First Ball In, 6/24: Not-So-Lazy Summer's Day

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 /by
AP Photos
AP Photos

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND—It should have been a lazy summer day here in London. The sun was out, the humidity was up, the temperature was in the 70s, and the thick, scattered clouds in the sky didn’t appear to have anywhere better to be than right over the All England Club. But there was nothing lazy about what was going on below them. After Monday night’s rain storm, the tournament had 71 singles matches to get through on Tuesday. This was one of those days when a Grand Slam can feel like it’s about to burst at the seams—and who would want it any other way?

*****

Caro Feels the Tennis Love

Who says the tours are a cutthroat place? 

When Caroline Wozniacki found out she was no longer engaged to be married, Serena Williams immediately took her under her wing in Miami. 

“She’s an amazing friend,” Wozniacki said of Serena today. “She’s always been there for me whenever I’ve needed her. It’s great that you have such an amazing competitor, very professional athlete. After everything that she’s achieved in her professional career, as well, that she finds time. She wants to help out a friend who needs it sometimes. It’s just nice to have good people around you.”

Now Feliciano Lopez has expressed his admiration, shown up to watch a few of her matches, and even met her father, Piotr. This last fact provoked laughter all around in the press room today.

“He’s already making his way through my dad?” Wozniacki asked in mock-outrage. “This is very awkward.”

Whether the support has helped Wozniacki’s frame of mind away from the game is impossible to say, but she’s been open and willing to joke with the media, even when we throw some of our most bristle-worthy questions her way. Today Caro was asked if she would consider Internet dating.

“I think I’m not that desperate,” Wozniacki said. “It’s pretty hard to sweep me off my feet. It would take someone very special. You know, you never know. I guess when you least expect it, it’s going to come. Right now, I’m just into my tennis. And playing here, it’s great.”

Speaking of playing here, Wozniacki finished her rain-interrupted first-round match against Shahar Peer this morning, turning what had been a marathon into a 6-3, 6-0 sprint today. Can a former No. 1 be a dark horse? Wozniacki had a good run in Eastbourne last week, beating Sam Stosur, Sloane Stephens, and Camila Giorgi, before losing a tight semifinal to Angelique Kerber. On Wednesday she faces 163rd-ranked Brit Naomi Broady.

*****

Roger Rushes In

Roger Federer lost early at Wimbledon last year, but he seemed more relaxed than normal at the start of his first-rounder against Paolo Lorenzi on Tuesday. As he waited at the net for the coin toss before the match, Federer engaged chair umpire James Keothavong in a conversation about Keothavong’s job. Federer sounded interested. Is umpiring a post-retirement possibility? He'd stay close to the game.

That conversation may have been more fascinating to Federer than the match. He broke right away, and by the end of the first set he looked to be in exhibition mode. Federer won 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, yet still managed to go just six of 23 on break points. Whether that signals domination, or nerves, in his future is anyone’s guess.

As he did last week on the quicker grass in Halle, Federer spent a fair amount of time at the net. He was 30 of 42 up there, and he forced himself to come up with tougher volleys than normal. Which, as he said later, is the difference between being a baseliner and a true net-rusher.

“I think as a traditional serve-and-volley player, which I’m clearly not anymore,” Federer said, “they’re used to taking return winners, passing shots. You have to be willing to dig deep on the volleys and not only think, ‘Only if I have high volleys it’s good, otherwise if I have to volley deep I’m in trouble and lose the point every single time.’

“I think there’s a way to do it here. You need to be able to serve well, move well at net, anticipate well, come in on the right shots in the right way. Many things need to work well, but it definitely still is worth it.”

It's interesting to hear him say that you have to be willing to “dig deep” on the volleys, to get down for them, to use the legs along with the hands. That’s something that he has never been as good at as the dyed-in-the-wool serve-and-volleyers of old. He hasn't needed to dig out volleys to win, because he's won with his ground strokes. Even Federer hasn't found a way to be both a serve-and-volleyer and a baseliner.

Today he also said that Stefan Edberg has “reinforced the concept that [net-rushing] is possible.” We’ll see if Edberg can get Federer to dig a little more, and make his forays forward a real factor in his results.

*****

Stating the Obvs

Despite our best efforts in the media to hype their words and matches, the players do manage to state the plain, unadorned truth from time to time—you just don't read it in the paper very often. The last day or so at Wimbledon they’ve been on a good run of candour.

“Tennis is like this. I tried to play my best and didn’t win. That’s it.”Fernando Verdasco, after his loss to Marinko Matosevic on Monday.

“You know, what to say? They play good.”Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on why the Big 4 are so dominant.

“It’s different.”Wawrinka, after being asked how playing at Wimbledon compares to sky-diving.

“I don't know, I hope so.”Kei Nishikori, on whether or not he can surpass his best result here by reaching the fourth round.

“I think the pressure that everyone thinks that we feel isn’t nearly as much as we actually feel...We’re not really focused on what other people are expecting from us.”Madison Keys, on “dealing with expectations.”

And then there was this exchange between Jerzy Janowicz and a reporter:

Q: What’s been the toughest part of the last 12 months?

Janowicz: I lost my skill in Battlefield.

Q: How did you lose your skill on the battlefield?

Janowicz: I lost my ranking a little bit and I had—killing rate was much higher than now. I had 2.2, now it’s 1.8.

Q: What do you mean?

Janowicz: You have killing statistics and death statistics

Q: Like a video game?

Janowicz: Yeah.

Q: And now you’re getting killed more often?

Janowicz: Yeah, definitely.

Q: Any specific video game that has that stat?

Janowicz: Battlefield.

Q: Oh, just Battlefield.

Janowicz: Yeah, that’s it.

*****

OOP Analysis

See Wednesday’s Order of Play here.

Novak Djokovic vs. Radek Stepanek

They played a classic five-setter seven years ago at the U.S. Open, but I wouldn’t expect another. In their eight matches since, Stepanek has managed to win just two sets. Winner: Djokovic

Andy Murray vs. Blaz Rola

The Wimbledon champ and this former NCAA champ from Slovenia have never played. The 92nd-ranked Rola says facing Murray here is going to be the highlight of his career. His lefty serve could make it interesting as well, but Murray has won a lot of interesting early-round matches on these courts in the past. Winner: Murray

Petra Kvitova vs. Mona Barthel

These two could be twins, one of them named Hit and the other named Miss—who is who depends on the day, the hour, the minute. Barthel has shown signs of maturation recently, but Kvitova has also played some positive tennis on grass this month, and we know how positive she can be at Wimbledon. Winner: Kvitova

Tomas Berdych vs. Bernard Tomic

Tomic plays well in two places, and Wimbledon happens to be one of them. But the Berd, who won their fourth-round match here last year in four close sets, has to be the favorite. Winner: Berdych

Sam Querrey vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo is the more accomplished player and grass-courter, but Querrey says he feels as good as he has in a long time right now. Their career head to head is 1-1. Winner: Querrey

Ana Konjuh vs. Yanina Wickmayer

The Croatian teen, Konjuh, has entered the pro radar this year, and will only shine brighter with time. This will be an interesting, and quite possibly winnable, test for her. Winner: Wickmayer

Ernests Gulbis vs. Sergiy Stakhovsky

The battle of the Federer killers, from this year’s French and last year’s Wimbledon. Gulbis leads their head-to-head 2-1, and is ranked 80 spots higher. Can Stakhs come up with another second-round miracle? Winner: Gulbis

For complete Wimbledon coverage, including updated draws and reports from Steve Tignor, head to our tournament page.

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