Observations from the Manic Monday matches at Wimbledon
Wimbledon, ENGLAND -- "Stewards, open the gates," commanded Wimbledon's Great Gig in the Sky, the same deus ex machina who implores patrons not to run and warns them of "unhappy" weather forecasts. With that, the doors opened Monday morning and thousands of fans filed through to claim their seats, festival seating at a dignified half-speed.
The second Monday is, notionally anyway, the highlight of the tennis calendar, with all 32 remaining players in action during a single session. In the past, this day has been so suffused with stars that Serena Williams once played on a lesser court. But at an upset-addled Wimbledon 2013, with the draws ventilated with holes, it's often a Huh? Who? not Who's Who.
Nevertheless, when the gates opened, there were 16 high-stakes matches to be played on this so-called "Manic Monday" at Wimbledon. I watched at least a changeover from each of them -- or tried to, anyway. Herewith, a short dispatch from each:
Lukasz Kubot d. Adrian Mannarino, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4: Despite the indignity of playing on Court 14 alongside a junior match and despite pitting two guys ranked outside the top 100, Kubot and Mannarino started with some crisp tennis. Kubot serves and volleys. Mannarino looks like squash player, slashing at shots and working angles. When he serves, he looks like a club pro spinning in the ball, so a random member can work on his returns. These may be journeymen, but that makes it all the more compelling, as the stakes are huge: Apart from Final Eight Club membership, the difference between reaching the fourth round and the quarterfinals is more than $150,000. In the end, Kubot takes it in five sets.
Petra Kvitova  d. Carla Suarez Navarro , 7-6 (5), 6-3: It's easy to forget that Kvitova won this event only two years ago. But then one sees her play and immediately remembers why: She simply pummels the ball. Though her right leg is bandaged heavily and -- if we're being honest -- her fitness is suboptimal, she moves around the court just fine. At one point, Kvitova pinned Suarez Navarro so far back behind the baseline that the Spaniard clipped the screen with her backswing. A few minutes later, Kvitova won the match and triumphantly tapped the ball into the stands, marking her first non-power shot of the day.
David Ferrer  d. Ivan Dodig 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6), 6-1, 6-1: Dodig once beat Rafael Nadal, and he won the first set against another Spaniard on Monday. But by the time I poked my head out to No. 2 Court, Ferrer was in beast mode. An observation: Ferrer hit a ball into the stands, and the fan threw it back as soon as Ferrer prepared to serve. It was funny. Ferrer is into his seventh consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Jerzy Janowicz  d. Jurgen Melzer, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4: One of the verboten items on the security guards' list, along with guns and knives, is large national flags. But someone managed to sneak a fair-sized Polish banner into the match and waved it every time Janowicz served an ace, which was often (16 times, to be exact). This match featured a nice contrast in styles: a lefty veteran against a hard-serving Pole, so predictably it went to five sets. When Janowicz closed out the match, he fell to knees and then approached the net, shaking. There, he fell to his knees again, cried, kissed fans and hugged a not insignificant portion of the crowd. He kept himself in check for five sets, so once the match was over, his emotions were in a jailbreak situation.
Kaia Kanepi d. Laura Robson, 7-6 (6), 7-5: The grounds opened at 10:30 a.m., but the two show courts didn't feature matches until 1 p.m. By the time Robson, the British No. 1, walked out onto No. 2 Court, The Hill was packed, and it had the feel of a featured act taking the stage after 90 minutes of warm-up. At 1:45 p.m. or so, a roar went out out that can heard all the way in downtown London. Robson had broken to take the lead at 5-4. Then, Robson got broken back and played a terrible tiebreaker, bouncing a ball into the net on a serve. In the second set, she squandered a 5-2 lead, never recovered and lost a match she probably should have won.
Sabine Lisicki  d. Serena Williams , 6-2, 1-6, 6-4: After Robson's match ended, the roar switched to Centre Court, where Lisicki had taken the first set from Williams. Really, it looked like a typo on the scoreboard. Then again, Lisicki has made her bones beating the French Open champion at Wimbledon. Could this be another? No. Serena finds her range and, issuing "Come ons!" with each point, rolls off nine straight games. I leave to watch Sloane Stephens. That proved to be a mistake.
Agnieszka Radwanska  d. Tsvetana Pironkova, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3: For a "defending finalist," A-Rad hasn't gotten much respect. She started slowly, but looked like the better player when I ducked in. Perhaps spurred by peer (or pierogi?) pressure, she won and became the third Pole to reach the quarterfinals.
Kirsten Flipkens  d. Flavia Pennetta, 7-6 (2), 6-3: In her last match, Flipkens wore sunglasses despite the fact that the sky was the color of a bruise. On Monday, she needed them. At 5-6, Pennetta, ranked outside the top 150, served for the set. Flipkens sliced and diced, chipped and charged, didn't hit through a single backhand and generally looked comfortable on grass. After breaking the serve -- and after Pennetta slugged her bag with her racket in frustration, a "tell" if ever there were one -- the tiebreaker was fait accompli, and then the match was as well. Flipkens won in straight sets, despite only slicing her backhand.
Marion Bartoli  d. Karin Knapp, 6-2, 6-3: OK, confession: With Serena losing, I didn't see a minute of this match. Mission failed. I attribute it to extenuating circumstances.
Li Na  d. Roberta Vinci  6-2, 6-0: We heard the court call "Vince-Li" and it made me wonder if Motley Crue was in the house. In front of a half-full stadium -- many ticket holders likely hanging out on Robson Ridge during this match -- Li won in roughly the time it takes to say her name.
Sloane Stephens  d. Monica Puig, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1: Evonne Goolagong Cawley was here, and while she was in the Royal Box, not at Court 18, her spirit of "Walkabout" lives. In her last match, Stephens lost a set 6-0 before recovering. On Monday, she was down a set when I arrived, and her mom looked like she had been chewing on barbed wire. A few points from defeat, she won the second set 6-4. Then Puig began leaking oil and Stephens prevailed. Looking at the glass half empty, Stephens is prone to letdowns. But looking at the glass half full, she has yet to play her best and is in the Wimbledon quarters for the first time.
Juan Martin Del Potro  d. Andreas Seppi , 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-3: There was a rumor Monday morning that Del Potro would pull out of this match on account of the knee contortion from Round 1. He posted, though, and, in an atmosphere deprived of energy after the Robson defeat, he simply played at a higher level than his opponent. "This jug-AH-naut from Argentina," as the BBC put it, sounding not a little like Howard Cosell, advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time.
Andy Murray  d. Mikhail Youzhny , 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1: After Robson's defeat, Murray simply couldn't lose this match on Centre Court. When I entered, he was up two sets with Youzhny taking an injury timeout. Enough said. Murray won in straight sets.
Fernando Verdasco d. Kenny De Schepper, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4: Kenny DeSchepper looks like a really nice guy. I would buy insurance from Kenny. I would like to lend Kenny my leaf-blower. I would happily sit next to Kenny at the kids' dance recital. Fernando Verdasco looks like a model. And seems to know it. The model wins. Someone killed Kenny.
Tomas Berdych  d. Bernard Tomic, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4: I was 10 or so rows behind the court, yet I was eye level with Berdych's incredibly high ball toss. He was up a set and 6-5 in the second when I entered. Then Tomic played a sound service game and an even sounder tiebreaker. Someone in his box was wearing a Rasta hat and pounding his heart whenever Tomic won a point. Either this motivated Tomic or it made him miss his dad all the more.
Novak Djokovic  d. Tommy Haas , 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4): Sometimes players give a break away. Other times it's wrestled from them. Haas served at 4-3 in the second set, after losing the first. That doesn't go over well with Djokovic, who took him to deuce, gave no quarter, looked stoically as Haas scowled at himself and earned the break back. Both of the last two matches (Berdych v. Tomic and Djokovic v. Haas) literally ended at the same second, a final bit of synchronicity to the day.