Wimbledon 2013: Serena aside, favorites survive Manic Monday

Dennis Grombkowski

Tennis' craziest, silliest (by design) day mostly followed form. But when it didn't, it really didn't.

A mostly predictable day

Believe it or not, using the Advanced Baseline grass rankings (men, women), you'd have predicted 15 of 16 matches correctly today. But the one you would have missed was a doozie.

Lisicki was shaky and in tears in her post-match interview, but really, creating chaos at Wimbledon is her modus operandi. Still just 23, she has now defeated the reigning French Open champion four times at the All-England Club -- she knocked off Kuznetsova (6-2, 7-5) in the third round in 2009, she survived match points and took out Na Li (8-6 in the third) in 2011, she whipped Maria Sharapova (6-4, 6-3) in 2012, and she survived Serena Williams on Manic Monday 2013. She has made four slam quarterfinals in her career, and they have all been at Wimbledon. She consistently wrong-footed Williams in a way that nobody had been able to do in over a year, really, and when she found a way to extend the match late, she grew tough while Williams grew tight.

Williams, meanwhile, was left to rue missed opportunities. She indeed survived an early rough patch and was three games from the quarterfinals, but she played conservative tennis late, hitting down the middle of the court, losing her depth, and slipping repeatedly, a sign that she was potentially more flat-footed than she should have been. She has lost only three times in 2013, but two of the three losses were at slams; hobbled, she fell to Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open quarterfinals, as well.

Serena Williams' loss means that only three top-14 seeds reached the quarterfinals in the women's draw (and two of them, Aga Radwanska and Na Li, play each other in the quarters). It also means that both defending singles champions -- Williams and Federer, who have combined to win this tournament 12 times -- failed to reach even the quarters.

But yeah, other than that, a totally predictable, ho-hum day.

How's that [random ailing body part]?

Men's No. 4 seed David Ferrer has been struggling with an ankle issue and appears contractually obligated to drop at least one set per match (he lost the first set to Ivan Dodig, took the second in a tiebreaker, then cruised). No. 8 seed Juan Martin del Potro took a nasty fall late in his third-round win and was moving even more Frankensteiny than normal against Andreas Seppi on Monday. No. 2 seed Andy Murray seemed to struggle with his previously ailing back in the middle of his Monday match with Mikhail Youzhny. They combined to drop just one set on Monday, yes, but lingering health questions will follow them into the quarterfinals.

Ferrer and del Potro will face off against each other in the ultimate contrast-of-styles battle -- del Potro has just about the biggest forehand in tennis, and Ferrer, who comes up to del Potro's midsection, basically, is the game's best scrapper; Murray, meanwhile, faces Fernando Verdasco, the second lowest-ranked grass-courter left in the draw. Two of the three should reach the semifinals, but either will probably have to get past Djokovic, the most fit player in tennis, to take the crown.

Poor Tommy Haas

Ferrer got Ivan Dodig, del Potro got Andreas Seppi, Lukasz Kubot got Adrian Mannarino, and Fernando Verdasco got Kenny De Schepper. Haas, meanwhile, got Djokovic. After a sketchy first set, the 35-year-old German played well enough to beat just about anybody in the world. But it wasn't good enough to beat Djokovic.

(And if he'd won, he'd still have had to go through 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych in the next round. He landed in the wrong half of the draw.)

Routine is good

There was plenty of drama at the All-England Club on Monday, but five players -- Petra Kvitova, Kirsten Flipkens, Li Na, and Marion Bartoli on the women's side; Verdasco on the men's -- managed to handle their business with relative ease. There was nothing easy about Kvitova's first-set win over Carla Suarez Navarro, but she handled the second set without drama. But she's not the only former Wimbledon finalist still in the bottom half of the draw; with so much chaos around her, 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli has continued to hammer out pretty easy results. She never gave Karin Knapp a chance, winning 6-2, 6-3. And with her unorthodox, two-handed style, she won her only matchup with Sloane Stephens, her quarterfinal opponent.

Looked routine, wasn't

Kaia Kanepi is now a five-time slam quarterfinalist -- she reached that stage at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2010, at the French Open in 2008 and 2012, and now at Wimbledon 2013 -- but her most famous moment (as mentioned repeatedly in her 7-6, 7-5 win over Britain's newest pop star, Laura Robson) came in the 2010 Wimbledon quarters, when she blew five match points and a double-break, third-set lead over Petra Kvitova, eventually falling 8-6 in the final stanza.

Needless to say, that match was in the forefront of most observers' minds when, serving up 6-5 in the second set, she blew four match points. She was the steady force for most of the match, making Robson pay for a terribly shaky double-fault at 5-5 in the first-set tiebreaker and closing out the set with steady, steely play. And when Robson blinked at 5-5 in the second set, Kanepi pounced again. But she tightened up and blew a 40-0 lead at 6-5 (her first-serve toss on Match Point #3 was as bad as you'll ever see); but on her fifth match point, she closed out the match like clutch play was what she was born to deliver. She draws everybody's new favorite, Sabine Lisicki, in the next round. If Lisicki suffers any sort of letdown after Monday's big win over Williams, Kanepi is more than good enough to take advantage. (Their Advanced Baseline grass rankings: Kanepi No. 17, Lisicki No. 18.)

Youth served notice, then exited stage right

Nineteen-year-old Laura Robson reached the fourth round, as did 19-year-old Monica Puig and 20-year-old Sloane Stephens. Eighteen-year-old Madison Keys played well enough in her third-round loss to Aga Radwanska that she was almost universally proclaimed a future top-five player. Nineteen-year-old Eugenie Bouchard smoked Ana Ivanovic in the second round. Nineteen-year-old Annika Beck made the second round. Nineteen-year-old Caroline Garcia handled veteran Jie Zheng with ease and held her own a bit with Serena Williams in the second round. Twenty-year-old Jana Cepelova took No. 11 seed Roberta Vinci to 9-7 in the third set.

The younger members of the WTA Top 100 very much held their own at Wimbledon, giving hope for a deep, elite women's game for years to come. But all but one of the youngsters in the preceding paragraph are now done. Stephens beat Puig to advance to the quarters, but the other seven quarterfinalists are 23, 23, 24, 27, 28, 28, and 31. Kvitova and Lisicki are still only 23, and Radwanska is just 24; the teenagers are exciting, but they've still got some work to do.

Last American standing

It's probably a good thing that Sloane Stephens is 0-1 lifetime versus her quarterfinal opponent, Bartoli. She doesn't need much of a one-match-at-a-time reminder beyond that; but it's easy for us to look ahead for her, it seems. For the second time in three slams this year, Stephens is the last American standing with Williams' defeat. And unlike the Australian Open, where she had to meet defending champion Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals, her path to the finals is infinitely more navigable: Bartoli, then the Kvitova-Flipkens winner.

It is both good and bad news that Stephens hasn't really played her best this fortnight. It is further proof that the mental side of Stephens' game belies her age; her most advanced skills right now are her movement and her ability to grind out solid results. But Bartoli has looked mostly great, and Kvitova is still the 2011 Wimbledon champion. At some point, she will have to play her best, even against an easier-than-expected draw. Perhaps it is encouraging, then, that her best set of the tournament (6-1 in the third versus Puig) was also her most recent.

Go Poles

This has been the strangest, most random slam since the 2005 U.S. Open (your reminder that Robby Ginepri was once a slam semifinalist). But one of the cooler developments of the fortnight is this: Poland has as many quarterfinalists (men and women) as Spain and the United States combined. When Lukasz Kubot and Jerzy Janowicz play on Wednesday, it will not only be the first time two Polish men have ever played each other in a slam, but it will guarantee that the country has at least one semifinalist. Wojciech Fibak reached three slam quarters in 1980, but otherwise Poland hasn't exactly had a lot of success in the Open era. The United States may be all but gone from this tournament (at least, on the singles side), but Americans can still enjoy rooting for the underdog nation, right?

A country is about the only thing that Janowicz and Kubot share, however. Janowicz, a 22-year-old up-and-comer, is 6'8 but moves like he's about 6'2 (seriously, watch Janowicz and the 6'6 del Potro run around without any hints to their size, and you'd guess that del Potro was at least three or four inches bigger -- del Potro is an old-school center, and Janowicz is Kevin Garnett; del Potro is also still a better player, by the way). He's got a fun game and a temper that rivals Jimmy Connors'. For those bored with the platitudes and PR-happy attitudes of the top players in the men's game, Janowicz is a breath of fresh air. The 31-year-old Kubot, meanwhile, has spent much of his career on tennis' lower levels; before Wimbledon, his best slam finish was a fourth-round appearance at the 2010 Australian Open. He has only briefly been in the ATP top 50. This is kind of a coming-versus-going matchup, but it is also a hell of a moment for Poland.

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