Reuniting with his fellow Olympians at the All England Club on Saturday, Andy Murray was moved to describe the 10 days of last year’s Olympic tennis tournament as “the best of my career - yes it was ahead of the US Open”. But if everything goes according to plan, this fortnight won’t be too shabby either. Better not to dwell on that, though, lest one tempts fate. Suffice to say that Murray is into the second week and the momentum is building nicely.
If it wasn’t for a certain Serena Williams, British tennis fans might even be dreaming of a domestic double, never mind the end of 77 years without a British male winner of the world’s most famous Grand Slam. Anything that Britain’s 19-year-old Laura Robson achieves now is a bonus and a quarter-final against Serena later in the week would be something to savour.
Murray’s form so far has been beyond reproach, but he hasn’t been tested yet and it’s doubtful whether Mikhail Youzhny has the game to do so on Centre Court today. The 31-year-old Russian has a reputation for literally beating himself up on occasion when his play doesn’t meet his own high standards, as anyone who has seen that video of him in Miami five years ago when he repeatedly struck himself on the head with his own racket until he drew blood will testify.
What Youzhny doesn’t do is choke. His nerve was put to the severest test when, at just 20 years of age, he was asked to win the Davis Cup for his country before a fiercely partisan Parisian crowd in a fifth and final rubber. From two sets to love down he somehow came through. Since then nothing has intimidated him and Centre Court will hold no fears for him in today’s second match. As Murray noted, he knows how to play on grass, too, reaching last month’s final in Halle where he was a set up against Roger Federer before losing.
Murray’s arch rival Novak Djokovic would seem to have more on his hands in the final match on Centre Court against Tommy Haas, but a nine-year age gap not to mention a third match in four days could prove too much for the German, even before assessing their relative skills. Haas will take heart, as he should, from his victory over Djokovic in Miami three months ago, but the Serb’s performance then was completely out of character.
“That was one of the worst performances I’ve had in the last few years - definitely,” said Djokovic. “I think it’s his most preferred surface, he loves playing on grass. He’s been playing very close to the best tennis of his life, in my opinion. He’s very fit. He doesn't look like a 36 years old man, for sure [Haas is 35]. He’s full of confidence on the court.”
No-one ever seems to take David Ferrer seriously as a Grand Slam contender, but here he is again at an advanced stage of a Grand Slam with every chance of going even deeper into it. His opponent on No.2 Court is the unseeded Croatian Ivan Dodig, who has twice benefited from a retirement - Philipp Kohlschreiber and Igor Sijsling. He would be pushing his luck to expect a third, particularly from the durable Spaniard.
Ferrer is poised to overtake Roger Federer as the world No.3 at the end of The Championships and could even go second if Tomas Berdych – who plays Australia’s Bernard Tomic today - wins the title and Murray loses in the round of 16. A long shot, but then who would have forecast that the quarter-finals would include a player from outside of the top hundred? Neither France’s Adrian Mannarino – ranked No.111 – nor Poland’s Lukas Kubot – ranked No.130 - who meet on Court 14 could have expected that, not in their wildest dreams.
Now that Hannibal, her favourite television series, has finished, Robson was poised to spend part of her day off yesterday watching videos of her opponent Kaia Kanepi instead. Kanepi meanwhile said she is looking forward to playing the “baddy” in this particular No.1 Court production. “Sometimes I get more power and fighting spirit if people are against me,” she said ominously.
Williams meanwhile may possibly have preferred to play Sam Stosur rather than Sabine Lisicki, given the controversial manner of her defeat to the Australian in the 2011 US Open final, but the world No.1 tends to give most people short shrift on the tennis court at the moment, as her third-round victim Kimiko Date-Krumm will testify.
The last time she played Lisicki, in Charleston last year, she had to console the tearful German at the net when she was forced to retire after a nasty fall. Hopefully, that won’t happen this time, but their meeting in the opening match on Centre Court could also end in tears.
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