The best day of the calendar is upon us, so the tennis cognoscenti suggest, the day when Wimbledon resembles a type of candy store, dripping with rare treats all around its lawns.
Sixteen matches, every fourth round contested on a single day and every one a winner. It’s a phenomenon in the Grand Slams unique to Wimbledon and this particular Monday – ‘manic’ Monday is apparently now the preferred descriptor, leaving The Bangles with much to answer for – looks particularly grand, featuring players with 64 Grand Slam singles crowns between them.
On the gentlemen’s side, we have the ‘big four’ – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – all back in harness at the start of The Championships’ second week for only the second time in six years and all in such decent fettle that they’ve dropped just one set between them. That was the one Murray gave up to a buccaneering Fabio Fognini last time out and while that troublesome hip of Andrew’s makes a nation uneasy, it’s still hard to envision anyone from outside that quartet breaking their 14-year stranglehold on ownership of the Challenge Cup.
What’s remarkable about the men’s round of 16 is the richness of experience. It features no less than a dozen who are 28 or over, including seven 30-somethings, which makes the presence of 20-year-old Alexander Zverev, a second week debutant up against last year’s finalist Milos Raonic on No.2 Court, stand out so strikingly.
The ladies event, in stark contrast, still has a much more open feel and if Venus Williams cannot become champion for a sixth time – and she would have to be by some distance the oldest in modern times at 37 to do so – then it’s extremely difficult to identify an obvious first-time winner. Serena still looms large over those trying to succeed her. Even big sister may allow herself a wry smile that Ana Konjuh, her 19-year-old opponent on Centre Court who will hit with an extraordinary lack of inhibition, is nicknamed ‘Baby Serena’. Alas for the young Croatian, Venus hasn’t lost to a teenager for 13 years.
On No.2 Court, there is more on the line than just the prospect of Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza, who lost the last two finals to Serena, progressing to the quarter-finals. If Kerber loses, her world No.1 ranking goes with her and she will have noted with concern how Muguruza, who set off the alarms while cooking steak in her Wimbledon flat the other night, has found smoking hot form.
That could easily be the match of this day of days, but to be fair, we could make a case for maybe half-a-dozen. Federer versus Grigor Dimitrov – or Fed v Baby Fed, as it has inevitably been billed – on Centre looks most irresistible, like some sort of elegant ballet of the one-handed backhands.
Then there’s Victoria Azarenka’s toughest adventure yet as ‘Supermum’ on No.2 Court against Simona Halep, perhaps the best player never to have won a major, who could still end the week as champion and world No.1.
Top billing, though? Well, its four years since we had two Britons on singles duty in week two so Murray and Johanna Konta can share as the hype starts swirling in earnest about them possibly becoming the first home pair since Fred Perry and Dorothy Round in 1934 to win in the same year.
Konta’s eminent sensibleness and unruffled attitude in the face of all this hoopla bodes well and on No.1 Court, she faces a French opponent, Caroline Garcia, who’s known all about the difficulties of being saddled with great expectations in her homeland. Sometimes, she must have felt like cursing Murray for his tweet six years ago when she was 17, pronouncing her as a future world No.1, but this has felt like the year that Garcia has finally begun to believe, reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open and beating Konta in a tight affair at Indian Wells.
Murray, a serial conqueror of French opponents, tackles Benoit Paire, yet another unfathomable, talented and erratic adversary for him. The grass once frustrated Paire so much that in 2014 he departed in a huff with the memorable line about how Wimbledon “displeases me greatly.” Yet now that he’s playing the best tennis of his career and looking comfortable on the surface, Paire says he’s found inner calm and, offered the dream opportunity of a date with the champion on Centre Court, he makes it sound as if, actually, SW19 now pleases him greatly. On Manic Monday, it really ought to.— Courtesy: Wimbledon.com
– Courtesy: Wimbledon.com