Sunday, June 29, 2008

Winners & Errors

by Helen W

Herewith a highly-personal and eclectic review of the Wimbledon Week 1 men's draw.

Naturally Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal head the list, but I'd like to highlight some of the lesser-known players or unexpected standouts. But before I do, mention must also go to Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet -- are they finally going to play up to their talent?

Andreas Beck

Yes, the 22-year-old lefty qualifier lost in the first round. But his opponent, in his first-ever Slam match, was no less than Rafa. He lost in 3 tight sets 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 and stood tough for the entire match, belying his 122 ranking.

Ernests Gulbis

Who is Ernests Gulbis? Almost everyone believes that he is a future top-ten player. In losing to Rafa (7-5, 2-6, 6-7, 3-6) he became the first player to take a set off him in since heaven knows when. And like Beck before him, he rose to the occasion, playing great tennis.

Bobby Reynolds

No American man made it to week 2, but 26-year-old journeyman Bobby Reynolds, currently ranked 102, was the only one who made it into the third round, before going down to Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

Nicolas Kiefer

I used to dislike Kiefer as a player who would do anything to win, including cheat. See this article for an account of an ugly racket-throwing incident in a match against Sebastian Grosjean. But after the latest of his numerous injuries, Kiefer seems to have had an epiphany, and has relinquished his win-at-all-costs attitude and replaced it with a more generous outlook. These are the kinds of stories that always warm my heart.

Anyway, Kiefer also went down to Nadal in straights 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 but showed his amazing shotmaking in the tight first set. In the third , down 5-0, he raised his hands in mock celebration when he finally held his serve, then electrified the crowd by breaking Rafa (for the first time in the match) in the next game. He held his next serve before Rafa slammed the door and left the court, happy that he had managed to complete his match before dark and could now get football finally out of his head on Sunday.

Rainer Schuettler

Remember him? At age 32 he is the oldest man left in the draw. Up until Wimbledon his record for the year is 4 - 13 (ouch). But in 2003, he advanced to his first career slam final at the Aussie open (lost to Agassi), and finished the year ranked 6 in the world. In 2004 he was briefly ranked 5, after which his ranking declined and has never recovered. His last final was Monte Carlo in 2004. His next opponent is Janko Tipsarevic, so I predict that his run at Wimby will end there, but congrats to the veteran for getting into week 2.

Marat Safin

Remember him? Year after year we hope that his life as a headcase is finally behind him. Will this be the year? Well, for the first time in yonks, by his own admission, he has won 2 matches in a row. Perhaps the recent successes of little sis have inspired him? He has told the press that he has been training very hard to get back into top form.

His first surprise at Wimbledon, and it was a shocker, was taking out Novak Djokovic in straights (6-4 7-6 6-2) in the second round. Some fans were unkind enough to suggest to Djokoer that he should first win, then talk. Others commented on how lucky Roger was, with Marat doing the job of taking out his biggest threat for him.

But I digress. Was Marat's win just a fluke? Would he go back to headcaseland in the very next match? Happily, no. He played an enthralling match against Andreas Seppi last Friday (one of the best days of tennis I can remember), where as darkness fell he eventually prevailed 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4. A fantastic effort by both players -- no-one lost this match, Marat won it against a worthy opponent who gave his best.

Here's hoping!

Andreas Seppi

See above. This year the 24-year-old righty is ranked 30 in the world, and has reached the semis in Hamburg and the quarters at Nottingham.

Janko Tipsarevic

I'm sure most tennisheads remember Tipsy taking Roger to 5 sets at the Australian Open. Well, now we know for sure that that was not a fluke -- he took out Roddick 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 in the second round on Centre Court Wimbledon, at the same time as Schuettler was taking out James Blake 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. He then proceeded to take out Dmitry Tursunov in straights, and his next match is against Schuettler, so I predict he will make the quarters.

Mario Ancic

Finally completely over his case of mono, and sporting his new law degree, Ancic played a thrilling match against David Ferrer, where he eventually prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 on Centre Court on the same day as Marat played Seppi. And again, it was a match of the highest calibre, which was won, not lost.

Honourable Mentions
Besides Murray and Gasquet, the following players also deserve a nod:

  • Marcos Baghdatis
    He of the electrifying smile has reached the fourth round. However, he has had a relatively easy draw so far. Is he back in form? His next match is against Feli, and I predict he will make it to the quarters.

  • Marin Cilic
    At 19 years old, Croation Marin Cilic is the youngest player left in the draw. His next match is against Arnaud Clement (at age 31, the second-oldest player left in the draw), and I predict he too will make it to the quarters.

  • Arnaud Clement
    Currently ranked 145, Clement has taken out 3 higher-ranked players (Jonas Bjorkam, 128; Benjamin Becker, 116; Jurgen Melzer, 72) to reach the 4th round.

  • Fabrice Santoro
    This is probably the last Wimbledon for The Magician. He requested, and was granted, the honour of playing on Centre Court for the first (and last) time at Wimby, where he entertained us all going down in straight sets (6-3 6-4 7-6) to Andy Murray in his first-round match. (He and doubles partner Marc Gicquel also went down in their first-round match to Max Mirnyi & Jamie Murray.)

Errors don't get pix. Any guesses?

Andy Roddick
Surprise! (Not). Where has his forehand gone? Oh never mind.

James Blake
Surprise! (Not). Just as Roddick's play desolated Craig & Tangerine, James's play desolated me. I adore Blake, for taking sportsmanship to another level. But the heartbreak! Oh never mind.

Novak Djokovic
For most of us, this was definitely a surprise, and for many of us, a happy one. Maybe he won't be No. 1 in the world at the end of the year, as so many of his fawning followers (JMac is that you?) have so confidently predicted.

Marin Cilic


oddman said...

Very nice recap, helen w. A real pity I didn't catch the matches on Friday, or yesterday either. Tipsarevic - what a cool dude - I like him. And what a complete contrast to his younger higher-ranked countryman. Once nice thing about Novak: he did mention how he looks up to Janko as the senior guy.
Gulbis? Definitely one to watch, like his attitude and game. Thumbs up from me, now that Rafa took him down, heh heh.
I do remember Schuettler well, a running machine back in 03-04. Age creeping in, happens to us all.
What a strange week it's been, with some top seeds gone. The rest of the tournament should be mildly more interesting, but imo, the usual suspects are still hanging around the bottom half. The top half (uh, Fed's half) looks to be made just a bit easier for him, no? OK, Fedfans, you can start giving me flak now, lol. Unless Safin can pull a Safin, looks to me like Fed's in the final again. Not that I thought he wouldn't have made it anyway.
Somebody gave mad professah the gears (a few posts back) about showing fan favoritism for suggesting Serena and Venus would be there at the end. Uh, that matchup is looking pretty realistic right now.
Not to jinx anything, but what great weather London's been having for this fortnight! Hope it stays that way.

Craig Hickman said...

oddman, don't underestimate Baghdatis. Remember, he was the man who held set points against Raja last summer and boldly admitted thereafter that he choked in the face of "The Name" an dropped that set and the match.

I've watched a few of his matches on Wimbedon Live and he is definitely playing some good tennis.

I'm not saying Raja won't make the finals, but he may have to endure a few battles to get there.

Let's see what Rusty has this time out.

oddman said...

Yeah, I can only go on past performances and such, since I haven't seen Baggy play at all this week. Right now I probably am underestimating him - would be delighted if he can pull it off, he's not had the year he was expected to have so far. And the guy's got a great game.
I saw some of Lleyton, and boy, he looked great! Between him and Safin, I was wondering if I was in a time warp, lol. Back to 05. Good that he gets two days rest, he'll need it. And he has no problems with any name on the other side of the net.
Finally looking at Kiefer-Nadal now, my boy's getting better each match. Bodes well.

tangerine said...

I think Murray's going to be the surprise of the tournament. He's looked sharp all week. Right now I would consider him to be Roger's biggest obstacle to the final.

oddman said...

?? - Do you mean Rafa's biggest obstacle, tangerine? I think he's in Rafa's half.
Be that as it may, he is looking sharp. Am surprised how happy the Scott looks, he's actually pleasant to watch for a change. I so hate that moping grumping around you normally see. I really hope Gasquet takes him out, though, for the crowd 'factor'. Still think Rafa's going to get by Youhzny tomorrow, despite their H2H.
Vamos, Rafa!

Helen W said...

Hey Oddman Rafa is 6-4 against Mikhail lifetime. I think he will get through him too -- when he lost at Chennai, he had just played a long match against Moya the day before.

A lot of the various boards are predicting Youzhny to win, but the bettors are about 8-1 in favour of Rafa.

And yes, Murray is in Rafa's side of the draw, so if they both win, they will meet in the quarters.

rabbit said...

Wow, what a beautiful writeup, helen_w! Thanks so much!

Helen W said...

Thank you very much rabbit! I feel very honoured to be invited to contribute to Craig's wonderful blog.

tangerine said...

whoops, you are right oddman, I thought Murray was in Roger's half.

Craig Hickman said...

I'm not seeing Murray as a threat at all.

And I hope he doesn't surprise me.

Helen W said...

Now there's a surprise Craig :)

I see Murray taking out Gasquet, and then falling to Nadal who will have taken out Youzhny. I just can't see Andy Murray having the mental fortitude to take down Rafa.

oddman said...

Gasquet has the better game, likes grass, and should win. But Murray has the crowd.... hmmmmm. I hope Gasquet wins, but he'll really have to dig deep to do so. I give Murray the edge there.

And I have to work tomorrow - again - will miss it live. Bah.

Helen W said...

What a match by Murray & Gasquet! Just WOW. They were pounding the ball from start to finish. Good on Andy for pulling the match out after being down 2 sets -- the only other time he did that was in Davis Cup against Andy Ram of Israel.

Hooray for Marat for hanging around -- 3 in a row! And how about veteran Rainer Schuettler -- who woulda guessed he could take down Tipsy? Congrats to Feli for winning against Baghdatis, and good to see Marcos back in the mix.

oddman said...

Vamossssssssss, Feli and Rafa! Two Spaniards into the quarters! Amazing - so sorry 'bout Baggy, but how cool is it that Feli The Pretty One is again a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon?

Haven't had time to watch the matches yet, am looking forward to that. BTW, I watched some of Serena and Venus this morning - they truly are both amazing athletes. Serena looked very speedy out there especially. And also like a 12 year old in her white dress, hee hee!

So glad Murray had a long dogfight with Gasquet - I hope he's worn right out for Wednesday - HAH!

Vamos, Rafa!

Beth said...

Yes, oddman, I too hope Murray burned all his matches out and has little flame left for Wednesday. I was so disappointed at his loss to Gasquet. I know Murray was favored but I feel that the way this match played out, it was Gasquet's to lose. The crowd was insane and Murray ate it up like buttered toast. By the way, helen w, your original post was fantastic. Just great!

Helen W said...

Thank you very much, beth!