Sport | Wimbledon hots up

Andy Murray sailed through the opening three rounds during week one of Wimbledon. Going into the showpiece event, the Scot’s chances of retaining the trophy he won last year looked slim. However, given the way he has dispatched David Goffin, Blaz Rola and Roberto Bautista-Agut, he has to be seriously in the frame. One of his likely challengers, Rafael Nadal, has faltered in the early rounds, dropping a set against each of his three opponents so far. While it is the case that quite often the Spaniard seems to get better in the second week of a Major, he could be picked off by better-quality players if he continues to start matches in the ropey fashion that he has done so far. Novak Djokovic opened his account by cruising through in straight sets against Andrey Golubev. However, he came up against adept grass player Radek Stepanek in the second round, and the Czech’s serve-and-volley game posed some problems for the Serb, although he eventually closed out the contest 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6. His latest match saw him return to his imperious best as he swatted aside Gilles Simon in straight sets. While Roger Federer’s career has arguably been on the wane over the last few years, he looks like he could stick around until at least the semi-finals. After comfortably disposing of Italian Paolo Lorenzi for the loss of just five games, he also polished off Gilles Muller in straight sets, before meting out the same treating to Colombian Santiago Giraldo.

Dimitrov has had a breakthrough year Image: The Guardian
Dimitrov has had a breakthrough year
Image: The Guardian

Beyond these top four, there are a number of challengers who have reached the second week. Jo-Tsonga had five-set epics against former top-20 players Jürgen Melzer and Sam Querrey, before coming through comfortably against qualifier Jimmy Wang on Friday. Queen’s Champion Grigor Dimitrov has been touted as a future world no.1 and has underlined his pedigree with victories over Ryan Harrison and Luke Saville, followed by a terrific five-setter against the talented and unorthodox Alexandr Dolgopolov. Milos Raonic is the same age as the Bulgarian and is also tipped to go far. He has eclipsed his previous best Wimbledon performance already and will undoubtedly be a tricky opponent for any of the big guns. Kei Nishikori could also be an outside bet to reach the latter stages after beating Kenny de Schepper and Denis Kudla in straight sets. However, he had to dig deep before overcoming Simone Bolelli in five sets in a game carried over from Saturday due to rain.

Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka looked assured against João Sousa, but faced a much tougher task against Yen-Hsun Lu, eventually coming through in four sets. He faces Denis Istomin in a delayed third-round match today. John Isner is also one of those that nobody wants to face. He eased past Britain’s Daniel Smethurst, before emerging from a close encounter with the Finn Jarkko Nieminen. That win sets a mouthwatering contest with Feliciano Lopez.

There have also been surprise eliminations. The 2010 finalist Tomas Berdych fell to the big-hitting Croat Marin Cilic in the third round. Ernests Gulbis may have reached his first semi-final at a major at Roland Garros this year, but he has never been past the first week in SW19 and showed why, losing in straight sets to Federer’s vanquisher last year, Sergiy Stakhovsky. Richard Gasquet was another who left the competition early. He squeaked past James Duckworth unconvincingly in his opener, before squandering a two-set lead in his next match to go down to exciting 19 year-old prospect Nick Kyrgios, who looks set to follow in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis. Gael Monfils also found the going too tough against a youthful player, losing a gripping encounter to fast-rising Czech Jiri Vesely. Kyrgios then went to beat Vesely, setting up a dream draw with Nadal. David Ferrer continued his poor run at The All England Club, exiting at the hands of world no.118 Andrey Kuznetsov. Finally, Jerzy Janowicz was another player who performed below expectations, losing a tight match with the experienced Tommy Robredo.

The British quintet of Smethurst, Dan Evans, James Ward, Kyle Edmund and Daniel Cox all bowed at the first-round stage, leaving Murray as the sole survivor once again. On the women’s side, Heather Watson outclassed close friend Alja Tomljanovic, before coming up against the hard-hitting Angelique Kerber. Watson did well to take it the distance, but the German’s greater experience and weight of shot told. Naomi Broady won her first match in the Wimbledon main draw, winning in three sets against Hungarian Timea Babos, before facing a bullish Caroline Wozniacki, who won 6-3, 6-0. Tara Moore fought valiantly but lost in the first round 4-6, 7-6, 9-7 to Vera Zvonareva, while Johanna Konta played in a similarly topsy-turvy match, but lost 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

Sharapova will hope to win back the title she won at the age of 17. Image: The Telegraph
Sharapova will hope to win back the title she won at the age of 17.
Image: The Telegraph

The ladies’ draw has been blown wide open by the shock losses suffered by the top two seeds, Serena Williams and Li Na. Williams has won five titles at SW19, but she came up against an inspired third-round opponent, Alize Cornet, who outclassed the American to record a famous victory. Na swept past Paula Kania and Yvonne Meusberger in her first two rounds, but was beaten in two tiebreaks by the Czech Barbara Zahlavova Strycova. This presents Simona Halep with a real opportunity to win her first Grand Slam, and she started off well against Teliana Pereira, before enduring a nerve-jangling three-setter against Lesia Tsurenko. She then defeated Belinda Bencic in straight sets. Maria Sharapova is the favourite with most punters though, and after beating Halep in the French Open final, may have the psychological edge (she has also only dropped seven games in three matches so far). Agnieszka Radwanska also has past form on grass and has so far crushed all before her. In addition, 2011 Champion Petra Kvitova has started the tournament strongly after an up-and-down few years, with the highlight of her week coming against Venus Williams, with the Czech sending the five-time Champion out after two and a half hours of gruelling tennis.

There are others who could also determine the destination of the Venus Rosewater dish. Ana Ivanovic has recaptured some of the form she displayed just over five years ago, defeating former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and the tricky Jie Zheng, and is currently embroiled in a battle with last year’s runner-up Sabine Lisicki, who defeated Julia Glushko and Karolina Pliskova to reach this stage. One of the biggest threats could come from Eugenie Bouchard, who has displayed ominous form over the past year and looks set to stay near the top of the women’s game for a long time to come. So far she has negotiated matches against Daniela Hantuchova, Silvia Soler-Espinosa and most impressively Andrea Petkovic. Lastly, Caroline Wozniacki has looked to put a difficult few months behind her. Following her split from golfer Rory McIlroy, she has responded in emphatic fashion, convincingly defeating Shahar Peer, Broady and Ana Konjuh.

What has also been evident has been the host of teenage players in the women’s draw punching above their weight. Konjuh is only 16, but reached the third round. Bencic was just as impressive, reaching the same stage before being outclassed by Romanian Halep. Duval also exceeded expectations, with a superb win over 29th seed Sorana Cirstea, before coming up against Bencic. Donna Vekic is another player who made an impact, with the Croatian knocking out the 21st seed Roberta Vinci, before being stopped by the returning Zvonareva. Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Monica Niculescu before being eliminated in heartbreaking fashion by Dominika Cibulkova 8-6 in the final set. However, Tereza Smitkova is the last under-20 standing, beating Su-Wei Hsieh, the wonderfully named Coco Vandeweghe and Bojana Jovanovski to set up a fourth-round clash with Lucie Safarova.

However, some of the main players have also come unstuck. Eastbourne winner Madison Keys retired midway through her match with Yaroslava Shvedova after picking up an injury, while Jelena Jankovic was humbled 6-3, 6-2 by Kaia Kanepi, the former top-20 player from Estonia. Azarenka looked set for an extended stay in SW19, but was stopped in her tracks by Jovanovski, losing a gripping battle 7-5 in the final set. Finally, Sloane Stephens’ passage to the latter stages was rudely interrupted by Maria Kirilenko.

With many of the main contenders still in, it promises to be a fascinating second half of the tournament. On court today, Murray faces Kevin Anderson today, Djokovic faces his sternest test against the athletic entertainer Tsonga and Sharapova goes up against Kerber. If the second week is as exciting as the first, we are in for a treat.

Alex Bowmer

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