Wimbledon, Day Eight
(7) Ferrer d. (9) del Potro, 6/3 6/2 6/3
Less than twenty-four hours after Mikhail Youzhny realised his secret lifelong goal of reaching the quarterfinal stage at all four majors – the fact that he has previously gone on record about this precisely nowhere merely speaks to its secrecy – David Ferrer has done the same. They are two veterans whose destinies are now forever entangled. Word is that the Tennis Channel is planning an hour-long special, narrated by Morgan Freeman. Facetiousness aside, it is an achievement, especially for Ferrer, who for too long has been written off as a mere clay-courter. It would be a stretch to call him a grass-courter, but then we don’t really have those any more. On a snoozy Tuesday at Wimbledon, Ferrer was the one worth staying awake for.
Hitting a winner against Ferrer today wasn’t the same as hitting one against, say, Andy Roddick, who blankets the net like a small bunny-rug, in order to prove that passing shots are more or less the same as any other groundstroke. In all, Juan Martin del Potro struck 37 winners and 20 unforced errors (although these are Wimbledon-branded unforced errors, which only register when you miss a shot so badly that it takes out a spectator on an adjacent court). And he still lost 3, 2, and 3. Ferrer struck 34 winners, and only eight unforced errors. Undoubtedly he hit more errors than that, but I can’t remember them. He was a wall, a lazy metaphor that fissures when one considers that the height disparity means del Potro could step over it, and that collapses entirely when one tries to evoke the Spaniard’s incredible mobility, and his keenness to attack wherever possible. An aggressive wall.
Nevertheless, the story of the match was not how many winners Del Potro struck, but how many more winners he should have produced but didn’t. There is no statistic for that. Nor are there any figures to tell us how often Ferrer lacked even the manners to yield up a forced error, where a more gracious competitor would have been more accommodating. Anyway, the point is that Ferrer’s immense skills of retrieval were today operating at a level that drew admiring titters from the commentators, and that drove del Potro spare. From this moment in each point, one of three outcomes was possible. The Argentine might relent, at which point Ferrer would skilfully step in and grasp the initiative. (This happened about 34 times.) Del Potro might go for more, and dispatch a winner that even Ferrer couldn’t track down. (This happened about 37 times.) Del Potro might go for more, but make an error. There was also any number of rallies in which Ferrer maintained the initiative from the beginning – whether it was on his own serve or his opponent’s – and quite a few excellent passing shots.
This is a pretty long way of saying that Ferrer was impeccable, and that those who would ridicule his chances of reaching the semifinal or final would do well to revise their opinions skywards, especially if you’re British. He was a small, swiftly moving wall that his much taller opponent couldn’t scale, and which periodically fired bricks out with great force. It’s a cliché, but it will have to do. There probably needs to be a dog in there somewhere, as well.
(31) Mayer d. (18) Gasquet, 6/3 6/1 3/6 6/2
Richard Gasquet has certainly not reached the quarterfinal stage at all four majors. Indeed, he has reached the quarterfinal at only one major, which was Wimbledon, although it wasn’t this year. It was in 2007, the year he broke into the top ten. Since then he has fallen eight times in the fourth round at majors, for an overall record of 1-12 at this stage. The latest loss occurred today, when he was upset by Florian Mayer in four sets, suggesting that the Frenchman’s current ranking in the mid-teens feels about right.
Mayer’s delightfully eccentric and slice-addled game should translate very well to grass, but for some reason it rarely does. His only previous trip to the Wimbledon quarterfinals was on debut in 2004, although to be fair that remained the only time he has passed the third round at any major until today, which I find frankly baffling, even allowing for his periodic injury woes. Astute readers may be aware that I’ve had a soft spot for Mayer for some time (since, well, 2004). He’ll face Djokovic in the next round, so his chances of reaching a maiden semifinal are not fantastic. In any case, he was tremendous today, especially on return of serve. He sliced Gasquet to ribbons. I could say that his scything flat shots forced his opponent back off the baseline, but this is Gasquet, and Amanda Koetzer could force him off the baseline, even now. But once the Frenchman was comfortably entrenched by the back hoarding, Mayer’s skill with angles and paces succeeded in making Gasquet look pretty foolish. I like Gasquet, but it’s the complicated regard that I suspect all his fans feel, and includes a certain measure of satisfaction when he is punished for his horrendous court-positioning.
(4) Murray d. (16) Cilic, 7/5 6/2 6/3
(5) Tsonga d. (10) Fish, 4/6 7/6 6/4 6/4
(27) Kohlschreiber d. (Q) Baker, 6/1 7/6 6/3
I won’t spend too long on the remaining matches, although I did watch all of them as well as I could. Andy Murray was very solid against Marin Cilic in their delayed match, so much so that the Croatian’s very long match in the prior round was rendered irrelevant. I’m not sure anyone hits backhands as hard as Murray when he wants to. The issue, as ever, is why he so often doesn’t want to. He was charming and personable afterwards, and flat out said he didn’t care what court he played on, which has in no way inspired anyone else in England to change their tune. The tune itself is worthy but dull, and they have no gift for variation whatsoever. Perhaps Beethoven could have done something with it – look at that Diabelli waltz – but it’s all too much for the London press. He’ll face David Ferrer next, on Centre Court, and his legion fans will have more to worry about.
Meanwhile Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish battled manfully to see who could snare the lion’s share of the trainer’s attention. Fish served the ball into a linesperson’s eye, which is altogether more impressive than hitting a bottle off someone’s head. Luckily there’s vision, so to speak, and the video has made the rounds. The latest is that we’re all impressed that she still made the call. Stiff upper lip and all that, even with a bruised eye socket. Tsonga improved enormously as the match continued, and is looking very strong for at least a quarterfinal. He’ll face Philipp Kohlschreiber, who ended Brian Baker’s dream run. Indeed, Kohlschreiber has been on something of a dream-crushing spree this tournament, having already taken out Tommy Haas in the opening round, and Lukas Rosol in the third. I still like him, though.