2010 Wimbledon Coverage
Day Nine Thoughts
- LADIES' SINGLES
- GENTLEMEN'S SINGLES
- LADIES' DOUBLES
- GENTLEMEN'S DOUBLES
- MIXED DOUBLES
Okay... so I thought we'd seen some upsets in this tournament so far. But you haven't really seen an upset until you've seen the top seed and/or defending champion drop out of a Grand Slam event. It is a rarity -- yet today we got to see it happen twice, damn near simultaneously, as the tournament turned the page on ladies' day and brought the gentlemen onto court to act out their duels.
First up on Centre Court? Defending champion and #1 seed Roger Federer, winner of six of the past seven finals at Wimbledon (his streak of successes broken only by Rafael Nadal's 2008 victory), was up against #12 Tomas Berdych with a spot in the semifinals on the line. After making short work of Lu Yen-Hsun, the Taiwanese journeyman who had ousted #5 Andy Roddick in the previous round, #3 Novak Djokovic was waiting to see how the end of this match would play out, to see who would be his semifinal opponent.
Needless to say, it was likely that Djokovic was rooting for Berdych rather than Federer -- even if the Serb knew a thing or two about eliminating Federer in a semifinal match (see: 2008 Australian Open) and was playing as well as any man on the ATP Tour right now. And the Czeck player didn't disappoint. In a tight first set that actually saw Federer serve with more consistency (77% first serves versus Berdych's 66%), more strength (5 aces to Berdych's 4) and more accuracy (0 double faults to Berdych's 2), it was the underdog who had the last laugh. Berdych, who last month reached the semifinals at the French Open, had won his most recent match against Federer in Miami this spring -- and despite the differences between hard-court tennis and lawn tennis, the Czech put those lessons to good use.
Step 1: Take advantage of a break opportunity to win the first set: In Miami, Berdych won the first set 6-4 en route to his victory in the best-of-three match. Here at Wimbledon, playing best-of-five, it becomes even more crucial to jump out to a lead. So when, with the match tied 3-3 and Federer serving, the Swiss star pushed a forehand into the net, Berdych knew he couldn't squander this opportunity. It isn't often that Federer hands over break points. Waste them at your own peril. So up 30-40 in the service game, Berdych punched the ball right toward the baseline, forcing Federer to slice his backhand out wide and hand over the first and only break of the set. Berdych would serve out from there, winning the first 6-4 in 34 minutes.
Step 2: Don't get discouraged: Federer is one of the best players in the world period, but if you get him a set down it more often than not unleashes untapped stores of skill and strength that you wish didn't exist as the player on the other side of the net. In Miami, the two men traded serve for serve to force a tiebreak, which Federer won 7-3. It looked as though he had played his way back into the match, but then Berdych forced his way back to a third-set tiebreak and won outright from there. At the All-England Club on Wednesday, Berdych saw his service stroke fade and his percentages take a serious dip, especially on his first game of the set when Federer stole at 15 to go up 2-0. Yet he gamely played on and allowed Federer just the one break in three opportunities. It is all a matter of limiting losses... let Federer get too confident in that second set and he'll steamroll you right out of the tournament. But if the match remains close, even with a set given back, the chance remains viable.
Step 3: When the chance to go in for the kill comes, take it: In Miami, that chance came in the strangest way. After winning the second point on Federer's serve to go up 5-4 in the tiebreak with a chance to serve out the match, Berdych dropped two straight points. The first, an easy put-away for Federer after Berdych had run down what looked like a sure winner -- diving to punch it over the line just before it bounced a second time as he ran from the baseline wide on the deuce court to the opposite corner of the ad-court service box -- seemed to galvanize the crowd... in Berdych's favor. The second, a close shot which ended up not hitting paint, was immediately called by the linesman, immediately challenged by Berdych and on the review went Federer's way, only drove him harder. Rather than allowing himself to capitulate in the traditional script, meekly fading away after getting a lead, Berdych ran Federer from side to side to break back the next two points, and then his next chance to serve he got Federer to go long with a forehand and took the tournament. (See the video of the third-set tiebreak here...)
Today the chance came even sooner. As soon as Federer's chance came to serve in the third set, Berdych pounced. Slicing a backhand that the Swissman could only push into the net, the Czech earned the break to go up 2-0 in the set. He would get another chance, up 4-1, to break Federer again. The serve came in, and Berdych absolutely pummelled a winner down the line on his forehand to go up 5-1, eventually serving out the set for the 6-1 victory and taking just 27 minutes to retake the lead. Berdych's serve would start to defy him in the fourth set, but he was at his best when it mattered most. Federer would earn five break points, and Berdych killed off all five to keep things level on serve. He would get three chances of his own. In the first three sets, he had gone three-for-three in opportunities. This time around, he only needed the one that gave him the advantage at 4-3 and allowed him to hold serve for the upset win from there.
And make no mistake -- this is certainly an upset. But it doesn't feel nearly as imposing, as improbable, as it did before this year. We saw Federer's streak of 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals appearances end at Roland Garros last month when Robin Soderling knocked him out in the fourth round.He has now missed two straight Grand Slam semifinals. And hell... the guy that just beat him, Tomas Berdych, now has one more Grand Slam semifinals appearance in 2010 than does the incomparable Federer.
What we are seeing is the rise of one man -- Berdych -- who at 24 is entering the peak of his prime and another man -- Federer -- who just a year removed from the big THREE-OH is starting to look like he is winding down his career. Remember, Pete Sampras -- the former king of Wimbledon, who with seven singles titles is tied with Willie Renshaw for the most men's championships there -- was Federer's current age when he won his seventh. At six Wimbledon crowns and counting, that can't come as solace to Roger after this loss. Time is running out on the all-time Grand Slam champ to bolster his credentials in the discussion as the all-time greatest male player in the sport's history.
For Berdych, though, the momentum train on what still could stand to be a promising career trajectory continues surging onward... next stop: Djokovic.
The other big upset? The Williams sisters, hoping that another doubles title could provide some salve to ease the pain of dropping out of the singles bracket for Venus, instead saw themselves miss their opportunity for a title defense together when Elena Vesnina and Vera Zvonareva teamed up to take them out 3-6 6-3 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Serena and Venus looked strong enough to begin, earning a break and winning the first set, but from there the Russians won the battle.
This, too, shouldn't come as too much of a shock. Both Serena and Venus are pushing up against that same age barrier as Federer. These days, especially on the women's side, we don't see three-decade-spanning Navratilova-like careers anymore. With the players starting their professional path while they could still be contesting juniors titles, burnout and the strains of the elite game on still-growing bodies takes its toll. And the technology makes it all the harder than in Martina's day. And lest we forget, Zvonareva is the next-highest seed remaining in singles behind Serena, on a path for a rematch between one half of these teams for the title there.
Where we go from here? This tournament just keeps getting more and more intriguing by the day...