduced ground capacity, and no famous Wimbledon queue, where fans camp out overnight and line up on the day for tickets, with all the tickets sold online. The players were confined in a protective bubble at a central London hotel.
The tournament was also hit by some big-name absentees with 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal (fatigue), defending Ladies champion Simona Halep (calf injury), Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka (mental health) and US Open champion Dominic Thiem (wrist injury) all withdrawing on the eve of the competition. British player Johanna Konta was also forced to pull out due to close covid-19 contact when one of her team tested positive the day before the start.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Wimbledon without rain. Play on the outside courts was delayed on the opening day and at various times over the first week, making playing conditions treacherous and the slippery grass the big early talking point. With players sliding and tumbling all over the place, the surface appeared more suited to ice skating than lawn tennis.
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It led to double drama on Centre Court on Tuesday when first, Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who was playing Roger Federer, and then, in the very next match, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, both slipped and injured themselves and were forced to retire hurt.
On the men’s side, there was also early drama when defending champion and top seed Novak Djokovic lost the opening set of his opening match on Centre Court to British newcomer Jack Draper 4-6. Anyone who had watched the Serbian world number one at the French Open though, would not have been concerned. At Roland Garros, Djokovic had been a set-down in his quarter-final and semi-final matches, and two sets down in his fourth-round match and the final, before storming back to win, and it was no different here. He won the next three sets with the loss of only five games.
After that early scare, it was straightforward progress into the second week for Djokovic, who is looking to equal Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal’s all-time tally of 20 Grand Slams. His cause was helped further by the shock first-round exit of the French Open runner-up and no. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in his half of the draw. He lost limply in straight sets to Frances Tiafoe of the USA 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. Djokovic will face clay-court specialist Cristian Garin of Chile in the fourth round.
Roger Federer has struggled since his return after nearly a year out and double knee surgery, and his rustiness was evident in his opening match. The record eight-time Wimbledon champion, seeded sixth, began his campaign looking at home on Centre Court as he took the first set 6-4 against French lefty Adrian Mannarino. Thereafter, his game became more ragged with his forehand misfiring and his unforced error rate creeping ever upwards, as he lost the second and third sets 6-7 (3-7) and 3-6. He rallied in the fourth and was leading 4-2 and 15-15 when Mannarino slipped and fell badly as he tried to retrieve the ball, and hurt his knee. Although he carried on determinedly for another couple of games, he was struggling to move and called it a day after losing the set 6-2.
Federer’s subsequent encounter against another Frenchman Richard Gasquet was far easier, given he hadn’t lost a set to him in a decade, let alone a match, but his next opponent, Britain’s Cam Norrie, had no such baggage, playing Federer for the first time. It must have been a strange experience for Federer not to have the affections of the Centre Court crowd all to himself, but it was 29th seed Norrie who was nervous at the start, double-faulting three times in his opening game. He didn’t settle and Federer took the first two sets comfortably and looked to be heading for a straightforward win to take him into the fourth round when he had two break points at 5-5 in the third set. Federer, though, failed to convert and then promptly lost his serve to lose the set.
As Norrie grew in confidence, Federer appeared to lose his and a fifth set beckoned, but at crucial moments, the Federer serve and his faithful forehand came to his rescue, as Norrie lost his nerve again and Federer was able to break and serve it out for a tough 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 win. For a man a month short of his 40th birthday, it is some achievement to reach the fourth round for a record-extending 18 times. However, on current form, it is difficult to envisage how he can challenge for a place in the final, and he faces a tricky fourth round against Italian 23rd seed Lorenzo Sonego.
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Federer’s path to that final could also have been made easier when one of the big favourites, the no. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, found himself two sets down in his third-round match on Saturday on Court One against former US Open champion Marin Cilic. Medvedev had never come back from two sets down before, but took a leaf out of Djokovic’s book, fighting back to win 6-7 (3-7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. He has an interesting fourth-round tie against Miami Masters winner Hubert Hurkacz.
Once upon a time, for a brief while, there was a ‘big four’, when Britain’s Andy Murray was challenging for top honours. But after winning the 2016 ATP tour finals and making it to world number one, the three-time Grand Slam champion has struggled with injuries and undergone a double hip operation. Two of those three Slam wins were at Wimbledon, where he was making his first appearance in four years, and he looked like someone who had barely played. He came through his first match against 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili after suffering an extraordinary collapse in the third set when 5-0 up and serving to win. He lost seven games in a row to lose the set 7-5, before winning win out in the final set 6-3, roared on by adoring home fans who were simply thrilled to see him again.
Sadly for them, and indicative of his complete lack of competitive match practice, he again found himself down in his next match, against inexperienced German qualifier, Oscar Otto, after looking comfortable at 6-3, 3-1 up. This time he seemed destined to lose, finding himself 2 sets to 1 down. At 2-2 in the fifth, the roof had to be closed and Murray returned a different player.
With the home crowd creating an extraordinary atmosphere under the echoing roof and buoyed up by their fervent support, he somehow gritted out a win 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, but it was always likely to be his last hurrah. Playing the youthful 10th seed Denis Shapovalov, who possesses a fearsome serve of over 130 mph and a ferocious single backhand, he was outpowered in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Canadian Shapovalov, who had come through a gruelling first-round win against German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber in five tight sets before enjoying a walkover in the second round, will play the 2019 Wimbledon semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut in the fourth round.
If Murray’s match was the most dramatic, then the most entertaining match of the week must inevitably go to Nick Kyrgios. The mercurial Australian has long been the showman-clown of tennis, entertaining and infuriating in equal measure with his nonchalant attitude, controversial underarm serves and casual hot dogs at the most inappropriate times. His match against 21st seeded Frenchman Ugo Humbert was moved from an outside court to Court One due to the rain, a great move since the match turned out to be a thriller, with Kyrgios, as usual, swinging between the sublime and the ridiculous.
Kyrgios, who had not played competitively in six months, played some breathtaking tennis to go a set up but his erratic nature and lack of match fitness saw him lose the following two sets as he berated himself and complained about the slowness of the grass, before making an epic comeback with some powerful serving to level at two sets all. To the disappointment of the crowd, the match was halted at 3-3 in the final set.
Those who feared an anti-climax the following day were happily proved wrong as the thrills continued, with the irrepressible Kyrgios winning out in a remarkable encounter 9-7 in the fifth. Not bad for a part-time player, Kyrgios declared after his epic win.
Unfortunately for him, the drawback of being a part-time player is a lack of match fitness, and he was forced to retire from his third-round match against another young Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime, with an abdominal injury at one set all. Auger-Aliassime has a mouth-watering tie against another favourite, 4th seeded German Alexander Zverev, who defeated Taylor Fritz in a tough, closely fought four-setter on Saturday 6-7(3-7) 6-4 6-3 7-6(7-4).
Rather surreally, Kyrgios has also teamed up with former Ladies champion Venus Williams in the mixed doubles, and the pair enjoyed an exciting three-set victory in front of a full-house on Court Two in the first round. The dream team’s next match on Monday may now be in doubt after Kyrgios’s injury.
Other notable players through to the fourth round are big-serving Queens winner Matteo Berrettini and former junior Wimbledon champion Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, who put out teenage Next Gen rising star and 19th seed, Jannik Sinner in the first round, and he will face the 5th seed, Russian Andrey Rublev next.
Another interesting player to look out for is 21-year old American hope Sebastian Korda, son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, and whose sister Nelly won the women’s PGA Championship last week. He will celebrate his 20th birthday on Monday with a fourth-round tie against another Russian, Karen Khachanov.
However, it is difficult to shake off the impression that they are all playing for the right to meet Novak Djokovic in the final next Sunday.
Gentleman’s Singles Fourth Round
Novak Djokovic 1 v Cristian Garin 17
Roger Federer 6 v Lorenzo Sonego 23
Hubert Hurkacz 14 v Daniil Medvedev 2
Felix Auger-Aliassime 16 v Alexander Zverev 4
Marton Fucsovics v Andrey Rublev 5
Matteo Berrettini 7 v Ilya Ivashka
Denis Shapovalov 10 v Roberto Bautista Agut 8
Karen Khachanov 25 v Sebastian Korda
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On the women’s side, with defending champion Simone Halep and four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka not competing, and following Serena Williams’ first-round retirement, the draw is wide open. The depth in women’s tennis was reflected by the fact that there were 15 different Grand Slam winners taking part (compared to four on the men’s side).
The draw became even wider after several of them took an early exit out of the tournament. Sofia Kenin, Bianca Andreescu and wildcard Venus Williams, all lost in the first round in straight sets. In the big match of the first round, two-time champion Petra Kvitova took on the 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens. Stephens has suffered a slump in form in the years since her Slam win and was ranked 73rd coming in, but found some of her old spark to win in straight sets 6-3, 6-4. Stephens, though, couldn’t keep up her level and lost disappointingly to 65th ranked Liudmila Samsonova in the third round.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka seeded 12, went out in the second round, and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko lost a bad-temped third-round encounter with Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia. Tomljanovic accused Ostapenko of lying about an injury after the unseeded Latvian called for a medical time out at 4-0 down in the final set, and the two traded insults at the end of the match and accusations at their press conference afterwards.
2017 Wimbledon champion and 11th seed Garbine Muguruza of Spain was knocked out in dramatic fashion by Tunisian rising star Ons Jabeur in the match of the tournament on Centre Court. Jabeur recently became the first Arab woman to win a WTA tour title when she won the Birmingham Classic in the lead up to Wimbledon, and kept up her fantastic form in this match, having knocked out Venus Williams in the first round.
The sensational third-round clash was a pleasing contrast of styles, with Jabeur’s variety and creativity pitted against Muguruza’s power and aggression. 21st seed Jabeur made a nervous start but slowly settled and started showing off her array of skills with drop shots, slices, volleys, flashy down-the-line backhand winners and the shot of the tournament – running down an angled drop shot and flicking the ball around the net post for a winner. Muguruza, like all champions, refused to give up without a fight, saving numerous breakpoints, leading to a thrillingly tense finale, but the free-flowing, exuberant hitting of Jabeur finally wore her down. On the verge of a historic victory with two match points, Jabeur’s nerves returned again, more dramatically this time as she threw up at the back of the court. It didn’t faze her as she took the match on the second match point to complete a wonderful victory 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
Her reward? A meeting with last year’s French Open champion, Iga Swiatek, the 7th seed, who looked imperious as she cruised into week two without losing a set. Also playing well is world number one Ash Barty, another imaginative player with wonderful slices and precision serves. In contrast, Aryna Sabalenka is the game’s power player. Her big serves and powerful groundstrokes are ideally suited to grass, but her relentless big-hitting can be extremely hit and miss, reflected in her poor Grand Slam results, where she has never gone beyond the fourth round. She came through a tough second-round match against Britain’s Katie Boulter, and with the draw so open, it’s her best chance of progressing to the latter stages.
Two years ago at Wimbledon saw the arrival of the latest teenage sensation, 15-year old Coco Gauff, who got to the second week as a qualifier. She went one better last month at the French Open, reaching the quarter-finals, and is also a potential contender, making an untroubled way into the second week without dropping a set.
This year’s teenage sensation looks to be British wildcard, Emma Raducanu. As the sun sets on Andy Murray’s stellar career, British tennis fans were treated to the dawn of a potential new British star as Raducanu battled her way into the second week with a brilliant win over experienced Sorana Cirstea in the third round on Court One in front of a raucous home crowd. The 18-year old was unfazed by her first appearance on a show court, even egging the crowd on to support her. She will be back on Court One on Monday in a winnable match against Ajla Tomljanovic, who is unseeded.
At the other end of the age spectrum, 33-year old Angelique Kerber, the 2018 Wimbledon champion enjoyed a dramatic, hard-fought second-round three-set win against Sara Sorribes Tormo, in a match lasting 3 hours and 19 minutes. The 25th seed followed it up with another three-set win against Aliaksandra Sasnovich and will play – yep, Coco Guaff – in a battle of the generations on Centre Court on Monday.
French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova was considered a doubles specialist before her surprise win, having won six doubles Grand Slams, but rarely qualifying for singles. She seems to be taking inspiration from her Roland Garros win, strolling into the fourth round for the first time, after a hard-fought three-set win over Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia. She will play top seed Ash Barty in the fourth round, in a battle of the French Open champions.
A couple of outsiders to look out for are former US Open runner-ups Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys, who both raced through to the second week without dropping a set.
With 8 of the top 10 seeds going out in the first week, it really is anyone’s title this year in the Ladies singles.
Ladies Fourth Round
Ash Barty 1 v Barbora Krejcikova 14
Elena Ryabakina 18 v Ayrna Sabalanka 2
Iga Swiatek 7 v Ons Jabeur 21
Coco Gauff 20 v Anglelique Kerber 25
Emma Raducanu WC v Ajla Tomljanovic
Karolina Pliskova 8 v Liudmila Samsonova
Paula Badosa 30 v Karolina Muchova 19
Madison Keys 23 v Viktorija Golubic