Five thoughts from Tuesday's Wimbledon action, which included all four ladies' quarterfinal matches and wins by Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka.
1. Serena Williams can still find fifth gear.
Serena Williams' performance against defending Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Tuesday is exactly why I hate making predictions. Based on the evidence at hand -- Serena struggling with her footwork for four straight matches (and going three long sets in two straight), combined with Kvitova only looking like Tight, Nervy Kvitova for about a set so far -- I thought that we might be severely overstating Serena's chance of getting past Kvitova, much less winning the whole tournament, and accordingly, I picked Kvitova to win.
And then Serena played like vintage Serena again, winning 6-3, 7-5, and facing just one break point against one of the game's best returners. She moved around wonderfully, and though Kvitova played perfectly well herself (commentators repeatedly said Williams and Kvitova might be the best grass-court players in the ladies' game, and they might be right), it just didn't matter. These days, Williams struggles a little more than normal to find her rhythm and approach her ceiling, but it does appear that said ceiling is still higher than anybody else's. That said ...
2. Victoria Azarenka's ceiling is pretty high, too.
Serena Williams faced by far the toughest quarterfinal opponent of any of the high remaining seeds, and now she must face the No. 2 seed, Victoria Azarenka, who had her hands full with Tamira Paszek in a 6-3, 7-6, win, but still cranked out 33 winners in two sets. When Azarenka's serve is landing, it's about as good as anybody's in the world not named Serena Williams. It faltered late in the second set, however.
Though Azarenka has spent a good portion of this year ranked No. 1 in the world, she has yet to solve the Serena puzzle. Williams has beaten her in seven of eight lifetime matchups and took her out, 6-1, 6-3, in Madrid earlier in 2012. In their only match on grass (Wimbledon 2009), Williams won, 6-2, 6-3. Of course, I should save this for the preview. Just know that if Williams has the highest ceiling in the game, Azarenka's might be No. 2.
3. It was a hell of a run for Brian Baker and Mardy Fish.
Mardy Fish was given the No. 10 seed at Wimbledon, as much out of courtesy as anything else. He hadn't played since April, when he came down with a heart condition that required surgery. It wasn't easy -- he was taken to five sets by British wildcard James Ward in the second round and needed two tie-breakers to get past young David Goffin in the third -- but he persevered and basically picked up where he left off earlier this year. At 30 years of age, Fish had gotten himself into the best shape of career and was enjoying a lovely 12 months before the health scare. He should be in good shape for a nice summer.
Meanwhile, a heart condition is about the only thing Brian Baker hasn't had to deal with in his injury-plagued career. Both players acquitted themselves nicely in London. Fish lived up to his seed, falling to No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets in the fourth round. Meanwhile, Baker dropped just one set in taking out three unseeded opponents before falling to No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber, also in the fourth. His run should get him into the world's top 100, which leads to many more automatic bids into tournaments (and less qualifying). At 27, Baker has already passed what we generally consider someone's tennis peak, but in going 4-2 in the French Open and Wimbledon, he sent a message that he probably has better benchmarks in mind than simply making the top 100.
4. Juan Martin del Potro is maddening.
David Ferrer played about as well as I've ever seen him in disposing of Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets on Tuesday, but it did feel like del Potro played a role in that as well. He blew some early break point opportunities, he let Ferrer run him around and he never asserted himself like the del Potro who won the 2009 U.S. Open. Del Potro is a powerful ball-striker, but questions about his assertiveness (fair) and motivation (less fair) have popped up since his comeback from injury. It would take too much credit away from Ferrer to say that del Potro laid an egg, but ... it was close.
5. It's Angelique Kerber's year.
Germany's Angelique Kerber was ranked 106th at the beginning of 2010 and 32nd at the beginning of 2012. Now, she is eighth with a bullet. She reached the semifinals of the 2011 U.S. Open and the quarterfinals of the 2012 French Open. She destroyed Kim Clijsters, 6-1, 6-1, in Wimbledon's fourth round. And though she struggled with some nerves (she blew three match points in the second set, and was negative enough that commentator Chris Evert said that she found it hard to root for Kerber), she got past fellow German Sabine Lisicki in three sets on Tuesday. It has been a remarkable rise for Kerber; last year's U.S. Open run seemed surprising at the time, but it really doesn't anymore.