June 30, 2012 | 01:34 PM
There's nothing like a surface change to pull a player out of a slump, and Roddick showed today that there's nothing like Centre Court to bring out your best tennis of the year. Though Roddick won a US Open, his best tennis has been played on grass: his signature match was his 256 minute, 14-16 loss in the 5th set to Federer in 2009 (the longest Wimbledon final on record). On route to that final, he had beaten Berdych, Hewitt and Murray in long matches. Since 2011 began, Roddick had won 41 matches and lost 27 before winning Eastbourne last week, and he hadn't won a tournament in over a year. While he looked nervous and tentative in his first match in The WC, by today he was beginning to look like the better Andy, the one who'll be remembered from 2009.
In the 1st SET, the 6th ranked David Ferrer could only win 4 points on Andy's serve, thanks to Andy's only missing three 1st serves and hitting 3 aces. David didn't start serving well for him, with a sub-50% level, and dropped the 1st 2-6 in 22 minutes - one of the quickest sets of the entire week.
In the 2nd SET, David raised his service level but still had to work much harder than he could make Andy work to hold (he served 52 points to Andy's 38 in the set). But as a worker, it was David who broke early and held the lead until 4-2 when Andy broke back to keep them on serve until the breaker, when they each held serve until the end in spite of Andy missing his first five 1st serves. At 5-6, Andy slapped a forehand into the net on an easy return. At 6-7, his 1st serve winner evened the score, and another brought him to a 2nd set point at 8-7. It was then that David showed his mettle, finishing an aggressive point with an overhead winner. Andy made an another unforced error to let David get a mini-break and a first set point at 9-8, and a final mistake cost him the set 8-10.
The 3rd SET. Shockingly, through 2 sets Andy had maintained a high winning percent when coming in to the net (22 of 29, or 76%). Despite a sub-par volley and shaky transition movement forward from his customary position a couple of yards behind the baseline, Andy was making it look easy. But after the 2nd set, everything became more difficult for him and easier for David. The Spaniard made but 2 errors along with 11 winners, and earned 5 break points, scoring on one. Andy won but 3 points returning, never earned a break chance, and saw his effectiveness at net diminished by 20%.
The 4th SET. David was unstoppable by this time, as cruelly efficient as Rafa is, allowing Andy just 4 points on return, hitting 15 winners and making but 3 errors. Breaking Andy on 2 of 2 opportunities, the second at 3-5 on Andy's serve. Ironically, but perhaps fittingly, on the first match point Andy came to the net on a mediocre approach and was made to look as clueless and uncomfortable as it often had since the 2nd set. Andy came down to earth, the warrior falling on his sword...
Was it a last time for Andy?
The aftermath on court - Andy receiving a huge ovation from the crowd he had impressed with his heart over the years and won over in 2009, Andy blowing kisses to them in thanks (an Agassi-like gesture never before seen by him) - certainly seemed to suggest this was understood.
Afterward, Andy of course deflected questions about retirement by saying how happy he was to have started playing well after the year he'd brought to England (a 6-11 record). A four time champion at Queens, after he was upset in the 1st round he asked for a wild card into Eastbourne.
"Honestly, going into Eastbourne, I was hoping I'd win a match, because I hadn't won a match in so long," he said. "So you tell me I win seven straight and have a chance to move on against a guy that is 5 in the world and played a pretty good match - that's some progress in a short period of time.
Andy was not the only American Warrior to go down fighting today; nor was his battle the longest by a factor of two.
Out on Court 2, Sam Querrey and #16 Marin Cilic battled back and forth for over 5 and half hours, ending at just after 9pm when the match would have been suspended for darkness - until Monday (weather permitting on Monday). It was the longest match of the tournament since Isner-Mahut, ending with the longest set of the tournament since The Marathon: the 127 minute, 17-15 5th set. The parallels to Isner-Mahut were striking:
- Querrey and Isner, the IQ Brothers (or so dubbed by Xavier) are doubles partners and could compete together for Olympic gold
- both are among the tallest players on tour and amble between points with far-away expressions
- both have sweet off court dispositions and with their almost goofy looks have been criticized as sometimes lacking intensity (Isner before proving himself in The Marathon)
Yet the quality of the tennis played today was vastly superior. Though both men hit big first serves, this match did not need a calculator to track aces and service winners: Sam hit 23 aces to Marin's 14 (only 1 in 14 points was decided by an ace, and at that pace they'd have had to play 500 games to hit as many aces as Isner and Mahut). Though John has improved his movement and defensive capabilities, with Marin's flat out aggression, Sam was competitive on Marin's service games only by repeatedly digging balls out of the corners, and counter-punching with some effectiveness: he won 29% of return points (Isner does well to average 20%, and was well below that in The Marathon). They had long points by any standard, and especially for big men on grass (Marin is
Though the bigger server (135mph vs 127 mph from Cilic), Sam had to work harder to hold, playing 20% more points on serve and facing twice as many break points (16 to 8; he converted 3 of 8, and lost 5 of 16). In first serve points the two were equal, but Marin - the more aggressive baseliner of the two - did a better job attacking Sam's 2nd serve, even though their 2nd serve speeds averaged the same (89 mph).
After 5 close sets and 82 games, both men were exhausted, but it was Sam who caved on his service game at 15-15, and Marin who finally held tough after choking away his first chance serving for the match at 6-5. As the skies turned slowly to a lovely English summer twilight, the two men had served 9 games each of pressured tennis, going toe to toe without either flinching. Darkness was coming fast, and fell on Sam's side first.
The score for Cilic: 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (3), 17-15
The two left the court without much energy for mourning or celebration, and without the kind of send-off they'd have had if they'd been on one of the two main show courts with a full stadium. The Wimbledon loyalists were there, but after 5pm with Cilic leading by two sets, the chance to watch their Andy play his match with Baghdatis beckoned many patrons away to the crowded big screen on Henman Hill or the local pubs. Had the match not been completed, the efforts of the two men would have been properly celebrated as another Marathon, and the completion eagerly anticipated on Monday.
Both winner and loser may be glad just to go quietly into the night, spared the need to endure a weekend of hype. As Rafa said Thursday night after his beating, "It was only a tennis match" (though looking very grim, he might have further echoed Boris Becker's famous remark after being upset in the 2nd round at The WC in 1987 to 70th ranked Peter Doohan, that what he'd lost was only a tennis match and "nobody died").
More quietly yet, on Court One, Mardy Fish reached the 2nd week with a workman-like beating of unseeded David Goffin, the young Belgian that had everyone talking in Paris when he reached the 4th round. David started slowly as he has all week, failing to get a read on Mardy's serve and winning only 1 return point in a 6-3 1st set.
The net two sets went to tie-breakers - the 3 break points in the match had all come in the 1st set (Mardy won 1 of 2). With superior experience, Mardy gutted them both out 8-6. The operative word for him on leaving the court may have been whsew for dodging what could have been a long match he didn't need.
This should leave him fresh for a 4th round encounter with Kohlschrieber, who left Rosol a memory with a 3 set dispatch, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (6). He saw little of what the world had witnessed against Nadal: Lukas had returned from the some place else he felt he'd intended, and landed with a thud on the Earth of court 12 in front of a small crowd. They no doubt had arrived to the court very early to see if the miracle reappeared. Leaving, they may have wondered if it ever would again.
Less memorable only because their match was overshadowed by the men's dramas over the last few days, SERENA and #25 seed Jie Zheng opened the day on Centre Court with the biggest drama of the women's first week: a thrilling 2.5 hour battle between the woman who embodies the type of tennis Americans love and her Chinese opponent who embodies its very opposite.
Their stats tell the tale of their different games/style:
OVERALL MATCH STATS
Serena Williams (USA) Jie Zheng (CHN)
23 Aces 1
1 Double faults 3
66 of 98 = 67 % 1st serves in 83 of 105 = 79 %
53 of 66 = 80 % 1st serve pts won 62 of 83 = 75 %
27 of 32 = 84 % 2nd serve pts won 11 of 22 = 50 %
119 MPH Fastest serve 101 MPH
106 MPH Avg 1st serve speed 88 MPH
87 MPH Avg 2nd serve speed 76 MPH
11 of 13 = 85 % Net points won 9 of 12 = 75 %
3 of 5 = 60 % Break points won 0 of 6 = 0 %
32 of 105 = 30 % Receiving points won 18 of 98 = 18 %
54 Winners 21
24 Unforced errors 17
112 Total points won 91
A scan of this stat sheet would suggest a lop-sided win for Serena. But it was anything but that. The stats don't give a false impression - they color in how points were played - but they do not frame the picture. That came more from the score: 7-6 (5), 2-6, 9-7.
This isn't the only match where the score and the stats seem to be very far at odds, but in other cases the score colors in the picture and the stats frame it (the stats have suggested an even match when the score did not). This seems rather an anomaly, but may not be so unusual on grass.
On grass there are more winners hit and more forced errors than unforced errors. This, in turn, makes the more aggressive player's winner count higher and reduces the error count of the defender, creating a wider apparent gap in style. With defensive players better able to do their job on grass than they used to (thanks to different grass after 2002), the aggressor has to hit more balls and accumulate more errors. The less aggressive player rarely gets credited with forcing errors, leaving their stat sheet looking more bland than usual. In truth, their steadiness is just as likely to force errors from the aggressor as a good shot.
In short, grass accentuates differences in style, but does not favor one style over the other. Better statistics do not win matches: better players do.
Today, Serena was the better player, but barely. Jie had 3 break point opportunities in the 3rd set - Serena could have lost, and knew it right until the end when she finally broke on her 2nd chance at 7-7. Even serving out the match was not a certainty; though she'd not be broken in 6 chances, Jie taking her 2nd serves on the rise and attacking with some efficiency in the 3rd set, hitting 11 of her 21 winners and winning 4 of 5 points by advancing to the net.
This all made it very exciting for everyone watching, and may have entertained the entertainer Dustin Hoffman (behind Venus in the players' box) and the Bear, Jack Nicklaus, backing up royalty in The Royal Box.
The SCHEDULE OF PLAY for Day 8 (Monday) is not yet out.
I will post it tomorrow, along with any remaining thoughts, and comments on the rest of the day's results and the week in perspective.
Wimbledon Day 7, 6.30.12