First Ball In, 7/2: Noise Makers

Wednesday, July 02, 2014 /by

The changing of the guard was an unsettling sound for Novak Djokovic.

The Serb didn't see Grigor Dimitrov's Centre Court dismissal of defending champion Andy Murray—he was preoccupied playing Marin Cilic on adjacent No. 1 Court—but he heard the upset unfolding loud and clear.

"It was distracting, to be honest," Djokovic said of roars from the crowd trying to rouse Murray spilling over into his match.

Tuning out the background noise, the 2011 Wimbledon champion broke Cilic seven times to rally into his sixth semifinal at SW19. Djokovic used a favorite pattern to press the mute button: Curling his backhand cross-court to corner the Croatian and open the court, Djokovic drilled his backhand down the line to finish points.

Changing shoes after a few tumbles to the turf, the top seed's footwork and serve were sharper. He stretched the 6'6" Croatian into the corners and faced only one break point over the final two sets. Stepping into his 16th semifinal in his last 17 Grand Slam starts, Djokovic celebrated by handing his used sneakers to a fan.

New kicks will be necessary for two explosive movers in the semifinals. Djokovic has been a step better and shot cleaner than his opponent, Grigor Dimitrov, winning three of his four meetings in straight sets. In his lone win, Dimitrov denied 10 of 12 break points in a dramatic 2013 Madrid victory. Still, Djokovic couldn't resist spinning one more return when asked about facing his friend and sometime practice partner for a spot in the final.

"He hasn't lost a match on grass court this year; he's the player to beat," the six-time Grand Slam champion said of the first-time Grand Slam semifinalist.

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Launching Pad

Two years ago, Genie Bouchard won the Wimbledon girls' title. Tomorrow, the Canadian will play for a place in the women's final and says her junior run was a spring-board to senior success.

"Winning the junior title was still, I think, to this day my proudest accomplishment in my career," Bouchard said after beating former semifinalist Angelique Kerber today. "It really kind of propelled me into the pro circuit. You know, I'm very proud of that.

“I mean, I played here last year. I won a match on Centre Court. I made the third round. Even last year I felt that I belonged, so I don't feel like it's a surprise that I'm doing even better this year.”

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Number Cruncher

Tennis is a numbers game, and former math geek Milos Raonic punched out imposing digits at crunch time to reach his first career Grand Slam semifinal.

In a battle of massive servers, Raonic ripped 13 of his 39 aces and permitted just three points on serve in the final set of his 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Nick Kyrgios. It was Raonic's second win in a month over the 19-year-old Aussie, following a straight-sets sweep at Roland Garros, and came a day after the wild card whipped 37 aces to topple 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.

The last time a Canadian man reached a Grand Slam semifinal, a British kid named Fred Perry was still playing table tennis before turning to lawn tennis. Raonic is the first Canadian man to reach a major final four since William Johnston reached the U.S. Championships semifinals in 1923.

"It's another step forward. The goal is to be the best player in the world and this is one of the steps you have to take," said Raonic, who will face seven-time champion Roger Federer for a spot in the final. The fourth-seeded Swiss is 4-0 against Raonic, including a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (3) triumph on grass in the 2012 Halle quarterfinals.

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OOP Analysis

See Thursday’s Order of Play here.

(23) Lucie Safarova vs. (6) Petra Kvitova

These lefty Czech mates were nearly inseparable at Eastbourne a few weeks ago. Kvitova prevailed, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (4), and has won all five matches and 10 of the 12 sets she's played against her Fed Cup teammate. Both can dictate on serve: Safarova leads the tournament in first-serve points won (82 percent); Kvitova is the ace leader (30) and has defended her second serve (winning 64 percent) better than any of the semifinalists.

Contesting her first Grand Slam semifinal, Safarova will be nervous, but won't be intimidated facing her friend. If she swings freely and lands her first serve, Safarova can trouble Kvitova, like she did to Li Na in January, when she held match point at the Australian Open before bowing.

Kvitova is the bigger hitter and better player; the question is, can the woman playing with adhesive tape wrapping her tender right hamstring withstand the semifinal stress and prevent the mental lapses that have plagued her in the past? Since losing the opening set to Venus Williams in round three, Kvitova has only dropped serve twice. If she can stay calm and consistent, the 2011 champion will play for the Rosewater Dish again. Winner: Kvitova

(13) Eugenie Bouchard vs. (3) Simona Halep

Two young stars are fluent in all surfaces and hungry for a first Grand Slam title. Halep won six titles on three different surfaces last year, including grass, is fresh off losing a spirited battle to Maria Sharapova in the French Open final. Playing her third straight Grand Slam semifinal, Bouchard is peaking at the right time. The 2012 Wimbledon girls' champion has not dropped a set during the fortnight, and her game is a natural fit for grass. She uses her legs for leverage driving low balls, steps into the court to take the ball early, and is a sniper on the swing volley.

Halep times the ball beautifully, is well-balanced off both the forehand and backhand side, drives the ball down the line accurately off both wings, and though she stands just 5'6", the Romanian packs potent power from compact swings. Since losing to Li in the second round here last year, Halep has posted an 18-3 record in Grand Slams. She reeled off 11 straight games defusing 2013 finalist Sabine Lisicki.

Halep edged Bouchard at Indian Wells four months ago and this shapes up as another tight test. Bouchard is playing bold tennis, but Halep is a better mover. Her complete game and shrewd court sense should see her through to a second straight major final. Winner: Halep

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

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