Five thoughts from Day 7 at Wimbledon, from Andy Murray, to wardrobe malfunctions, to the Querrey-Cilic marathon, to Lukas Rosol, to Serena Williams.
1. Andy Murray beats the clock.
And before Murray gets to [the fourth round], he must first shake the ultimate ankle-biter, 27-year-old former Wimbledon semifinalist Marcos Baghdatis … who will fight, scratch, claw, break racquets, dive into the stands and do whatever it takes to stay in the match before most likely falling.
Marcos Baghdatis is basically David Ferrer with a paunch and no conscience. He's the crazy guy in the fight. You have to hate playing him because there's going to be no rhyme or reason to the shots he attempts at times. Although he will probably damage himself as much as you in the process, he's going to make sure you don't have as much control over the match as you would like. In 2006, he made the Australian Open finals and the Wimbledon semis, and he has spent most of the last six years fulfilling the role of flawed-but-dangerous underdog. Considering the wild fans who follow him to slams, let's just say that he probably felt right at home with a crowd of painted chests and inebriated Scots.
Against Murray, Baghdatis charged the net like he was playing Wimbledon in 1977. He flustered Murray, almost took the first set, did take the second set, and broke Murray's serve early in the third set. Murray struggled with his footing and a couple of wardrobe malfunctions -- the spare tennis ball in his pocket fell out a couple of times, prompting thousands on Twitter to make variations of the same "Keep your balls in your shorts, Andy!" references and causing me to wonder why anybody keeps a ball in their pocket when they have ball boys (and girls) at their disposal. But with the roof closed and the crowd tense, Murray took over. He punished weak Baghdatis approach shots, chased down ball after ball, and painted the corners with winners. And with a "No tennis after 11:00 p.m." ordinance looming, he won the final three games of the match in nine minutes and finished things up at a tidy 11:01 p.m. It goes down as a 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory but, for a while there, it was a lot more tense, and crazy, than the score would indicate.
Against Baghdatis, though, you just survive and advance. No need to worry about style points. Somehow facing more pressure to win in his home country with Rafael Nadal eliminated from his side of the bracket, Murray encountered all sorts of adversity, from his shorts to his shoes to his oft-crazy opponent, and advanced.
2. The All-England Club agrees with Petra Kvitova.
For much of 2012, Petra Kvitova's body language has been hit-or-miss. The Wimbledon champion, the woman who blew Maria Sharapova off of the court in last year's finals, just hasn't been able to sustain a mental edge, and she is only the No. 4 player in the world because of it. You can tame her a bit if you can hang with her from the baseline, and eventually she will begin to make mistakes.
At least, that's the story away from the All-England Club. Because since Wimbledon began, she has once again begun to look like the best player in the world. On Saturday, Kvitova faced an opponent she has always dominated (game score of her only two matches versus America's Varvara Lepchenko: Kvitova 24, Lepchenko 6) and dominated at an even higher level. She destroyed Lepchenko, 6-1, 6-0, winning 65 percent of the points (67 percent on her serve, 63 percent on Lepchenko's) and looking very much like the woman who plowed her way through the fortnight in London last year. Next up: 32-year-old former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, a classic scrapper who has looked better as the tournament has progressed but who probably doesn't have the offense to keep up. Schiavone hit just eight winners in her 6-0, 6-4 win over Klara Zakopalova on Saturday; she will either need to double that against Kvitova or play the best defensive match of her life.
3. It was, indeed, Douglas-Holyfield II.
This one's simple: What does [Lukas] Rosol have left in the tank? Not only did he take out Rafael Nadal in five sets on Thursday, but he has also played two five-set doubles matches and a four-set singles match this week. That's 19 sets in five days. Now he takes on big-hitting, 27th-seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber. The two have never met, but through two matches, Kohlschreiber has proven to be just about as big a hitter as Rosol was against Nadal; in eight sets, Kohlschreiber has nailed 111 winners and 53 aces. His first serve has been untouchable, and after needing five sets to take out countryman Tommy Haas in the first round, he cruised to a 6-1, 7-6, 6-1 victory over Malek Jaziri in the second round. Rosol will need to avoid any sort of letdown whatsoever after Thursday's incredible show; otherwise, if Rosol-Nadal was Douglas-Tyson, Rosol-Kohlschreiber will become Douglas-Holyfield.
Just like Buster Douglas wasn't, on average, anywhere near as good as the Douglas who took out Mike Tyson, Lukas Rosol isn't, on average, as good as the player who beat Rafael Nadal in the second round on Thursday. If he were truly that good, he would be a Top Five player right now, not No. 100. Sure enough, against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round, Rosol's serve was only good, not spectacular (he won 61 percent of his service points on Saturday, as compared with 74 percent against Nadal), and his service return was horrid instead of just hit-or-miss (he won 19 percent of his return points as compared to 27 percent against Nadal). The result: a straight-set win by Kohlschreiber.
4. Serena Williams isn't quite Serena Williams.
As I have mentioned before, this job has afforded me the opportunity to catch up with the game of tennis again. Whereas I used to only get the chance to watch score tickers and catch the men's and women's finals, I now have the chance to watch every round, and I am incredibly grateful.
One of the more fascinating aspects of getting to watch more matches is getting to figure out just how certain players are aging. As I mentioned on Friday, Roger Federer's slice backhand has become less effective. Andy Roddick's ability to craft winners from long rallies has limited him, especially against a defensive ace like David Ferrer, who took Roddick out in four sets on Saturday. And for Serena Williams, it all comes down to feet. Her serve is still better than anybody's in the women's game, and her power is still obvious. But she now seems to move like she is wearing shoes two sizes too big. She can't change direction as well as she used to, and she gets wrong-footed quite a bit. Her Saturday opponent, China's Jie Zheng, almost made her pay dearly. Williams served up 23 aces and 54 winners (Zheng had only 21 winners of her own), any time Zheng sucked Williams into long rallies, she was typically able to eventually get Williams' feet mixed up and win the point. Williams DID survive, 9-7 in the third set, but it is hard to favor her for a semifinal appearance considering she might have to take out Kvitova in the quarterfinals.
5. Marin Cilic and Sam Querrey played a really, really long time.
Thirty-one and a half games into the fifth set of the second-longest Wimbledon match ever played, tied at 30-30, after well over five hours of action, Marin Cilic and Sam Querrey played what was, considering the circumstances, probably the most incredible point I have ever seen. They combined for a 30-shot rally that, in the end, encapsulated the match as a whole.
Shot No. 12: A Querrey backhand floats a bit and just nicks the baseline.
Shot No. 13: Cilic takes Querrey off the court to Querrey's left with a nicely angled forehand. It isn't meant to be a winner, but it opens the court up to a possible winner on his next shot.
Shot No. 14: Querrey responds with a nice backhand to Cilic's backhand, staving off death for a little while.
Shot No. 16: Querrey floats another backhand right into Cilic's wheelhouse…
Shot No. 17: …and Cilic plasters a forehand on the run, crosscourt.
Shot No. 18: Querrey just barely tracks the ball down and floats a nice, defensive slice back to the baseline.
Shot No. 19: Cilic runs Querrey ragged, opening up a forehand to the opposite court.
Shot No. 20: Querrey just barely tracks the ball down again. Only, this time his slice return is shorter, and he is still trying to change direction. Cilic is in complete control now, just like he was when he won the first two sets, 7-6, 6-4. He has the winner on his racquet.
Shot No. 21: As expected, Cilic plasters a forehand back into the deuce court, and those Querrey is already racing to track it down, it doesn't look like he will get there.
Shot No. 22: Querrey gets there and pokes a lob high into the air. It looks like it will result in an easy Cilic smash, only it keeps floating, and Cilic (who may have lost it in the darkening night a bit), is forced to let it bounce.
Shot No. 23: Cilic has to back out of his aggressive stance and hits a soft forehand back into the ad court. And basically, the point starts again. Querrey has found the reset button, just like he did by winning the third and fourth sets via tiebreaker.
Shot No. 28: The players have traded backhands, seeming to almost catch their breath. Querrey slices a backhand deep and seems to be in decent position…
Shot No. 29: …but Cilic finds the legs to turn on a devastating forehand, forcing a flat-footed Querrey to race back to the deuce court.
Shot No. 30: Querrey reaches the ball just enough to slice it back, but goes long. Cilic serves out the match with a service winner on match point.
This match was Cilic's to win up two sets, and it was Cilic's to win again when he broke Querrey and served, up 6-5 in the fifth. But Querrey always found a way to battle back until that incredible point.
This match was not nearly as long as the classic Isner-Mahut match of 2010, but the quality was infinitely higher. In the fifth set, both players fell into 0-15 or 15-30 holes on their serves and had to pull countless rabbits out of hats to keep the match moving forward … but it just kept moving forward. In the end, Cilic just had a little more offense.