July 3, 2013

Which of These Things Is Not Like the Other Ones?

Take a close look at the four men left contesting this year's Wimbledon title. Notice anything?

We have in our midst three former Grand Slam champions...and one dude who's never won a title. Of any kind. Ever.

This, of course, wasn't the semifinal field we expected to see at the All England Club, but even after early upsets punched holes in the draw, latter-round outcomes were far from certain.

Juan Martin Del Potro, who skipped the French Open due to sickness, hyper-extended his knee during his third round match and took another big tumble during the sixth point today against David Ferrer. He said afterwards he had thought about retiring but, thanks to some "magic pills" supplied by the tournament doctor, was able to not only get a quick break, but went on to win an astounding eighty-seven percent of his first serves and close out the match in straight sets. It's his first semi appearance at Wimbledon, but he hasn't dropped a set yet, and after winning Olympic Bronze here less than a year ago, he might be able to improve on that run.

Hometown hero Andy Murray also skipped Roland Garros but, with a title at Queen's Club and after the losses of both Roger and Rafa, his road to at least the final here seemed clear cut. An on-the-rebound Fernando Verdasco had other plans though -- the one-time top-tenner had fallen out of the top fifty, but had ousted veteran Xavier Malisse, thirtieth-seed Julien Benneteau and tricky Latvian Ernests Gulbis on the way to his first Slam quarter since 2010. The Spaniard came out swinging today, too, winning the first two sets off the world #2 before ultimately falling in the three-and-a-half hour match. With the win, Murray secures his fifth straight Wimbledon semi and warded off what might have been -- even with all the other crazy $h!+ that's happened this fortnight -- the upset of the tournament.

Novak Djokovic, champion here two years ago, didn't have as dramatic a day today, but that doesn't mean he wasn't tested. After a tough-as-nails first set against Tomas Berdych -- neither had a break opportunity in the hour-plus opener -- he got down two breaks to the Czech in the second. The top seed quickly regrouped though and was able to close out the match in straights. The win sets up Nole's twelfth meeting against Del Potro -- and the sixth since losing Olympic Bronze to the big Argentine. He'd dominated the first four matches of that history, but stunningly lost in the Indian Wells semis this past March. Djokovic is clearly the favorite here, and probably healthier. But if DelPo plays the way he has -- in spite of injury, no less -- it's going to be hard to get past him.

But the true surprise in this year's semi lineup has to be twenty-two year old Jerzy Janowicz, a man who started 2012 ranked #221 in the world. The big-serving Pole arguably had a breakthrough at the All England Club last year when he reached the third round as a qualifier and took a two-set-to-one lead over then #29 Florian Mayer. But he really started grabbing headlines in November when he reached the Paris Masters final with wins over Marin Cilic, Janko Tipsarevic and -- you guessed it -- Andy Murray. Now in the top thirty, he didn't have to face as many favorites this time around, but he nevertheless ousted clay court specialist Nicolas Almagro in the third round and today beat out fellow Pole Lukasz Kubot for a chance to play for the final. A win on Friday would put him in only his second championship match, but having had an easier time in his quarter and the confidence of the win last fall, he certainly can't be counted out in his rematch with Murray. And the way this tournament is going, I'm not sure I'd be surprised if it happened.

These four men certainly have various degrees of experience at this level of play, with some just being inducted into the sport's elite while others have become quite accustomed to these ranks. And while the remaining field is not what we've been used to at the Majors, all of these guys have definitely proven this is where they belong.

No comments: