Friday, June 27, 2008
As much as we can have true tennis classics on the slowed-down lawns of SW19, today was the day. On Centre Court, a resurgent Mario Ancic, the last player to defeat Roger Federer on grass in the same venue in 2002, electrified the crowd against the dogged Spaniard David Ferrer, who, for all of his grit, had few answers for the old-school, serve-and-volley, chip-and-charge play of the giant Croatian also known as Baby Goran (Ivanesivic), the first and last Croat to hoist the Wimbledon trophy. Mario outlasted David 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-3). And he never lost his serve. Against one of the best returners in the game.
At the same time, Marat Safin was in devastating form against the unheralded grass court lover Andreas Seppi of Italy, pushing him aside 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4. This was nothing short of a tremendous match on Court 1.
I thoroughly enjoyed both of these classics. The players battled each other as they battled the darkness falling over London after 9:00pm London time. (Note to the AELTC: either start matches earlier in the day, or invest in some damn lights. There's no reason the players should be fighting as though they're on a playground in some poverty-ridden, inner-city. Not with all the pomp and circumstance and money that girds the most hallowed event in one of the world's most elite sports.) Simply put, there was no better tennis on display at this year's Wimbledon so far than that from the racquets of the above warriors.
I was so full when the men finished, that I almost forget that Serena Williams, my girl, beat back Amelie Mauresmo, a fading light in women's tennis to be sure. Forgot that Ana Ivanovic, the new world No. 1 and Roland Garros champion, was picked apart by Jie Zheng, a Chinese woman who refused to be impressed by the game of a woman who won her Slam too soon, rose to No. 1 too soon, and who clearly, in all her giggly girlishness and manufactured fist pumps, is simply not ready to own the mantle of the world's best. Nathalie Dechy ought to have been playing the determined Chinese woman, but that's not the way the script played out. No matter. Ana will need to mature emotionally and mentally if she is to repeat her recent success. Otherwise, she'll turn into another Svetlana Kuznetsova, who also won her first Slam before she was ready.
Bobby Reynolds put up a good fight, but he as no match for Feliciano Lopez, the only Spaniard of the current crop who actually prefers grass, slow as it has become in London, to any other surface. There are no more American men in the Wimbledon draw after the third round. If I didn't know better, I'd think we were in Paris and crushed red brick was swirling into the eyes of the players, blinding them to the task at hand.
But American women's tennis has something to celebrate in the exquisite play of Bethanie Mattek, the woman who made headlines when she appeared in gypsy basketball garb on Centre Court against Venus Williams in 2006. She demoralized defending finalist Marion Bartoli with a game so solid, so deceptively powerful, the French woman who considers Wimbledon her favorite tournament could never get comfortable in her own exquisite game. Despite the 6-1, 6-4 scoreline, this was the best women's match of the day. Some of the games lasted for double-digit minutes, a trademark in most matches featuring the moody Marion.
Keeping with the sex talk so prominent in this forthnight, I couldn't fail to report that Chris Fowler and Darren Cahill had an extended conversation about Raja's opponent Marc Gicquel who, last year in Halle, took a tennis ball in the balls and had to pullout from his next match. Fowler even wanted to know if Cahill had ever experienced such excruciating pain by tennis ball. Cahill admitted that he had and when Fowler asked him how long he wanted to talk about the subject, Cahill answered: "Only as long as you do, Chris."
No disrespect to Raja's fans, but this is what the boredom of so many of his early-round Slam matches conjures up in those employed to cover them.
With so many of the top seeds falling like dominoes, there's a lot of talk of who's actually going to survive this thing and make it to the final weekend. Agnieszka Radwanska, Eastbourne champion, is doing her thing under the radar and might be the author of some more big headlines. But if any of the remaining Big Babes are still around and bring their A-games, the gutsy Pole won't have a chance. (For the darkest of darkhorses see Sugiyama Ai, who's celebrating her record-setting 57th consecutive appearance in a Slam event. I know, I know. I just wanted to give her her props.)
Remember Marcos Baghdatis? The Greek-Cypriot with the big gut and bigger smile who wowed the world in Melbourne in 2005? Well, the ut isn't so big right now, while his face is all business has he soldiers on. He has declared grass his favorite surface and his current form and draw tell me I shouldn't be shocked if he's playing on the final Sunday.
You heard it here first.
Photos of the Day
Misha Zverev, who retired against Stanislas Wawrinka