LONDON—It wouldn’t be Manic Monday without a good, old-fashioned court-assignment controversy. With so many stars in action, and only two top-level show courts to put them on, there are always some big names and tantalizing matches exiled to the boondocks at the All England Club.
The most obvious victim this year was the fourth-rounder between the top seed and 2016 runner-up, Angelique Kerber, and the 2015 runner-up, Garbiñe Muguruza. Widely seen as the day’s most competitive, high-profile matchup, it was relegated to an 11:30 A.M. start time on Court 2. Tournament (and TV) officials had obviously chosen Q-Rating over competitive quality. Centre Court featured Venus Williams, Andy Murray and Roger Federer, while Court 1 hosted Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and new British hopeful Johanna Konta.
It’s hard to argue with those names: Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and Venus have each won Wimbledon at least twice, and they have some of the biggest fan bases in the game. But would ticket holders rather see a potential blowout between Djokovic and 51st-ranked Adrian Mannarino or a potentially close match between Kerber and Muguruza, who played a classic 14-12 tiebreaker when they met here two years ago?
Maybe the only possible answer would have been to schedule four matches, instead of three, on Centre Court and Court 1, and start them at 11:30 instead of 1:00. This would give the women a chance to have four show-court matches, like the men. In Wimbledon’s eyes, of course, it would be a mind-bending change. It took the tournament a century to begin play at 1:00, rather than the more aristocratic 2:00. But it’s one to consider.
Of course, there are worse fates than playing on Court 2 at Wimbledon, and it’s not as if the match wasn’t going to be televised. Which is good, because Muguruza and Kerber put on a TV-worthy, and Centre Court-worthy, show before a packed house. Two years ago, Muguruza lost to Serena Williams in the final here, 6-4, 6-4. Last year, Kerber lost to Serena in the final by similar scores, 7-5, 6-3. With Serena out of the running in 2017, the Spaniard and the German knew that this would be the best chance that either of them would have to sneak the Wimbledon crown onto their head. They also thought that their match would be on a bigger stage, though neither wanted to make a major production out of it.
“Probably I was expecting another court,” said Muguruza. “Of course I was looking at the matches today. Honestly every match is very, very good ... I don’t want to make any problem.”
“To be honest,” Kerber said, “I was really surprised that I was playing on Court No. 2, yes. But yeah, I mean the schedule was out then ... Yeah, still it was a good feeling to be playing on this court as well.”
Kerber and Muguruza came into this match as mirror images in many ways. Each has shown she can win a major title, but each has struggled mightily at other times to live up to that standard. Neither has had a strong 2017, and when they go bad, they can look like they’d rather be anywhere else than on a tennis court. But even if they weren’t on the court they wanted on Monday, they raised their games for the occasion.
The result was a classic contrast in styles, between Muguruza’s pounding aggression and Kerber’s tenacious defense. Muguruza spent the majority of her time standing just inside the baseline, while Kerber dodged the line judges at the back of the court. Their stats were unsurprisingly symmetrical. Muguruza had 55 winners and 50 errors to Kerber’s 27 and 12. Muguruza was 35 of 54 at net; Kerber was 5 of 7. Each won 101 points.
And each showed off what she does best. Muguruza knew that to win she had to hit the toughest shots in the game— the down-the-line forehand and backhand—and she had to hit her targets in the corners, or the ball was going to come back. Kerber knew she had to not just get the ball over the net, but get it back low and force Muguruza, who doesn’t own the world’s softest hands, to make a volley. Games were long, points were fiercely contested and there was nothing between the two players until Kerber’s final backhand clipped the tape and fell back, and Muguruza had a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win.
“I know I won it, but I think it was a good match for both of us,” Muguruza said. “You know, we battle out there. Every point we give our best ... As always, I like to take my chances, go for it. That’s what I was doing.”
At the end, Muguruza won not just with offense, but with defense as well. She closed by winning a couple of long rallies where she was forced to move all over the court.
“It was for sure the best match for a long time for me,” Kerber said. “Of course, I’m disappointed that I lost the match, because I was playing really good. At the end, I mean, just one can win, and that was not me today.”
Still, there were two winners of this match in one sense: Together, Muguruza and Kerber showed that a women’s fourth-round match doesn’t need a British player or a five-time Wimbledon champion to merit a spot on tennis’ biggest stage.
—GRAND SLAM WEEK: Watch Wimbledon Primetime on Tennis Channel, and catch up on the other 2017 Grand Slams on Tennis Channel Plus
—Watch encores from the 2017 French Open and Australian Open on Tennis Channel Plus, including matches like the AO Final showdown between Serena & Venus Williams