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With Murray in the semis, Wimbledon has (almost) returned to normal

Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Andy Murray delighted the home crowd with his comeback victory against Fernando Verdasco.

WIMBLEDON, England -- It look less than a game Wednesday before Wimblegeddon 2013 -- this extended theater of the absurd masquerading as a tennis event -- delivered another spasm of wacky.

Running for a wide ball in his quarterfinal against David Ferrer, Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro slipped on the grass, toppled as if thrown from a moving vehicle and rolled until his body sprawled on the grass. In the process, he aggravated the left knee that was already mummified with tape.

The crowd groaned and commentators speculated that Del Potro might be risking his career by continuing -- especially against Ferrer, an industrious Spaniard who relishes wars of attrition. DelPo didn't just continue to play, but he also won in three sets. Of course he did. And he closed out the match, fittingly, with two drop-dead gorgeous running forehands that all but mocked the knee that was supposed to have jeopardized his career barely two hours earlier.

NGUYEN: Breaking down the four men's quarterfinals

Yet for all the upsets and bizarre twists and counterintuitive developments, this must be the strangest of them all. As the tournament has caused jaws to drop and hearts to break and eyes to roll all over the world, here in Great Britain -- the land of gloom, where irony is sport and a polite cynicism is a way of life -- you'd never know this event is, to quote Petra Kvitova, "very weird."

The Roger Federer fans and the Rafael Nadal fans, in a moment of rare agreement, want to hit reboot on the event (too bad for them). Nine of the top 10 women's seeds were eliminated before the semifinals. It happens. Read the papers (as one does here; they're fantastic), listen to the BBC, follow various British Twitter feeds and you'd never know this is the Unconventional Open. Attendance has been up sharply for the past few days. So, too, allegedly, have been terrestrial TV ratings.

There is, of course, a simple explanation for this: Andy Murray remains in the draw. If Murray becomes the first British male to win the Wimbledon singles title since before World War II, the upsets and injuries are barely footnotes to the Brits.

For two hours Wednesday, it looked like gloom would finally settle in here, too. Taking on Spain's Fernando Verdasco on Centre Court, Murray started slowly and then downshifted. He lost the first set with a sloppy service game. In the second set, he lost 75 percent of his second-serve points, missed scads of balls and had the body language of a boy whose mom had taken him shopping for formal wear. Meanwhile, Verdasco was as persistent as the mousse in his hair.

But whether it's the Lendl Effect, natural maturation or Fate, Murray turned it around. He scored an early break in the third set, then ground away to win the fourth. And at 5-5 in the fifth set, Murray simply fought better. By the time he served it out for the right to play Jerzy Janowicz in the semifinals, the crowd was standing.

When Verdasco finally overcooked one last shot beyond the baseline, the place erupted. Murray had won 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5. The tournament was back to normal -- at least in England. Keep Calm and Carry On.

Mailbag

I remember a few years back the names advertised as the generation next for women's tennis were headlined as Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki. However, if Radwanska wins Wimbledon, does she accomplish what Andy Murray did last year by winning a Grand Slam title and create a WTA Big Four (with Serena Williams, Azarenka and Maria Sharapova)?
-- Leslie H., Brooklyn, N.Y.

• That's not unreasonable. It will mean that -- apart from occupying the four highest spots in the rankings -- each of your Big Four will have both won a major and been to the final of at least another in the past 13 months. No one is saying that the WTA's Big Four have the combined record of the ATP's Big Four. But if we're talking about establishing some distance from the pack, then I think you're on to something.

Here's something to consider: If Radwanska wins this tournament, is she a Hall of Famer? You laugh, but consider that she'll have won a major and been the runner-up at another one. Put this in the Newport algorithm, and ...

What do you think about automatic challenges on set points? The NFL changed its system to review all turnovers and scoring plays. Why not do the same for the biggest points in a match? By rights, Li Na won the first set against Radwanska with an ace that was called wide. I know she had the option of challenging the call, but should the wrong result stand because she didn't use it?
-- Adam, Wisconsin

• Maybe it's a function of working with Mary Carillo this week, but I'm starting to come around on this. If you have the technology to get the calls right, why allow for errors to "survive"? Li got a bum call Tuesday. She deferred to the chair umpire, who suggested that she not squander a challenge on the serve in question. Li capitulated, and lost a set she should have won.

Stuff happens. Players get called for fouls they didn't commit. Strikes get called balls and balls get called strikes. But it seems silly that the onus is on the players. They have enough to think about besides whether they want to use their "dial-a-friend" options.

Where's the complaint to the AELTC about not allowing Roger Federer to wear shoes with orange soles, but allowing Serena Williams to wear bright orange shorts under her dress? It's both funny and pitiful to witness such blatant inconsistency. Someone should point it out in print.
-- Ash, Torrance, Calif.

• I agree. And I side with common sense. A splash of color on the underside of a shoe doesn't flout the all-whites rules. (A sole of a shoe isn't made to be seen.) And the undergarments of various female players aren't intended to be seen either.

For what it's worth, here's what a Wimbledon spokesman told Reuters about the discrepancy: "The rules state that players can wear any color underwear they like provided it is no longer than their shorts or skirt. Anything else must be white."

"She has no playing patterns," a former Grand Slam champ remarked [of Sloane Stephens]. "Zero." I've noticed that you use anonymous quotes from former players from time to time, and I wonder why. I realize that granting anonymity is sometimes necessary for journalists, but an evaluation -- blunt, in this case, but not especially harsh or unfair -- of Stephens' game hardly seems to demand it. Especially, the former Grand Slam champ is likely a commentator whose job is to offer such opinions about players. (I don't know that that's the case, but there are a lot of those people at Wimbledon.) Why can't you just say who it is? As readers, we automatically start wondering, anyway. And if the former champ really doesn't want to be identified as the source of the quote, why use it? It makes me wonder if the former champ has some sort of agenda, or beef with the player being discussed, that affects the credibility of the former champ's opinion.
-- Srikanth, Washington

• Fair question. It's basically a balance test between the "plus" of information and "minus" of anonymity. Let me give you the context, too. At these events, there's always a lot of casual chatter; whether it be in the TV compound, in the lunch line or simply in the stands, it's common to spark up conversation. A lot of times your conversation partners -- former and current players, agents, coaches, etc. -- have informed opinions that would enlighten and entertain readers.

However, they are uneasy about having a private conversation aired publicly, which is fair enough. (And sometimes it's just not socially appropriate to have a casual conversation and then reach for a tape recorder or say, "Mind if I quote you on that?") If you suspect it's because of a "personal agenda," that's one thing. But more often, the source is gun-shy for a more practical reason. He or she might want to coach the player one day. He or she works for a network that has a good relationship with the player and doesn't want to jeopardize that. He or she sees the player in the locker room and doesn't want any awkwardness.

On the other hand, if granted anonymity, these folks are fine sharing their views, so it's a compromise. If someone said something truly incendiary or offensive, you wouldn't want to quote the person blindly, because it fails the balance test. But if a former champion observes that, say, Stephens lacks playing patterns and doesn't want to attach a name, I think the reader is better served by the masked quote.

A common Yoda-like syntax pattern from the TV announcers is starting to rankle a bit. Cliff Drysdale took it to new depths with, "never shows signs of panic, does Ferrer." Is "Ferrer never shows signs of panic" just too straightforward?
-- Dennis Moran, Westminster, Colo.

• This is a guy who hit a two-handed forehand while wearing a glove. You think he is going to adhere to conventional patterns? But as we've always said, "Enjoyable commentator, that Cliff Drysdale."

Should Anderson Silva be worried about all the upsets at Wimbledon? They say Chris Weidman is ready to take the next step.
-- Brandon

• If they held UFC 162 at the All England Club, Silva would have no chance. He would join the line upset victims.

Wouldn't you want to read a book called My Game written by Radek Stepanek?
-- Russianista, Bloomington, Ind.

• In an word, yes.

Shots, Miscellany

• Jeff of Montpelier, Vt.: "I've been following live scores through the IBM SlamTracker on the Wimbledon website. I find it mildly amusing that Wimbledon apparently has no photo available for Martina Hingis. Just saying ..."

• Ruffin of Clevelan has long-lost siblings: French ATP pro Benoit Paire and Tony Reali of ESPN.

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