Three To See, Wimbledon: Day 6
Dueling backhands—Tomic's flat two-hander and buzz-kill slice, and Gasquet's brilliant and versatile one-hander—will be central to a clash of stylists who have made second-week runs here before.
The 6'5" Tomic reached the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinals as an 18-year-old qualifier, becoming the youngest man since Boris Becker in 1985 to make the last eight here. His flat shots stay low on the lawn, he's got a knack for finding the corner with a sneaky-quick serve, his two-hander down the line is a weapon, and he's already tournament-tested, holding off Sam Querrey in five sets in round one.
Two of Gasquet's nine titles have come on grass, and he warmed-up for Wimbledon by reaching the Halle semifinals. If you need a reminder of how glorious his grass game can be, revisit his 2007 quarterfinal comeback from two sets down against Andy Roddick.
But Gasquet's nerves concern me, and if this goes the distance, Tomic has been the tougher player, posting a 4-1 record in five-setters compared to a 5-12 mark for Gasquet. That includes a haunting 8-6 in-the-fifth loss to Stanislas Wawrinka at Roland Garros earlier this month.
Still, the Frenchman's topspin gives him access to sharper angles, he is second in service breaks (14) in the tournament, and if he avoids drifting too far behind the baseline into passive positions, I see him advancing to his seventh straight Grand Slam round of 16.
The Pick: Gasquet in four sets
They partnered to reach the 2011 Wimbledon doubles final; now they face off for a fourth-round spot in singles.
Two imposing servers are both capable of all-court tennis. Lisicki owns one of the most explosive first serves in the game and almost all the shots, but doesn't always put points together wisely. Pressure provokes her impulsive streak and she can go for too much when pushed on the run.
One of three Grand Slam champions in the top half of the draw, Stosur will be pumped playing for her first fourth-round appearance in 11 trips to SW19. The three-time Wimbledon doubles finalist has swept Lisicki in two prior grass-court meetings, she's been terrific at net (winning 19 of 26 net points in the first round and 12 of 12 in the second), and her skill shifting spins—using her slice backhand to set up her topspin forehand—have elicited errors from Lisicki in the past. It all adds up to Stosur in straight sets, right?
But what's Wimbledon without risk? This has been a bad match-up for Lisicki in the past, but the big stage brings out the best in her—she's reached two quarterfinals and a semifinal in her last three appearances. She's an even more polished player now, and if she's landing her first serve and controlling her groundstrokes she's tough to break.
The Pick: Lisicki in three sets
Both men are gifted players with big weapons, but both can blow up under pressure.
Playing for his fourth trip to the fourth round, the left-handed Verdasco will want to use his forehand to control the center of the court, drive the ball deep and coax Gulbis into low-percentage shots, which doesn't take too much persuading. Verdasco can be fragile, but he's had some major wins at majors (beating David Ferrer in a fifth-set tie breaker at the 2010 U.S. Open) and gut-wrenching losses—he was a few points from the 2009 Australian Open final before bowing to Rafael Nadal in a five-hour and 14-minute epic.
The 39th-ranked Gulbis comes out of the coin toss playing grip-and-rip tennis. He can dictate with his serve, deconstruct with the return, and school even elite opponents by mixing in angled finesse with his baseline blasts.
When Verdasco gets tight, he short-arms his second serve. He must serve effectively because Gulbis will chew up the second serve if it lands short in the box—he's second on the ATP in break points converted (48 percent). Managing emotions will be key, which makes this a tough call as both guys can beat themselves up under pressure. Gulbis hits a bit flatter, tends to take the ball earlier, and snapped a streak of 18 consecutive Grand Slam exits before the third round. If he can keep his head together, I think he will advance.
The Pick: Gulbis in four sets