WIMBLEDON – As the days wind down, the Wimbledon schedule gets lighter.
But each match becomes a must-watch. And the stakes get higher.
The departure of defending champion and world No. 1 Andy Murray and three-time champion Novak Djokovic has left a big hole in the men’s singles draw. It also has created great opportunity.
There is no player ranked in the top four among the final four. It is not a long-awaited changing of the guard Nothing close to that. You have to ascribe the relatively early exits of both Djokovic and Murray to ongoing injuries that, at this point, seem to require more severe measures.
But it’s true nonetheless.
The last time this happened at a Grand Slam tournament was at 2003 Wimbledon.
No. 5 Federer (who is No. 5 right now, 14 years later) met No. 6 Andy Roddick. And No. 14 Sébastian Grosjean of France met No. 48 Mark Philippoussis of Australia.
Nice road, but no guarantee
As well as Federer has been playing, it would be an insult to say that the three notable absences (add Rafael Nadal to that list) among the final four should make it a breeze for him to romp to his eighth Wimbledon title.
First of all, there’s no way to say, on current form, that he might not have been able to beat them regardless.
But having to face No. 11 seed Tomas Berdych in Friday’s semifinal, rather than Djokovic, does have to make Federer’s eyes light up.
These two seem to meet on big occasions on a regular basis. Those occasions include Davis Cup, and the Olympics in both 2004 and 2008. They have met at the Australian Open the last two years (both straight-sets wins by Federer). Of their 24 meetings, eight have come in Slams.
Their last meeting was among their best; Berdych should have won it. He had two match points in the third-set tiebreak in Miami last March. Perhaps if his belief level against Federer were a little higher, he might have.
Shocking Berdych win
But of the six victories Berdych has in 24 attempts against Federer, one stands out: a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win in the 2010 Wimbledon quarter-finals.
We remember that one well – especially how absolutely chapped Federer was to lose as he made his way to the press conference room almost immediately after coming off the court.
It probably would have been a better idea to cool his jets in the locker room for 10 or 15 minutes before coming out.
Federer didn’t have his usual wits about him for the first part of the press conference – the English part, so the part most of the planet saw.
He was definitely lacking in graciousness on that day, a surprising lapse in the Federer cool.
By the time he got to the French and German portions of the conference he had calmed down, and said more of the expected, “right” things.
Berdych went on to defeat No. 3 seed Djokovic in straight sets in the semifinals, before losing to Nadal in the final. That set of three matches and three incredibly difficult opponents in the late stages of a Grand Slam is a perfect illustration of why it has been so difficult for players outside the top four to win a big one in recent years.
That win came in the middle of a nice little run for the Czech against Federer. He had nearly beaten him at the 2009 Australian Open; he was up two sets to none before Federer came back to take it in five. And he had beaten him in 8-6 in a third-set tiebreak in Miami. A few weeks after that Wimbledon win, he lost another third-set tiebreak against Federer in Toronto.
Federer, though, has won their last seven meetings. And as well as Berdych has played this Wimbledon – rather under the radar – the belief will all be on the other side of the court.
Battle of the giants
As for the other semifinal, it will be contested between two gentle giants who are figuring out the beast mode thing in the latter stages of their careers.
Then again, Marin Cilic is 28. American Sam Querrey is 29. Both are listed at 6-foot-6. These days, in men’s tennis, that’s barely middle age, and that’s only a few inches about the Tour’s average height. With Berdych at 6-foot-5, the 6-foot-1 Federer must feel like the little brother of the gang.
Querrey will likely match his career-high ranking of No. 17 if he wins this one. That came all the way back in 2011; it has taken him this long to approach that territory again.
These two have a fascinating history, on some levels. They have only met four times on the ATP Tour. But three of those have come on grass. And two of those have come at Wimbledon.
Cilic has won all of them. But it couldn’t have been much closer.
Their meeting in the third round in 2009 went 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3 6-7 (4), 6-4. Their meeting in the third round in 2012 went 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (3), 17-15.
17-15 in the fifth. Five hours and 31 minutes.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 14, 2017
Wimbledon resumé solid
Querrey’s Wimbledon resumé is underrated. He plays well here, and he usually only loses to good players. In 2011, he lost to Murray in the fourth round. In 2012, before losing to Cilic, he beat Vasek Pospisil (the 2014 doubles champion) and Milos Raonic (last year’s finalist) back to back. He lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 14-12 in the fifth set in 2013, to Federer in 2015 and to eventual finalist Raonic last year.
After some early stumbles on the grass, Cilic lost to Djokovic in 2014 and 2016, and in five sets to Federer last year in the quarter-finals.
He also is the only semi-finalist, except for Federer, who has a Grand Slam title.
All of which to say, that first semi-final may take awhile. So Federer and Berdych may have to be prepared for a wait.
Also on the schedule Friday are the semi-finals in both the mixed doubles and women’s doubles.