WIMBLEDON, England -- The women took over the All England Club on Tuesday, providing all the drama in four high-quality quarterfinal matches that saw the last American men say goodbye and Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber advance to the semifinals.
Americans exceed expectations: The last two American men bowed out of Wimbledon on Tuesday, which means an end to the hopes and expectations of yet another year. But on the whole, the Americans will leave London with their heads held high and ready to build on the progress made at SW19 during the last week.
A month and a half ago, Mardy Fish wasn't sure if he was even going to be able to participate in the Championships this year. Suffering from fatigue brought on by a heart arrhythmia, no one knew what to expect from the American No. 1, a man who has been unable to tap into his best tennis since the year began. In fairness to him and to the seriousness of his recent health woes, expectations were pretty low. As it turned out, Fish won three matches to get to the second week, and he looked and sounded as confident as he's been since the U.S. Open.
"I would have beat a lot of players today," Fish told reporters. "He's one of the best players in the world on this surface and one of the best players in the world, period. So obviously there's a reason. I was certainly satisfied with the way I competed and the way I played." That's a complete turnaround from his comments in March, where he complained that his inability to compete was dragging him down. His fourth-round run at Wimbledon sets him up well for the U.S. summer hardcourt season, where he has a significant number of points to defend.
Meanwhile, is there anything to say about Brian Baker and what he was able to accomplish over the last two months that hasn't been said? He left home for Europe on May 16th ranked No. 216 and he'll return home ranked somewhere around No. 77. In that time, he's played 17 matches, making the finals of Nice, the second round of the French Open, and the fourth round in his Wimbledon debut. Enjoy your rest, Brian. Much deserved.
Last but not least, and perhaps the most impressive showing of all the American men, Sam Querrey. Querrey scored one of the upsets of the tournament in his tight four-set win over Milos Raonic in the second round and he was two points away from knocking out Marin Cilic in what turned out to be the second-longest men's singles match in Wimbledon history (I assume you know which match sits at number one). The best thing about Querrey's performance here was his ability to compete. It's no secret the laid-back California guy (who now makes his home in Dallas) has a reputation for going soft when matches get tight, but he showed some killer conviction in taking down Raonic via two tiebreaks and a 6-4 fourth set, and in coming back from two sets to love to push Cilic to 17-15 in the fifth.
Semi-breakthrough: No matter how well Radwanska was playing or who she was beating, one major flaw in her resume always got cited: for all craft, wit, and guile, Radwanska had never made it past the quarterfinals of any Slam. In fact, coming into Wimbledon, she was the only member of the top 15 who hadn't done it, quite a feat considering that roster includes a slew of women that she picks apart on a regular basis. So while so many tennis purists have fallen in love with her clever, varietal game, the fact was Aga wasn't so great on the big stages.
She finally got that monkey off her back on Tuesday and it took her seven hours and 20 minutes to do it. Radwanksa took to No. 1 Court to contest her quarterfinal match against Maria Kirilenko at 2:28 p.m. local London time, and after four stoppages due to that pesky rain, the two waited out the conclusion of Victoria Azarenka's match to take to Centre to finish their match. They took to Centre Court at about 9:30 p.m. to resume their match at 4-4 in the third set and at 9:48 p.m. it was over. Kirilenko blinked under pressure, handing over a break at love in the 11th game and Radwanska served it out, giving as emotional a celebration as I've ever seen from her (it really was nothing more than an exultant racket wave, but for her that's like a Serena Williams triple salchow).
Radwanska is women's tennis' equivalent of the Teflon Don. Throw swirling conditions at her, rain delays, an opponent playing the best match of her career at a Slam, force her to switch points and play under a roof at a critical juncture in the third set, and it's all for nothing. Radwanska, always even-keeled and unflappable, whose constant expression bears somewhere between indifference and slight annoyance, lets it all slide right off.
Kerber keeps winning: It's a marvel when you realize how a singular point played in the midst of hundreds can flip a match on its head. That point for Angelique Kerber came when she served in the third set at 4-5, 0-15 against Sabine Lisicki. All day long she had been burning Hawk-Eye challenges to no avail. Her incorrect challenges were now bordering on comedic. But she hit what she thought was a winner and it was called out. With a look of disgust and exasperation she threw up her hand to challenge the call, walking away with no confidence that she was right. Sure enough the ball was in by mere blades of grass, and Kerber looked to her box with complete shock, throwing up her arms as though she had just nailed the landing off a high bar. Instead of being two points from defeat, it was 15-15, and Kerber went on to win the next three games to win the match.
The thing is, Kerber had no business winning that match. She sulked through the entire third set, ruing the three match points she missed in the second to close out the match in two. But sometimes, you just wait around long enough, things will break your way. For Kerber, things have been breaking her way a lot this year. That was her tour-leading 45th win of 2012, and I guess somewhere along that line of wins, she really has forgotten how to lose.
Men's quarterfinals: The men's quarterfinals are set and let's be honest, they're a little snoozy. Novak Djokovic takes on Florian Mayer (never lost to him), Roger Federer gets Mikhail Youzhny (beat him 13 straight times), and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga draws Philipp Kohlschreiber (Tsonga leads the head-to-head 7-1). You're being contrarian just to be contrarian if you're seriously betting against the top seeds to get through.