Here are five conclusions from Tuesday's rain-shortened action at Wimbledon 2012.
1. Having a big serve simply isn't enough anymore.
Towering American John Isner and his powerful serve were eliminated in the first round. So were quirky young Australian Bernard Tomic and 6-foot-8 South African (and No. 32 seed) Kevin Anderson. Andy Roddick, who was still about to go up two sets on Britain's Jamie Baker as play ended for the day, found himself at deuce in almost every service game. On the women's side, big server Coco Vandeweghe was getting pasted by clay-court and doubles specialist (and French Open finalist) Sara Errani. The old grasscourt stereotype, which suggests that you can get pretty far with nothing but a big serve and decent groundstrokes, simply no longer applies. Part of this could be the surface itself -- for a while now, we've been hearing how the grass at the All-England Club is playing more and more like hard courts -- but part of it is also the way these big players actually play the game.
In four sets, Tomic went to the net just 16 times. Isner went to the net just 30 times in five sets. Part of having a huge frame and a big serve is being able to serve-and-volley and easily pick off a lot of weak returns. But that doesn't happen nearly as much today, because of some combination of training (they aren't taught to do it) and technology (better racquets mean everybody has a pretty good return).
(To his credit, Anderson did approach the net 69 times in four sets, and he faced only seven break points all match. His main problem: he converted exactly zero of his 11 break point opportunities on opponent Grigor Dimitrov's serve. Hard to win if you never break.)
2. Tennis is so very, very mental.
Example No. MMCXLVI: Serena Williams. Fresh off of her first round loss at the French Open (a match in which she held a commanding second-set lead, then crumbled), Williams found herself up 6-2, 5-4, serving for the match, and made three consecutive errors. Tennis -- singles tennis, that is -- very well might be the most mentally challenging sport in the world. You don't talk to teammates, you can't call timeout (unless you want to fake an injury), and you can't talk to coaches (though you can nonverbally communicate with them in the stands). When something goes wrong, only you or your opponent can stem bad momentum. And in a sport where winning 60 percent of your points (which boils down to just three of every five) is dominating, spells of bad momentum can ruin you. Unless you're Rafael Nadal, that is; in which case you can spot your opponent, Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci, the first four games of the match, then win 19 of the next 26.
(And yes, after her opponent, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, blew a decent chance at a winner, Williams stormed back to win the game, and the match, 6-2, 6-4.)
3. Andy Murray looks really, really good.
Like I said, if you win 60 percent of your points in a match, you are probably dominating. Well, Andy Murray won 63 percent of his points in a 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 plastering of veteran Russian Nikolay Davydenko. At the Australian Open, it really felt like tennis' Big Three (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer) was close to becoming a Big Four thanks to Murray's strong showing. Well, if this is the Murray we can expect for the rest of the fortnight, look out. Murray won 83 percent of his first-serve points, 75 percent of his second-serve points and 62 percent of Davydenko's second-serve points. In 139 points, he committed six unforced errors. He was unstoppable. Things can turn 180 degrees from match to match, but so far, so good for the United Kingdom's latest Great Hope™.
4. "Not bad for a has-been and a couple of never-will-be's."
Quoting Major League isn't necessarily sensible when discussing Wimbledon, but the quote was too perfect for the day American men had (when the rain wasn't getting in the way). Sam Querrey, a one-time "Next Great American" who has battled all sorts of injuries, took out Vasek Pospisil in four sets. Jesse Levine, a 24-year old whose career has stalled in the last couple of years, beat Karol Beck in four sets. Brian Baker, the 27-year old Tennessean who, as ESPN's Chris Fowler put it, was more well-known by surgeons than fans because of all the injury issues he has suffered through, swept Rui Machado, 7-6, 6-4, 6-0. Mardy Fish, who reached the ATP Top 10 then suffered through a heart scare in April, took out Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo in three tight sets to win his first match post-return. And of course, Andy Roddick found fifth gear in the first-set tie-breaker against Jamie Baker and was closing in on the second set when rain struck. And for that matter, Varvara Lepchenko swept through the first round on the women's side. After a hit-or-miss Monday, Tuesday was pretty good to the Americans.
5. What took you so long, Mother Nature?
I mean, we got through an entire day of the fortnight without you meddling. Your timing was impeccable, though. Tomorrow, assuming the rain goes away at some point, Jurgen Melzer and No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka could walk onto the court and warm up just to play two points (Melzer is serving at deuce, up 5-4 in the fifth set), while No. 21 Milos Raonic and Santiago Giraldo could play just four points (Raonic is serving, up 5-4 and up two sets in the third). What was supposed to be a spot shower turned into something more, and play was called with an hour or so of daylight remaining. Such is life at the All-England Club.