Final 16 to face tender mercies of Centre Court at Wimbledon
Seeds will be halved as all go hoping for a place in the quarterfinal lineup
Serena Williams, uncharacteristically, has shown no blips, kinks or wefts in her Wimbledon story so far.
There are still some players in the last 16 rubber necking into the latter stages of the draw and others, too, who are a threat but have never won a Grand Slam.
But today’s cast of characters in the men’s and women’s singles will weed out half of those and make the pool smaller for the handful who expect to be around next weekend as fourth-round matches in the men and women’s draw take place.
Robson is not one of those with genuine expectations, after a flawed but sassy win over New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic. Attention on Wimbledon’s latest object of veneration will become a little more cloying and frenzied. Her meeting today with Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi will kick-start that with gifted tabloid material. ‘Robson eats Kanepi (canapé).’
With Murray, Djokovic and Australia’s Bernard Tomic elevated to Centre Court status, the Australian is now finally punching at the weight many expected of him. Murray and Djokovic have been towering and arrive for each match with a presidential air of authority.
The second seed and Russian Mikhail Youzhny have played twice before, with the Scot winning both times. But it’s been quite a while since they’ve met, and never on grass. Youzhny’s run smacks of a final bloom as it’s been five years since his heady days in the top 10. His career high of eight was in 2008.
This year there is a deeper sense of expectation – not just because of the departure of Nadal and Federer but because Murray has looked more bulletproof and with a US Open and Olympic gold medal, the nuanced art of winning has become part of his armoury.
Tommy Haas, at 35 years old has an excellent grass pedigree and reached the semi-finals in 2009. But his opponent Djokovic is blue blood and no one yet has found a chink. He’s unflinchingly good, makes very few errors and gets everything back.
He’s also reached the round of 16 for the first time without dropping a set, whereas Haas is looking to become the oldest man to reach a Wimbledon quarter-final since Tom Okker in 1979. You know which one of those benchmarks you’d like in your corner.
Tomic is the player everyone wanted to see rise. A junior champion, the swirl of his father’s pending court case hasn’t distracted him. Not allowing John into the club over his alleged nutting of junior’s training partner seems a pejorative decision. But that flat forehand of Tomic and his sliced back hand has worked.
Big serving Tomas Berdych will demand a different game: return of serve from the Aussie will make or break him. A finalist in 2010, Berdych knows the path to next weekend, which cannot be said of fourth seed David Ferrer. The Spaniard, who can walk around the grounds virtually unrecognised, is hoping to make his seventh consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final.
He faces the charmed Ivan Dodig. In his opening three rounds Dodig was leading Philipp Kohlschreiber when he retired with flu, defeated qualifier Denis Kudla and led Igor Sijsling before the Dutchman also retired with flu. He may have to ride that luck hard again to get past Ferrer.
Serena Williams, uncharacteristically, has shown no blips, kinks or wefts in her story so far. The 23-year-old Sabine Lisicki – 24th in the world – will ask more questions than Kimiko Date-Krumm (42) did at the weekend. But it’s hard to see anything that turns the American’s classic narrative any way Hitchcockian.
You can back Williams, who leads their head to head 2-0, at a prohibitive 1 to 20 as she sets her sights on a 35-match winning streak. Her 34-match streak is the longest for a woman since older sister Venus had a run of 35 in 2000.
“She has so much power, speed,” said Date-Krumm after their match. “She has everything.” We know.
The fourth seed Agnieszka Radawanska is shaping up to be Williams’s main hurdle on this side of the draw with a semi-final meeting a possibility, if she can firstly deal with the unseeded Bulgarian, Tsvetana Pironkova. Williams may have to polish off Robson first, if the 19-year-old pulls through, which won’t endear the former winner to her British public.
The other side of the draw has opened and, although Petra Kvitova, the eighth seed, may like the look of the ground she stands on, names like the American Sloan Stephens and the punchy Mónica Puig, both unseeded and facing each other, have retained a certain respect.
Stephens is in the round of 16 for a third consecutive Grand Slam tournament, and at the Australian Open in January, she defeated Williams on her way to the semi-finals. So she can overreach. First up, Puig – on a day when the entire draw will be halved.