Middle Monday at Wimbledon doubles at Christmas Day for tennis, the most beautiful time of the year, the best ticket the sport has to offer. Owing to annoyingly persistent rain and scheduling snafus, not all 32 remaining players were in action, as initially planned. Still, there was a full buffet of matches and all manner of skill was on display. If you had a ticket today you saw the ace returning of Eugenie Bouchard and Novak Djokovic. The serving of Feliciano Lopez. The tactics of Andy Murray. The Federer-ian talent of Grigor Dimitrov.
But luck was on display today as well.
Luck takes on all forms. It’s the shanks off the frame that land in the court. It’s the shots that lick the net and, as if thinking better of it, trickle over to the other side. There’s bad luck, too. Getting jobbed on a line call without the objective and evenhanded recourse of Hawk-eye technology. Lining up to smack a shot that bounces on a dead spot of grass and squirts under the racket.
Novak Djokovic appears to have gotten lucky in his third-round match against Gilles Simon. Cruising to victory, he tumbled on the grass and -- absent the diving technique of his coach, Boris Becker -- he landed on his left shoulder. An inch difference and he could have dislocated his shoulder. Instead, he grimaced, popped an anti-inflammatory and won the match, and he looked fine today against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Madison Keys was less lucky. She strained an adductor muscle on Saturday night, playing in the third round. The match was halted on account of darkness (luck!) but then, on her way to the court today, Keys tearfully realized that there was way no she could play. So she didn’t.
There’s the luck of the draw. Roger Federer has looked dashing here, one of two players yet to drop a service game (Milos Raonic is the other), but if we’re being honest, he hasn’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of opponents. Compare this to Nadal, who faced his bottle-kicking nemesis, Lukas Rosol, in the second round. And who was luckier than Simone Bolelli -- appropriately a lucky loser -- who lost in qualifying, made the main draw when an eligible player retired with injury, won a pair of matches, and won $120,000 before falling today to Kei Nishikori.
But the real luck this tournament will be one of scheduling. The fortunate few have been going about their business. Take Andy Murray, now in the quarters after beating Kevin Anderson today on Centre Court. Others dealt with the equivalent of delayed flights. On account of rain, Maria Sharapova's date against Angelique Kerber was canceled; so she’ll have to play back-to-back matches if she plans on advancing. Neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal played today, so they, too, will need to win on consecutive days.
Luck, of course, is part of all sports. It’s the deflected ball that leads to Ray Allen’s corner three. It’s a soccer player diving, fooling the officials and triggering a penalty kick that enables his team to win 1-0. (Just hypothetically.) It’s hitters in altitude, pitchers whose day in rotation comes against the Astros and Cubs, not the Giants and A’s.
There are all sorts of sports homilies minimizing luck. Good fortune favors the brave. We create our own good luck. Luck is toil. But sometimes luck is simply a coin flip working in your favor. Today’s scheduling chaos reminded us of that. The winners here will have outplayed the field. But they also will have either overcome or benefited from The Fates.
Five thoughts from Monday
• Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic advanced to the quarterfinals in similar manners on Monday. Both players faced their first test of Wimbledon, with Murray meeting Kevin Anderson and Djokovic taking on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The two favorites won in straight sets, but needed a tiebreaker in the third. At this point, we're riding the express train to a Djokovic-Murray semifinal.
• Bouchard looked ambitious as ever, beating Alize Cornet and reaching the quarterfinals. (To Serena Williams’ credit, Cornet was not able to sustain her level of play from Saturday.) Three Majors in 2014: Bouchard has reached a pair of semis and - at minimum - a quarter.
• Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, a 28-year-old from the Czech Republic reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, beating Caroline Wozniacki in an early match Monday. Credit Strycova -- a strong grass-court player -- for holding her nerve and serve, fighting through some injuries and prevailing, but this is a match that Wozniacki has to find a way to win.
• Li Na won the Australian Open, crashed out of the French Open and then crashed out at Wimbledon. Stan Wawrinka won the Australian Open, crashed out of the French Open and … recovered nicely. Wawrinka is quietly taking care of business and, after a rain delay Saturday, beat Denis Istomin.
• Upset of the day: After losing in singles, the Williams sisters remain in the doubles draw. Given history and their pride levels -- and this is not a knock -- you could be forgiven for wondering if they would stick around or head immediately to the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge at Heathrow. Good for them for remaining in the draw.
A few dips into the Mailbag, which should be up and running after technical problems...
Who is the gentleman that I see sitting in the players box at so many tournaments with the black cowboy hat that looks a little bit like Colonel Sanders?
-- Eric Bukzin, Manorville, N.Y.
• Meet the mystery cowboy.
With Serena's latest loss, can you please stop picking her to win every Grand Slam? It's not going to happen.
• Yes, I’ve now whiffed three straight times. And, yes, after the French Open in particular; at age 32; with little prep work; with some off court drama…in retrospect maybe not the wisest pick. But who else would you have picked? The defending champion retired. Sharapova, who hasn’t won here in a decade? Halep, who has zero Majors to her name? Kvitova? As I wrote, I wanted to make an alternate choice but couldn’t find a candidate worth backing.
Did you notice after Serena lost, she went behind Cornet and tapped her on the shoulder to leave the court? Let the other player have her moment. If someone had done that to Serena she would have flipped out. Totally rude behavior and no one even comments on it. Why does she get a pass?
-- John L. Thomas, Lakeland, Fla.
• A lot of you wrote about that. I could go either way. Yes, it wasn’t particularly gracious for Serena to tap Cornet and urge her to hurry, thus robbing her of a career moment to celebrate. On the other hand, it is customary for players to leave together and Serena was understandably in no mood to linger, and she's well aware that Cornet veers toward the theatrical. As it was, they both left but, as Serena waked out of sight, Cornet did a jailbreak and returned to bathe in the applause. A good compromise, I’d say.