A leaden sky and slick lawn stalled the start of this match, suggesting the Centre Court roof might soon close. By the time Jerzy Janowicz blasted the last wrecking ball serve past a shell-shocked Nicolas Almagro, it's a wonder the walls were still standing.
A nervous Janowicz dropped his opening service game, then began dropping bombs that blurred by the lunging Spaniard, thudding off the back walls with ominous force. The 6'8" Pole thundered 30 aces and ripped some timely returns in a commanding, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-4 victory to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Talk about a turnaround. Almagro, the ATP ace leader who hit 18 aces and did not surrender serve in sweeping Janowicz at the Australian Open this January, burst out to an ideal start. Playing for his first trip to the fourth round, the 15th seed slammed five aces in his first two games, eventually building a 4-1 lead as Janowicz's first serve frequently expired into the net.
But Jerzy shored up his serve, calmed his nerve, and began cracking the ball with more conviction. Not only was Janowicz overwhelming on serve, he beat Almagro to the punch in crucial rallies, unleashing a biting forehand to break back for 3-4, and swatting a slick forehand swing volley to force an opening-set tiebreaker.
Earning the first mini-break with the complicity of a net-cord, Almagro was two points from the set at 5-3, but Janowicz unloaded some heavy forehands and a 135 M.P.H. service winner for 6-5. Almagro caught the line to save the first set point for 6-all, then Janowicz broke out the dropper, a shot he has a whimsical fascination with. It's an effective play because he hits so big that he backs up the opposition, but has the soft hands and daring to pull it off.
A drop shot drew Almagro forward, Janowicz anticipated his reply, and snapped a forehand right over Nico's shoulder for a second set point, then closed the 46-minute set with a forehand winner down the line.
Once Janowicz's right arm was loose, the whip came down. When a man looming so tall that he looks like he's serving off the top of a step-ladder is snapping off 121 M.P.H. second serves into the corner, as Janowicz did to hold at love for a 4-3 second-set lead, there's not much you can do. Except, perhaps, hope you guess right, and that your hands are fast enough to protect your rib cage and sensitive areas when he blasts a 139 M.P.H. body serve at you.
The athletic, rangy Janowicz used his wide wing span to score the only break of the second set; he earned the break point by stabbing a sharp forehand return winner cross-court that buzzed the line before Almagro could take a step. Janowicz then wristed a lunging forehand return that sat up near mid court, but an anxious Almagro flattened his forehand into net to give up the break. Leading 5-3, Janowicz slashed an ace down the middle to seal the second set, with a 40-23 advantage in winners at that point. He finished with 59 winners against only 15 unforced errors.
When he has time to set his feet and line up his shot, Almagro is a beautiful ball striker with full sweeping strokes, but he was facing an impossible ask today: How do you break a serve that's basically a blur? Fittingly, Janowicz closed with successive aces, then bowed to the crowd; if he continues this serving spree, he can go deep in the draw.
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