Thoughts on Monday's Wimbledon action and a preview of Tuesday's matches to watch.
Here are five thoughts from Monday's Wimbledon action:
1. Getting old sucks.
Technically, we don't know how much of Venus Williams' tired performance was due to age and how much was due to simply being out of game shape after missing a relatively significant amount of time to her diagnosis of Sjögren's syndrome. She has raised her ranking from 135th in January to 58th now, and she could still rise higher through the rest of the year. But it was certainly dismaying watching Elena Vesnina more-or-less blow her off the court in a 6-1, 6-3 defeat. Vesnina won 61 of 105 points and matched Williams in the winners category that the Williams sisters usually dominate, and she took advantage of the fact that Williams couldn't land a first serve. Only 38 percent of Williams' first serves found their mark, and that's not good when you are only winning 45 percent of your second-serve points. We'll find out how much Williams has left in the tank, but while we cannot completely blame age for Monday's performance, let's just say that Williams looked old.
Also old: James Blake (32) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (32). Both played well to start their first-round matches -- Blake won a first-set over Benjamin Becker, and Ferrero broke No. 1 Novak Djokovic early in the first set -- but it didn't last long. Becker closed Blake out, 7-5, 6-0, 6-4, while Djokovic dropped just seven games (6-3, 6-3, 6-1). Players are staying in better shape and lasting longer in tennis these days (it is not the teenager's game it used to be), but at some point, age still wins.
2. Roger Federer is not old just yet.
The 30-year old, 16-time major champion absolutely cruised in his first-round match versus Albert Ramos. He won 73 percent of his first-serve points, 72 percent of his second-serve points and 71 percent of Ramos' second-serve points. He cranked 33 winners to just 10 errors, and he won 91 of 138 points (66 percent), which is rather absurd. Federer is certainly on the downside of his career, and with the emergence of Djokovic and the transformation of tennis' Big Two (Federer and Rafael Nadal) into a Big Three, he has made just one slam final in his last nine attempts. But the six-time Wimbledon champion has never had an easier first-round match, and he is still playing well enough that he could assume the No. 1 ranking in the world with a good couple of months.
3. Monday was a mixed bag for Americans.
Midway through Monday, it looked as if Wimbledon was simply going to be disastrous for the Americans. Williams quickly bowed out, Blake lost, Vania King lost, Melanie Oudin (winner of a grass court tournament earlier in June) lost, and after a promising start, Donald Young continued an awful season and lost in four sets to No. 26 Mikhail Youzhny. Plus, later in the day, No. 11 John Isner fell in five sets (he seemed to check out mentally in the fifth set and couldn't get back into the match) and Christina McHale, seeded at a slam for the first time, lost a first-set tie-breaker to British wildcard Johanna Konta. But a McHale rally and an upset win by Jamie Lee Hampton over No. 27 Daniela Hantuchova saved the day to some degree. In the end, Americans won five and lost six, and McHale's match was suspended at 7-7 in the third set. Another 11 Americans are set to play on Tuesday. There is a strong red, white and blue influence in both the men's (gentlemen's) and women's (ladies') draws, but aside from perhaps Serena Williams, no American is really expected to last too long.
4. Ryan Harrison is fiery.
The 20-year old from Shreveport dropped the first set to Yen-Hsun Lu, then rallied to win the match in four. He got a little riled up at the end of the first set, however, as has been his custom in the past.
Harrison tosses the racquet. Brakes himself. Shows the ump that there's chalk on it (it was well out).— Brodie (@MindTheRacket) June 25, 2012
"That's ridiculous. You guys are a joke." Yes, Ryan Harrison. Wimbledon, the biggest tennis tournament in the universe, is a joke.— Brodie (@MindTheRacket) June 25, 2012
F bomb. This is ridiculous.— Brodie (@MindTheRacket) June 25, 2012
5. Ernests Gulbis is really fun to watch.
In February 2011, Ernests Gulbis was the No. 21 player in the world. But since winning the ATP Farmers Classic in Los Angeles last July, he has failed to reach even a tournament quarterfinal and has lost 17 of his last 22 matches at the tour level. The 23-year old has a fun, aggressive game (and the personality to match) when he is on, and Good Gulbis could be a ferocious matchup for former Wimbledon finalist Berdych on Centre Court. Odds certainly favor an easy Berdych win, but pay attention to this one just in case.
"Just in case." Yeah, Gulbis won three tie-breakers and took the match in straight sets. He displayed a full arsenal of aggressive, powerful shots and an absolutely deadly forehand … and he made you very much wonder how the hell he ever fell from the Top 25 in the first place. When he falls out of rhythm, he falls WAY out of rhythm (he had lost in the first round of nine of his last 10 slams), but he didn't show it yesterday. And if he continues this level of play, he could last a while. But he should be receiving a Thank You note from Novak Djokovic any moment now. Djokovic was tasked with potentially having to face Berdych (a former Wimbledon finalist) in the quarterfinals and Federer in the semis. No longer.
Now here are five matches to watch during ESPN's wall-to-wall coverage on Tuesday:
1. No. 5 Jo-Wilifried Tsonga vs. Lleyton Hewitt (Court No. 1)
Speaking of getting old … it is hard think that Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion, has too many miles left in him, but while he probably isn't a threat to make it too far into the fortnight, he could certainly wake up the echoes and confound Tsonga for a little while. Tsonga has won all four sets the two have played, including a 7-6, 7-6 win on grass at Queen's Club back in 2007, and if his mind is right (and a finger he tweaked a couple of weeks ago is healed), he should cruise. But Hewitt has made a career out of counter-punching against power hitters, and he could always have another surprise left in him.
2. No. 30 Andy Roddick vs. Jamie Baker (Court No. 1)
As I mentioned on Friday, if Andy Roddick has a slam run left in him, now would be a good time for it. The three-time Wimbledon runner-up, Roddick could have ended up potentially paired with a Top Three seed by the third round; instead, he got No. 7 David Ferrer, who has never advanced past the fourth round at the All-England Club. Roddick won the Aegon International tournament on grass earlier in June and might be finally rounding into shape after a tough year. But he has to prove it.
3. No. 6 Serena Williams vs. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (Court No. 2)
Serena Williams is 60-8 all-time at Wimbledon and has won 23 of her last 25 matches there (22 of her last 23 against players not named Venus Williams). But she's just 3-2 in slams in 2012 and is coming off of her first ever first-round loss at a slam (she lost to Virginie Razzano at the French Open). If she is full-strength and full-Serena, she has to be considered the tournament favorite. But if nothing else, at 30 she is showing a little more glitch potential. She could be headed for an absolutely dynamite quarterfinal matchup with defending champion Petra Kvitova, but she has to take care of the small details first. She whipped Zahlavova Strycova, 6-4, 6-0, at the Australian Open in January.
4. No. 10 Sara Errani vs. Coco Vandeweghe (Court No. 18)
Far from the show courts we find an interesting matchup between the surprise 2012 French Open finalist (Errani) and Kiki Vandeweghe's 20-year old niece. Vandeweghe is a big server and a major work in progress, but the serve could get her pretty far against a clay-court specialist like Errani. As with Tsonga-Hewitt, consider this a "just in case" match. Errani will probably win handily, but Vandeweghe's game could translate well on grass.
5. No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Tommy Haas (Court No. 19)
If getting old sucks, nobody has told Tommy Haas, the 34-year old from Hamburg who is back up to 50th in the world after taking out Bernard Tomic and four seeded players (including Tomas Berdych and some guy named Federer) to win the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, in June. To reach the finals against Federer, he had to first beat Philipp Kohlschreiber in the semifinals. Kohlschreiber couldn't land his first serve, Haas teed off on his second serve, and the old man won, 7-6, 7-5. Lifetime, Haas has taken five of eight sets from Kohlschreiber, who had to be cursing his draw when it was revealed on Friday. The 28-year old Kohlscreiber has rebounded rather well after falling to 54th in the ATP rankings late in 2011.