July 31, 2021

History, Interrupted

Novak Djokovic had a lot riding on his performance at this year's Olympics.

After his stunning, and frankly brilliant, win at the French Open, tongues started wagging that a Grand Slam and an even rarer Golden Slam were potentially in sight. And when he picked up a third straight Wimbledon title earlier this month, the countdown began in earnest -- just thirteen more match wins, and the #GOAT ๐Ÿ contender would do what no man had ever before.

But, sadly, it was not to be.

Though Djokovic looked characteristically unstoppable in his early rounds in Tokyo this week, he ran into a surprising stumbling block in Friday's semi against Alexander Zverev. Down a set and a break, the German rallied to win eight straight games and stunned Nole for only his third win against the world #1, and his first since 2018.

And after losing the bronze medal match today against Pablo Carreño Busta, the man whose only previous win against Djokovic came thanks to a bizarre default at last year's U.S. Open, and subsequently pulling out of mixed doubles, Novak walked away from the Olympics without any hardware, an outcome I don't think anyone would have predicted a week ago.

It's the second time he's lost the consolation round at the Games -- in London 2012, he fell to Juan Martin Del Potro after losing to eventual gold medalist Andy Murray in the semis -- and one of the very few times he's lost two matches in a row. And it leaves Steffi Graf's legacy as the only person ever to win the Golden Slam in tact at least until 2024.

Of course, this is far from the last we'll hear from Djokovic, and he has plenty of opportunity to still make history this year. While he did point to the injuries he's been dealing with, he's got a month to recover before the U.S. Open, where he'll still vie to become the first man since Rod Laver to win every Major in the same calendar year. And that's no small feat.

And, who knows? Maybe now some of the pressure has been lifted form his shoulders he'll hit the courts again even stronger. After all, we've seen so clearly these last few months how much that can weigh on elite athletes, and with even a little of it taken away now, there's no reason to expect him to pick things up where he left off.

There's still a lot of history for Djokovic to make, and this may be just a little break along the way.

Elsewhere in Tokyo...

While all the Olympic tennis attention may have been on Djokovic, let's take a moment to shout out Carreño Busta who beat not just the world #1 on his way to the bronze medal, but also took out world #2 Daniil Medvedev in the quarters. He may not have won the biggest prize, but to him it's just about as good as gold.

Still that match, between Zverev and Russia's Karen Khachanov will be contested tomorrow, and while the fourth seed may be the heavy on-paper favorite, you can't count out an upset here too. Khachanov won the pair's last two meetings, albeit the most recent two yeas ago, and has notched victories over PCB, Diego Schwartzman and Ugo Humbert already this week. And given how topsy-turvy the draws have been, you never can tell what's going to happen here.

After all, who would have guessed Belinda Bencic, who'd racked up a mediocre 17-14 record so far this year, would walk away with the ladies' gold medal in Tokyo? But the world #12, who I thought for sure would drop her opener against the talented but unseeded Jessica Pegula, not only persevered, but went on to beat both of this year's Roland Garros finalists, giant-killer Elena Rybakina, and, in today's gold medal match, Marketa Vondrousova, who'd backed up her own stunning upset of Naomi Osaka by taking out eventual bronze medalist Elina Svitolina in the semis.

It's certainly been an Olympics we'd never expected in so many ways, and with so much history -- not to mention patriotic pride -- on the line, that should be no surprise. But it's going to be three years before they get a chance to play the Games again, so here's hoping they're able to keep bringing the same fire again well before then.

July 25, 2021

First Time Charm

All eyes may be on Tokyo these days, and understandably so. In just the first two days of play there've been a ton of headlines -- from the singles withdrawal of two-time defending champion Andy Murray to the first round upset of world #1 and reigning Wimbledon champ Ash Barty.

But the Olympics aren't the only game in town, and at a handful of tournaments around the world this weekend a handful of players were able to accomplish something that eluded them so far in their careers. And whether they've been long toiling on tour or are still fresh to the top tiers of competition, you can bet their accomplishments are something they'll remember a long time.

Palermo Ladies Open, Palermo, Italy

I'll start in Italy, where 27-year-old Danielle Collins was making up for lost time in a big way. After a strong start to the year, she'd missed the entire pre-French Open clay court season due to endometriosis surgery, but hit the courts hard when she returned. She played four straight weeks since the start of Wimbledon, reaching the quarters in Hamburg and the semis in Budapest before making the trip to Palermo. And though she was tested -- and conquered -- by much lower ranked players at both those events, this week she made it to the final -- surprisingly her first at this level -- without dropping a set.

In Sunday's match she faced off against qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse, the 23-year-old Romanian who was coming off her own maiden WTA final in Hamburg, where, also as a qualifier, she'd stunned veteran Andrea Petkovic to win the crown. She kept her momentum going with the help of a walkover from third seed Jil Teichmann, but scored a solid win over Oceane Dodin to reach her second straight chapionship match.

Her impressive run would end eventually at Collins' hands, though, and it seems a fitting time for the relative veteran to have her breakthrough. We know, after all, how powerful Collins' game can be -- she stunned then-#2 Angelique Kerber on her way to the Australian Open semis in 2019, and last year scored wins over Garbiñe Muguruza and Ons Jabeur on her way to the Roland Garros quarters. This year, before her surgery interrupted her season, she'd taken out Karolina Pliskova and Ash Barty during the Australian swing and, happily, seems to have picked up right where she left off. She might not have had to pull off any huge upsets on her way to that all-important first trophy, but having now broken the seal and with her condition hopefully behind her, there's no telling what other big wins might be in her future.

BNP Paribas Poland Open, Gdynia, Poland

The stakes weren't quite so high in Poland, where changes of schedule for top seed Yulia Putintseva, who was hoping to ride momentum from her Budapest title to success at the Olympics, but retired in her first round, and second seed Tamara Zidansek, fresh off her first career trophy in Laussane, meant the highest ranked player in the field was world #71 Irina-Camelia Begu.

That left things wide open for everyone else, which helps explain how Belgium's Marynka Zanevska, ranked #165, and Slovakian Kristina Cucova, at #150, were able to make the final. The former, who lost to Zidansek last week in the Laussane semis, this week upset ninth seed Nuria Parrizas Diaz, while the later was a winner over tenth seed Irina Bara in the second round. Both were playing for their first WTA title.

And it was, ultimately Zanevska who walked away with the trophy, another 27-year-old making her breakthrough this week. Will it be just the start of big things for her? That's a little harder to tell, but after two of the best weeks of her career, it very well could be.

Croatia Open, Umag, Croatia

On the men's side, it was less a story of veterans finally getting their pay off and more one of next gen stars showing us what they got. In Umag, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, who scored his first tour-level win over veteran Albert Ramos last year in Rio, repeated the feat, but this time it was in the semis and after a year that had helped him rise to #73 in the world. He'd also scored a win over third seed Filip Krajinovic, the runner-up in Hamburg just a few weeks ago, in the quarters, so he was clearly in a much more accomplished frame of mind.

In the other half of the draw, veteran Richard Gasquet was working his way through the draw and ultimately reached his 38th carreer final, but his first since 2018. The 35-year-old, who hit his career high ranking of #7 in the world when Alcaraz was just four years old, was going for his 16th trophy and, maybe more impressively, his 561st career win, the most of any active player outside the Big Four.

But this time youth would triumph over experience. In his first ATP final, Alcaraz saved all three break points he faced and won nearly 80 percent of his first serves to finish off the championship match in just under 80 minutes. The win makes the Spaniard the youngest champion on tour in over a decade, when then-18 year old Kei Nishikori claimed the trophy in Delray Beach. And it certainly seems Alcaraz is destined for even bigger things from here, and I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing that soon.

Mifel Open, Los Cabos, Mexico

Slightly older than Alcaraz but still, as yet, undecorated was Cameron Norrie, who has nevertheless climbed his way up the rankings thanks to final showings in Estoril, Lyon -- where he beat Dominic Thiem, and Queen's Club -- where he beat Denis Shapovalov. The top seed in Los Cabos, he was hoping to finally break the seal and after a tight opening set against Mikael Ymer, he didn't lose more than three games a set on his way to the final, beating a very talented Taylor Fritz three-and-one in the semis.

Meanwhile 19-year-old Brandon Nakashima was hoping to be the second teen champion of the weekend. Still ranked outside the top hundred, he had picked up a couple Challengers titles in his young career, but has mostly been an also-ran at the ATP level so far. If his performance in Mexico is any indication, that could be about to change, though -- after a straight set win over fourth seed Sam Querrey, he took out Jordan Thompson and then stunned John Isner in the semis, breaking his big-serving compatriot twice and dishing out twelve aces himself.

But it wasn't enough against Norrie. The 25-year-old Brit was finally the more experienced one in the championship round and was able to prevail in his fifth final appearance. In another straight set match, he was able to score his 35th tour win of the season, tying him with none other than Novak Djokovic for the third most on tour. And with the consistency he's shown in this first half, there's no reason to believe he won't be adding more wins to the docket soon.

Swiss Open, Gstaad, Switzerland

The only place where we didn't see a first time champion this weekend was in Gstaad, where Casper Ruud, fresh off a win in the appropriately rhyming Bastad, picked up his third title of the year and his fourth overall. He's now running a seven match win streak since that surprise early exit and Wimbledon and could be making a play for the top ten before the year is out.

But that doesn't diminish the accomplishment of his final opponent, twenty-year-old Hugo Gaston, who'd been, up to this week, a little quiet after that resounding run to the fourth round last year at Roland Garros. So far at the Slams this year, he'd fallen to Richard Gasquet in his Paris opener and failed to qualify for Australia or Wimbledon, and he'd only won two matches elsewhere on tour.

But he found his footing this week, stunning clay court specialist Federico Delbonis in the second round and then going on to beat Cristian Garin and Laslo Djere to make his first ATP final. While three straight three-setter may have left him too little in the tank to put up a fight against Ruud on Sunday, his performance certainly gave us hope that we haven't seen the best of him yet.

And while the first time may not have been his charm, something tells me it won't be too long before he gets his.

July 11, 2021

21 in '21?

I really didn't think we'd get here so quickly.

With Rafael Nadal edging out Novak Djokovic last year at the French Open and pulling ahead of him in the Grand Slam race by three titles at the end of last year, I thought for sure we'd have a little longer to wait before Nole would catch up.

I mean, Djokovic would probably win in Melbourne, but Rafa would surely dominate in Paris again, right? Claim a 21st Major title there and take the lead all by himself? Force the world #1 to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open just to get within one big trophy of the top spot? The soonest Novak could draw even would be next year. Right? Right?!

Well after Nole's stunning victory at Roland Garros, one that featured one of the most spectacular wins of his career over Nadal, all that math went out the window. And today, on Championship Sunday at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic is writing history on his own terms.

His win over Matteo Berrettini in the final didn't come easy. The Italian seventh seed put up one hell of a fight, breaking Djokovic when he was trying to serve out the first set and taking the early lead with a win in the tiebreak. He got down two breaks in the second, but stopped Djokovic's first attempt to serve that one out, too. But ultimately it was the two-time defending champion -- the man who'd already won five titles here total -- whose experience and extreme talent won out.

The title, of course, puts him neck-and-neck(-and-neck) with Rafa and Roger Federer with twenty Grand Slam trophies each. But there's no question he's been the most dominant player over the last ten years, winning nineteen of them since 2011, compared to eleven for Nadal and "just" four for Fed. As he said after tying things up today, these two rivals have pushed him to be a better, stronger, smarter player, and they're all going to keep striving to be the first to hit blackjack.

And there's every chance in the world it could happen for one of them in New York -- very and, honestly, most likely Djokovic, who could become the first man since Rod Laver to win the calendar year Grand Slam. He said himself he could envision that happening, and the way he's playing, that's not just hubris.

After all, we've all got 20-20-20 vision now and are seeing things very clearly. This #GOAT ๐Ÿ contender may have only just tied things up, but in the race for #21, he's got the lead all to himself.

July 10, 2021

All Grown Up

Ten years ago Ashleigh Barty won the Girls' singles title at Wimbledon, her first and only Grand Slam trophy on the Juniors circuit. And earlier today she became just the fourth woman ever to repeat the feat as a pro, claiming the Ladies' crown in a stunning display of cool and adding a second Major championship to her résumé.

Her win was far from straightforward though. A heavy favorite in Saturday's final, she'd only dropped one set the entire tournament, taking out former Wimbledon champ Angelique Kerber and newly-crowned Barbora Krejcikova in straight sets. But she was surprisingly tested by former world #1 Karolina Pliskova, who'd reached her second Slam final with a decisive win over a frustrated Aryna Sabalenka in the semis.

After losing the first fourteen points and four games, the Czech made a match of things. She broke Barty late in the second set, when she was serving for the title, and displayed some pretty impressive play in the tiebreak to force a decider. But Barty proved stronger in the third -- she got up an early break and didn't look back, saving break point when trying to serve it out for a second time and converting on match point after just under two hours.

The win earned Barty her fourth title of the year, now at least one on every surface, and cemented her place at the top of the rankings. And a second Slam title suggests she'll be one to watch for a long time to come. After all, there are plenty of people out there who are one-and-done, but Barty's consistency over the past few years -- even in a year in which she saw virtually no play on the tennis courts -- certainly puts her in a different league.

And at a time when we're so ready to find out who among the next generation will take up the mantle of the tennis greats, Ash Barty has clearly stepped up to the plate. And she might just be the one to lead the new guard to even greater heights.

July 7, 2021

And Then There Were Eight...

Things are getting serious now.

The first Wimbledon in two years has given us plenty of storylines, from the emergence of young, sharp talents, to a couple guys chasing history at the All England Club. But the trophies are now within reach -- just two wins away for the players still standing -- and there's a lot on the line for every one of them.

The Men

Novak Djokovic hasn't seemed at all fazed by the high stakes that are following him into this tournament. With wins already at the Australian and French Opens this year, he's the heavy favorite to win the Grand Slam -- all four Majors in a calendar year -- something no man has done since 1969. And with the Olympics later this month, he could even match Steffi Graf's ultra-rare feat of the Golden Slam. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, he's also just two match wins away from equalling Roger Federer's and Rafael Nadal's record twenty Major titles -- (getting ahead of myself again) a record he could very well claim all by himself by year-end. And with all that on his shoulders, he's still been super dominant, winning his last fifteen sets and extending his streak at the All England Club to 21 straight match wins. With far more experience at this stage of play than any of the other men remaining, it's hard to see anyone stopping him before the week is up.

The first man who gets to try is Denis Shapovalov, who reached his first Major semifinal with a five-set win today over Karen Khachanov. The Canadian, whose previous best run at Wimbledon was the second round back in 2018, had to skip Roland Garros with a shoulder injury, but came back fighting strong, making the semis at Queen's Club and here beating two-time champion Andy Murray and eighth seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, both in straight sets. Does he stand a chance against the world #1 and #GOAT๐Ÿ contender? Well, with a 0-6 record against Djokovic, it's going to be hard. But here's hoping we at least get to see him put up a fight.

But the real opportunity may lie in the bottom half of the draw, where Matteo Berrettini is currently riding an impressive 10-0 record on grass -- he's 21-2 since 2019. The Queen's Club champion has had a pretty nice run to his second Slam semi, dropping sets only to Guido Pella -- who, you might have forgotten, made the final eight at Wimbledon in 2019 -- in his opener and to Felix Auger-Aliassime -- who, you probably remember, stunned Roger Federer last month in Halle -- in Wednesday's quarter. I've admitted I had doubts about his sustainability after that stellar 2019 season, but he has more than proven me wrong, and with more wins than all but four men so far this season, he may be in good position to make his first Major final.

But he still has to get past Hubert Hurkacz, who's turned his season around in a big way over the last ten days. After a breakthrough run in Miami, where he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev -- not to mention Shapovalov -- on his way to the title, he went radio silent, losing five straight matches between Monte Carlo and Halle. I thought for sure he was heading for an early exit when he drew Lorenzo Musetti in the first round, but not only did he win, he went his first three matches without dropping a set. That streak finally ended against second seed and Mallorca titleist Daniil Medvedev, but he survived that challenge and then rallied for a stunning straight-set win over eight-time champion Roger Federer earlier today. This semi run is by far his best showing at a Slam -- his previous high bar was the third round here in 2019 -- but so far he's shown no signs of nerves. Could he keep his run going even further? Well, he does have a win in his only match against Berrettini, and something tells me these two are going to leave it all out there.

The Women

The ladies' draw has had its own share of surprises, but one thing has gone according to plan -- #1 seed Ashleigh Barty continues to prove her ability on any court. Though her French Open defense was cut short due to injury, she rebounded well when she hit the grass. Dropping just one set in her first five matches to sentimental favorite Carla Suรกrez Navarro in the first round, she's made it to her third Major semifinal, and first here, in top form. But while she did face off against the newest Major champion in the fourth round, for the most part, she hasn't been truly tested -- the average rank of her opponents has been #76, #91 if you don't count Barbora Krejcikova, who was playing her first Wimbledon singles main draw. She's going to have to up her game now that we're really down to the wire.

After all, her next match is against 2018 Wimbledon champ Angelique Kerber who, after a title in Bad Homburg, is running a ten-match win streak on grass. At #28 in the world, she may be the lowest seed remaining, but she's by far the most accomplished on these courts, having made at least the semis three times before. She's had a couple close calls already this event, enduring a three-plus hour battle against a surprisingly spry Sara Sorribes Tormo in the second round and battling back from losing the first set to Aliaksandra Sasnovich, the woman who benefited from Serena's retirement. But she's been on point in her latest matches, beating both Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova in straight sets. She's split her last four meetings with Barty, the most recent of which was nearly three years ago, but she might just be able to get the advantage in this one.

Meanwhile in the bottom half of the draw, second seed Aryna Sabalenka has ended her Major curse in resounding form with a ticket to her first Major semifinal. The 23-year-old, one of my favorites to win the French, had only won one main draw match here before this year, and that was back when she was a qualifier in 2017. I didn't give her much chance at changing that after a weak lead-up season, but she's been able to overcome a few challenges at the All England Club. Down a set early to wildcard Katie Boulter and pushed to a third by Paris Cinderella Elena Rybakina, she's been able to persevere, and against Ons Jabeur -- who, by the way, beat three Major champions in a row on her way to the quarters -- she was able to come out on top. You have to like her chances at making that maiden final, as long as she's able to keep keeping her cool.

But the big surprise in the women's draw has to be Karolina Pliskova, whose #8 seed -- and #13 ranking -- feels a lot higher than what she's been delivering. Though she did make the final in Rome -- which she lost in a double bagel -- she'd been otherwise pretty lackluster this year, losing more matches than she'd won on the season. I thought for sure she'd get a run for her money in the first round against surprise French semifinalist Tamara Zidansek and had my money on Berlin champ Liudmila Samsonova in the fourth. But she's gotten through her first five matches without dropping a set -- the only player left who's done that -- and is in the Wimbledon semis for the first time in her career. Like Barty, she hasn't faced the highest-ranked opponents, so playing Sabalenka could be a shock, especially as she's lost both their previous matches. But perhaps her familiarity with play on this stage will be an advantage, and maybe she'll be the one to prove us all wrong.

We shouldn't be surprised that after such a long absence (absense?) from these courts we should get such big play from every corner of the draw. We might not have picked all these guys and gals as the last ones contending for the title, but there's no doubt that each of them deserves to come away with one more win.

And with so much history on the line, it's going to be exciting to see which ones are able to pull it off.

July 4, 2021

Golden Opportunities

Well now we're really getting down to it -- one week of Wimbledon in the books and one more to go, and as expected we've had some standout play. But as we start to get really serious in the second week, maybe it's time to reassess where we stand -- after all plenty of favorites are out of the mix and a couple of surprise standouts have really got a chance to do something big.

The Men

Sure most of the favorites on the men's side are alive and well -- after dropping his first set to wildcard teen Jack Draper, defending champion Novak Djokovic has been unstoppable, Roger Federer rebounded from a pretty ugly opening round and has sailed through his next two, even Daniil Medvedev, who's never made it out of the third round here, came back from two sets down to former finalist Marin Cilic yesterday to reach the final 16. But there have been other standouts.

Seeded 14th, Hubert Hurkacz has basically done what he's supposed to so far, but for a Miami champ who'd only won one match since that breakthrough performance, it's been a good reminder of what he's capable of. The 24-year-old Pole got to his first Major fourth round with surprisingly straightforward wins over teen phenom Lorenzo Musetti, resurging Marcos Giron, and underrated Alexander Bublik, becoming the only man who hasn't lost a set yet. That may change against second seed Medvedev tomorrow, but as stated the favorite was pushed to the limit in his third round and could be vulnerable now.

And Sebastian Korda, who was ranked outside the top two-hundred at this time last year, has so far been unintimidated by the grand stage of his first Wimbledon. After a four set win over Eastbourne champ Alex de Minaur, he went on to beat hometown favorite Dan Evans in the third round. And he's got a huge opportunity to make his first Major quarterfinal -- 25th seed Karen Khachanov has been a little quiet lately, and thanks to a stunning win by Frances Tiafoe in the first round here, hasn't been an underdog in a match yet. Korda will still be the underdog tomorrow -- on his 21st birthday no less -- at least on paper, but something tells me he might be able to get the better of even the more experienced Russian. It sure would be a pretty nice way to celebrate.

Meanwhile Marton Fucsovics has been quietly hacking away at his part of the draw too. A fourth-rounder at two Grand Slams last year -- he took out Denis Shapovalov in Australia and then stunned Daniil Medvedev back when he was winless in Paris -- he's been ranked as high as #31 in the world, but often plays well above that level. He opened his campaign at the All England Club with a big win over wünderkind Jannik Sinner and then dispatched ninth seed Diego Schwartzman in the third round. For a spot in the quarters he'll face Andrey Rublev, certainly a hard ask, but he has won the pair's only previous five-setter, though that was four years ago. Still the Hungarian has a strong game, and I wouldn't be surprised to see his run continue.

But the real surprise has been Ilya Ivashka who, at 27, is one of the oldest first-time main drawers in the field. The Belorussian comes to Wimbledon at a career high ranking of just 79th in the world, thanks to a run to the quarters in Eastbourne, but he also has a win over Alexander Zverev and took a set off Rafael Nadal in Barcelona this year. He's had a pretty clear path so far, with his second round opponent having taken out Aslan Karatsev and his third having dismissed Casper Ruud for him, but that still got him what's already been his best Major performance by far. He'll next face Matteo Berrettini, whose run this year has honestly been so refreshing and will certainly be no easy challenge. Still, if there were ever a year for the late bloomer to shine, it might be this one.

The Women

The ladies' side has seen a similar dichotomy. Former Major champions Ashleigh Barty, Angelique Kerber, Iga Swiatek, and even the most newly-crowned Barbora Krejcikova, playing her first singles main draw here, advancing without too much drama. And much-lauded upstarts like Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur, Elena Rybakina, and Paula Badosa have all shown their recent successes were no fluke. But some others are making a run here and have a shot at really redefining their careers.

It may seem weird to start that conversation with a look at second seed Aryna Sabalenka, but when you realize the world #4 and ten-time WTA title holder has never made it out of the fourth round of a Major, you might see what I mean. After her stellar run on clay, I gave her a pretty good shot at taking the French Open title, but she fell in the third round. She also lost her opener in Berlin and was stunned by world #75 Camila Giorgi in Eastbourne. She's been decently strong so far, coming back from a set down to British wildcard Katie Boulter before taking out teen breakthrough Maria Camilia Osorio Serrano in her Wimbledon debut. Next up for Sabalenka is Rybakina, who's turning her year around in a big way. The favorite may have won both their previous matches, most recently in the Abu Dhabi quarters, but we'll see if she can steel her nerves enough to finally break her curse.

Meanwhile wildcard Liudmila Samsonova is quickly proving her Cinderella run in Berlin was legit. Ranked in triple digits just last month, her wins over five top-fifty players, including Victoria Azarenka and Belinda Bencic told everyone she's a force, and her wins this week over Sloane Stephens and seeded Jessica Pegula really drove it home. She'll face off Monday against eighth seed Karolina Pliskova, who's been admittedly strong in her first week of play here. Samsonova may be the underdog in this fight, but I have to say, it's as good a shot as any she might have to reach her maiden Major quarter.

Also with a shot at reaching a milestone is relative veteran Viktorija Golubic, who's been quietly having a pretty solid year. A finalist at two straight tournaments during the spring and a winner over Belinda Bencic in Eastbourne, she'd cut her ranking in half already this year and is primed to go even higher. After a marathon first round against Veronika Kudermetova which went 11-9 in the third, she had a surprisingly easy time against Danielle Collins one match later and dropped just three games to Madison Brengle on Friday. She's up against Madison Keys next, certainly a bigger threat and one who scored a big upset of her own against Elise Mertens. Still it's a winnable match for the Swiss and could really open things up for her.

Of course, the big surprise in the ladies draw comes in the top quarter of the draw. Veteran Ajla Tomljanovic, who's struggled with consistency over the years -- she beat Aga Radwanska at the French in 2014 then lost in eight straight first rounds that year, she broke the top 40 in 2019 but was 5-12 last year -- seems to have found her footing in London again. She held tough against Alizée Cornet, who'd scored a huge win over Bianca Andreescu in her opener, and came back against Eastbourne champ Jelena Ostapenko, someone I thought had the potential to go far. She'll face off against this event's clear Cinderella, British wildcard Emma Raducanu, an eighteen year old junior quarterfinalist here a few year's ago who's picked up a couple ITF trophies over her very short career. Her run in her Major debut, though, might suggest there's more to come -- she beat former French finalist Marketa Vondrousova and stunned an in-form Sorana Cirstea on Saturday. This match-up presents a huge opportunity for both women, neither of whom have even had a whiff of a quarterfinal before. Going forward, it'll only get harder of course -- the winner will meet one of the recent French Open champions -- but what a chance to put one of their names on the map.