LONDON — Day Four at Wimbledon saw more upsets, a former champion look strong and a lovely bit of tennis irony. Here are five takeaways:
• Roger Federer did not play Thursday. And yet he won big. Here were are, barely 72 hours into this tournament and already Federer’s half of the draw has turned into a battlefield. Two significant casualties today: Marin Cilic—the No. 3 seed and the guy Federer beat in the finals here last year—arrived for his match Thursday morning.
“How are you today?” he was asked as he checked his bag.
“Nervous,” he responded, with a sheepish smile.
He played like it. In the biggest upset on the men’s side thus far, Cilic fell to world No. 82 Guido Pella of Argentina in five sets. As that was happening, Stanislas Wawrinka was falling to Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano. This after Wawrinka knocked out No. 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round. The highest remaining seed in Federer’s half: No. 8 Kevin Anderson, not exactly a fear-inducing name on this surface.
• Rafael Nadal was playing on Centre Court. Cilic was finishing his match on Court 1. Which consigned Novak Djokovic—three-time Wimbledon champ, 12-time Major winner—to Court 2. Inasmuch as Djokovic was insulted, he took it out on his opponent, thrashing Horacio Zeballos 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. Djokovic’s woes over the last two years are well-chronicled. But he’s sure looked strong so far here. And with Cilic out, Djokovic is now second with the oddsmakers, behind Federer and ahead of Nadal.
• When Simona Halep was down 3-5 to Saisai Zheng, she was a candidate to become still another upset victim on the women’s side. She did not, though, wear a look of dejection or let her body language covey a this-is-not-my-day message. Instead, she played aggressively, benefitted from a spasm of shaky play from her opponent and reeled off the next 10 games to win 7-5, 6-0. We say it again: some players win a first major and it marks a career highlight. Others win a major and it causes them to reassess their place in the sport. Feels like Simona fits the latter description.
• Ah, tennis irony. When Serena Williams was seeded No. 25, it bumped world No. 33 Dominika Cibulkova out of the seeds and into steerage. So what happens? Women’s seeds drop like lobs, including four of the top six and former champs Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova. Even at lowly No. 25, Serena Williams has become a favorite. And Cibulkova remains in the draw, having taken down 22-seed Jo Konta on Centre Court today. Speaking of Cibulkova, who stands 5-3…
• We like to play coroner in this sport. Death of the serve-and-volleyer! Death of the one-handed backhand! The most recent obituary: death of the Little Man! While the median height of the top 10 might be at a record, well, smaller players are holding their own. Thomas Fabbiano, a qualifier from Italy who clocks in at 5’8”, beat Wawrinka.” Diego Schwartzman, who is 5'6" and likely a top-10 seed at the U.S. Open, won his first career match at Wimbledon before losing Thursday. On Wednesday, UCLA’s Mackie McDonald (who gamely admits that his 6’ listing might be a wee bit charitable) beat 6’6” Nicolas Jarry. It speaks well of tennis that the sport can accommodate such a diversity of physique.