June 30, 2014

Fits and Starts

At the end of today we were supposed to have all our Wimbledon quarterfinalists decided.

But with six matches suspended or outright cancelled just before Middle Sunday, and another bout of bad weather stopping action a few more times today, much of Monday was spent playing catch up with only a handful of fourth round matches completed. And the players who survived the interruptions may have set themselves up for even more success down the road.

Andy Murray's win today might be the least surprising of the bunch -- the defending champion might have been flying under the radar since his loss at Queen's Club, but he's looking good so far at the All England Club and hadn't dropped a set yet in his first three matches. He was 1-1 against today's big-serving opponent Kevin Anderson in past meetings, and it had been almost three years since their last contest which the South African won in straights. But Murray built a quick double break lead in the second set after taking the first when play was stopped to close the roof on Centre Court, and Anderson had a chance to draw back even when play resumed. But ultimately the Scot kept the cooler head after the delay, maintaining the early lead and then taking a third set tiebreak for the win. He'll next face potential spoiler Grigor Dimitrov, who came out ahead in his own rain-delayed match, so the task only gets tougher from here. But it sure looks like he's gonna keep fighting for this title, and it might mean his opponents are the ones who'll have to raise their games even higher.

Sabine Lisicki certainly knows how to play her best tennis at Wimbledon. Last year's runner-up had only advanced past the second round at one event all year and saw her ranking fall to #19 in the world, but has already been able to turn things around at the All England Club. She'd lost her only previous match against former #1 Ana Ivanovic, in Stuttgart just a few months ago, but took the first set before play was called for darkness on Saturday. She seemed to lose a little momentum when they resumed, getting down a break in the second and losing the second set after another rain delay today. But ultimately Lisicki stayed stronger, closing out the decider in under a half hour to make her fifth straight fourth round in London. And her prospects actually look better from here -- she's never lost her first match in the second week of this Major, and with a date against unseeded Yaroslava Shvedova next, I don't expect that stat to change this time around.

Feliciano Lopez might have relished the delay in his matches a little more than these guys. Fresh off a final in London and a second title in Eastbourne, the break between his second round on Friday and his third round today must have been appreciated. And another pause after splitting tiebreaks with John Isner this morning seemed to give him even more energy -- after about two and a half hours of play, the veteran Spaniard converted the only break point of the match, upsetting the on-paper favorite and setting up a meeting with Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round. Lopez has traded wins with the Aussie champion, but he is by far the better player on this surface, and like with his head-to-head against Tomas Berdych, it's his turn for the win. Victory would give him a ticket to his first quarterfinal in three years, and the way he's playing I wouldn't be surprised to see him go even further.

Of course for every player that capitalizes on his or her opportunity, there is one that can't. And unfortunately for Alize Cornet, at this year's Championships, that player was her. The former world #11 -- she's five years removed from that achievement -- was coming off the win of her career on Saturday, her second straight win top-ranked Serena Williams in her third round. She was still the on-paper underdog against 2014 standout Genie Bouchard, but with the adrenaline pumping and a first Major quarterfinal in her sights, she seemed primed to pull off another upset. But after play was halted with the pair on serve early in the first set, Bouchard came out the stronger. She took the first set in a tiebreak and then rebounded from a break down in the second, rattling off four straight games to reach her third Slam elite eight in as many tries this year. But as disappointing as the loss must be for the Frenchman, you can't discount the accomplishments of the young upstart. One big tournament after another she's proving she belongs with the elite players and that she can stay there for the long haul, and though she'll likely face now-favorite Maria Sharapova for a spot in yet another semi, I'm expecting she won't be intimidated by this opportunity either.

None of today's winners will have a lot of time to savor their victories -- many of them get right back to work tomorrow as the tournament tries to get back on schedule. But as the skies clear at the All England Club, prospects for any of these players look just as bright. And now that they're revved up, there's no reason they can't keep going.

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