LONDON - The four women's quarterfinals were finished four hours after the first one began. The men, not so much. That's because we were treated to two epic five-setters, both of which lasted more than four hours. Here are four thoughts, one from each match, on a marathon day of terrific tennis.
• It was way back ‘round 3 p.m. when Roger Federer held his lone match point. He led Kevin Anderson 6-2, 7-6, 5-4 in the first Wimbledon quarterfinal. The match would end. The Big Three would play on. The fans would get home in time for England’s World Cup game. In other words, a normal Wednesday.
And then it wasn’t.
Federer shanked a potential backhand pass, and Anderson had saved the match point. He then stole the set. Not a huge deal. Federer was, after all, 266-2 in Grand Slam play when winning the first two sets. But then Anderson also larcened the fourth. And in a fifth set that last 90 minutes, Federer looked, if not like a nearly 37-year-old man, like a uncertain, defensive player who didn't trust his forehand. At 11-11, Federer played a service game unworthy of him, double-faulting and dumping a routine ball to give Anderson the game. The 31-year-old South African then reared back and served out the biggest win of his career.
The talk will be of Federer and this failure to win a match he should have. What happened? Federer himself was searching for explanation afterwards. “I didn't see it coming. From that standpoint, I felt great in practice, good in the warmup. I'm feeling the ball well. Even now losing, I still felt like the feeling is there. It just happened to be that today wasn't the day.”
Go ahead and mourn Fderer’s exit, his failure to defend. But for a player who’s had trouble finishing off matches, Anderson was brilliant. Toast him, the first South African to reach the semis here since Kevin Curren 35 years ago.
• For a stretch between 2011-2016, Novak Djokovic won 11 of 22 Majors, culminating with the 2016 French Open. Since then, he’s won zero. During this recent barren period he has made straightforward situations complicated. Today on Centre Court he made potentially complicated situations simple and straightforward. Playing No. 24 Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals, the 12th-seeded Djokovic won the first set, dropped the second and faced break points at 2-2 in the third. He staved them off and then took total command of the match, pulling away 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Djokovic still hasn't won a tournament in more than a year. But this is the player so familiar. He reached his 32ndGrand Slam semifinal, surging past Jimmy Connors into second place. And suddenly he is two matches from getting back on the board in a big way.
• It was around 6:00 this evening when Rafael Nadal, already having won the first set 7-5, held three points to go up two sets to none on Juan Martin del Potro. Nadal played a trio of uncharacteristically loose points, then del Potro stole the set in a tiebreak. The big-hitting Argentine then won the third set. Nadal being Nadal, he managed a break in both the fourth and fifth sets, bringing his physical tennis to bear but also his terminally underrated net game. (Note: if Nadal’s volleys are forever described as “underrated” do they cease to be?) Barely four weeks after thrashing Delpo at the French Open, Nadal narrowly got past him today, 7-5, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a slow-moving five-setter that lasted nearly four hours and 47 minutes. Nadal is into his 28th Grand Slam —he’s 24-3—and get his old nemesis, Djokovic, as a foe. If you were going to say that only two of the Big Three would survive the day, “Nadal and Djokovic,” would likely not have been the picks. But here we are.
• For all the surprises today, the fourth match to get started largely adhered to the script. John Isner versus Milos Raonic makes for a match long on aces, power and tiebreaks; short on nuance, rally-length and shot-making. Raonic won the first set in a tiebreaker and Isner won the second in, you guessed it, a tiebreaker. Then Isner did something curious: he found a way to break Raonic in both the third and fourth sets, including twice in the fourth. In the end, it was a 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 win for the big American. Isner has now won five rounds without getting his serve broken. He’s in his first grand Slam semi and gets another server in Anderson for a chance to play in the Wimbledon final.