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The Ninth Day: 2013 Daily Preview

by Clive White
Wednesday 3 July 2013

The question is: are there any more party poopers left in the 2013 Championships? Normally at the quarter-final stage of a Grand Slam the idea of a major upset isn’t a consideration simply because of the quality of players invariably left in it, but this isn’t a normal Grand Slam.

With rankings ranging from No.1 to No.130 among the eight remaining competitors in the Gentlemen’s Singles there is still the opportunity for one or two more surprises. Yet throughout this crazy eight days of competition so far, which peaked on what came to be known as Wacky Wednesday and Manic Monday, two players have risen above the mayhem: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

In most people’s minds, even before a ball had been struck, they were the favourites to contest the final on the 7thJuly and nothing has happened in the meantime to persuade anyone to change their minds.

Both players’ form throughout has been exceptional, fully justifying the decision of the seedings committee to make them No.1 (Djokovic) and No.2 (Murray) seeds, as per the world rankings. Trying to separate them is an invidious task. Neither has lost a set. In 12 sets of tennis Djokovic has dropped 40 games, Murray 42, while the average ranking of their four opponents so far is almost identical.

However, here at today’s quarter-final stage there is a marked difference in the quality of the opposition: while Murray faces the world No.54 Fernando Verdasco on Centre Court, Djokovic has to do contend with the world No.6 Tomas Berdych - the man who beat him at the semi-final stage in 2010 - on No.1 Court.

That said, the way Djokovic and Murray are playing it would take the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to fully extend them and even then only maybe, and they, of course, have long since departed this competition.

 Djokovic, for his part, is a much better player now than he was three years ago and said he has that defeat to Berdych three years ago to thank for it. “I had quite a turbulent five, six months in 2010, but the semi-finals of Wimbledon came at the right time for me because I felt that was like a springboard for me,” he said. “I think I actually play better tennis on grass [now] than I played two years ago when I won this tournament.”

Tennis players move on pretty quickly after a defeat, even at the best of times, and Djokovic had expunged the memory of that straight-sets defeat to Berdych by then beating him on no fewer than 11 consecutive occasions – until just a few weeks ago when he lost to the Czech at the Rome Masters, but that, of course, was on clay.

Murray, too, has had to consign a bitter experience to the deep recesses of his mind after he lost to Verdasco in the fourth round of the Australian Open four years ago. The 29-year-old Spaniard, at that time, had never played better - nor since; this will be his first quarter-final since the US Open three years ago. As for Murray, he will be playing in his 16thquarter-final and, if he wins, his 13thsemi-final.

The top two seeds aren’t the only ones who haven’t dropped a set – nor has Juan Martin Del Potro, the No.8 seed. Until a couple of years ago, the big Argentine probably subscribed to the “grass is for cows” school of thought held by the great Manuel Santana – until, that is, he won the title, in 1966.

Reaching the fourth round in each of the last two years and then winning the bronze medal at the Olympics here last year – when he beat Djokovic – has given Del Potro a new perspective on The Championships, too. He would fancy his chances on Centre Court all the more if it were not for the knee he hyper-extended in the last round against Andreas Seppi. As he well knows, there is no easy way to beat Spain’s David Ferrer, even if the No.4 seed is carrying an ankle injury of his own.

At least in terms of rankings, the biggest upset in this quarter-final round would have to be if the Pole Lukasz Kubot, ranked No.130, won his No.1 Court match against fellow countryman Jerzy Janowicz, all of 108 rungs further up the ladder. Either way it guarantees Poland their first male semi-finalist in a Grand Slam.

The 6ft 8in Janowicz exploded into the sporting consciousness with the speed of one of his 130mph serves when he came through qualifying to reach the final of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris last November and the grass-court novice has made another blindside run here. And to think just three weeks ago he was losing in the first round of Halle to lucky loser Mirza Basic, ranked No.220 in the world. Basic probably thinks about it, too.

 

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