Wimbledon 2016: Milestone Monday as Murray and Federer head to quarters

Andy Murray and Roger Federer are both through to the quarter-finals of Wimbledon 2016

It is the day that many regard as the best in the tennis year, the second Monday at Wimbledon.

It is the day when all Round 4 matches are scheduled—eight in men’s singles, eight in women’s singles—and that does not even take account of the best doubles duo in the world, the top two teens in the junior draws, and four wild-card Brits opening their mixed doubles campaign against each other.

“Manic Monday” is about right.

Late last week, it looked as though this perfect schedule could never come to pass, as rain wrecked day after day at the All England Club. But the loss for some—and still the headlines talk of defending champion Novak Djokovic—proved to be the gain of many. To crib Prince’s lyrics a little more, “I wish it was Sunday, ‘Cause that’s my fun day.”

But People’s Sunday could not hold a candle to “Manic Monday”, where every punter held a dream ticket.

There was Andy Murray, former champion, now the highest ranked man in the draw, and about to face his biggest challenge so far. No15 seed Nick Kyrgios, at 21 the youngest remaining in the last 16, has talent in spades, made the quarter-finals here as a teenager, and this would be their fourth straight tour match at a Major in a row.

Their last, at the US Open, was a tough four-set affair. However, Murray arrived at Wimbledon at the top of his game on the back of a best-ever clay season and a record fifth Queen’s title. He was now after his 50th match-win at Wimbledon.

There was seven-time champion Roger Federer, at No3 the highest ranked seed in the top half of the draw. He arrived at his favourite tournament without a title to his name for the first time in 15 years, with just 22 matches under his belt, and skirting around the issue of his recovery from assorted injury problems.

But once his feet were on Wimbledon’s turf, he was transforming from rusty to Roger before Centre Court’s eyes. They should know: He played two British hopefuls in two straight rounds. Now he played one of three remaining unseeded men in the draw, Steve Johnson, in the knowledge that Djokovic, who had denied him in the Wimbledon final for the two last year, was on his way home.

For the first time since 1929, there are four Frenchmen in the last 16, and fortune determined that friends, seeds, and two-time Wimbledon semi-finalists, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, would face one another.

There were seven men who had never got beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon, four of them into the first fourth round of any Major: They ranged from 22-year-old Lucas Pouille to 34-year-old Nicolas Mahut.

Then there was an 11th meeting between No5 Kei Nishikori and No9 Marin Cilic, the two who swept aside top seeds Federer and Djokovic at the US Open in 2014 to contest an unexpected final. Perhaps surprisingly, neither man had made big inroads at Wimbledon, with Cilic a two-time quarter-finalist and Nishikori into the fourth round for only the second time.

A Czech battle between the generations pitted 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych against 22-year-old Jiri Vesely, into his first Major last-16—and as he put it, facing my childhood idol.

So the variety in ages, in experience, in ranking, in former match-ups could hardly have been greater, nor the outcomes more open. Even for No6 seed Milos Raonic, many pundits’ tip for another semi run, even a title bid, was not a foregone conclusion against fellow 25-year-old, the very contrasting package of No11 seed David Goffin: They had split their two previous meetings, both matches going the distance.

Would order be preserved through the tried and tested Murray and Federer? Would the two precocious Aussies Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic find their former Wimbledon quarter-final form? Would an unseeded man like Johnson or a veteran like Mahut overturn the odds?

Well in almost every case, order prevailed. First it was Federer, a spring in his step, and with his serving, movement and touch around the court up to the pace and power of Johnson. The Swiss fought off break points in the fifth game, and then drilled a backhand at the net-bound Johnson to break in the sixth. He broke again to take the set, 6-2, in 26 minutes.

Federer had little more trouble in the next set, breaking in the fourth, holding to love and serving it out, 6-3. He did come under pressure in the third, as Johnson upped the attack. It earned him a deserved break to go 3-1, but Federer hit straight back, and had the chance to break again in the seventh game. Instead, he saved his best for last, pummelling three return-of-serve winners to break for 6-5, and aced a second serve for the match, 7-5.

As seems always to be the case for the man who turns 35 next month, the win brought Federer more landmarks: his 306th win at a Major ties with Martina Navratilova’s record, while he draws level with Jimmy Connors’ Open era record of 14 quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Not that he was aware of either: “It’s probably going to be something I’m happy I achieved looking back when it’s all said and done. I didn’t even know… it’s great news, very happy about it, but it’s not something I ever chased.”

However he was certainly tuned in to his next opponent. Cilic needed only 45 minutes to advance when Nishikori was forced to retire at 6-1, 5-1, with a rib injury.

Federer practised with Cilic here before the tournament, and was impressed: “He was playing great… serving, boom, forehand, serving, boom, backhand. He’s very aggressive. He blew me off the court at the [2014] US Open. I know what I’m getting into. He’s really tough to play.”

There was similar disappointment for the French, when Gasquet threw in the towel at 2-4 down, also with intercostal pain. Tsonga, then, is next in line for Murray, who rose the occasion like a home hero—which of course he is on Centre Court, having won Olympic gold and, the following year, Wimbledon itself.

In truth, Murray made Kyrgios look ordinary, served and returned with aplomb, passed the Australian at will, and countered at every turn. After a close opener, which Murray took courtesy of a break in the 12th game, he rolled over Kyrgios in the second, 6-1. In the third, he broke in the third game, and had two match points in the ninth, but finished the job with an ace, 6-4, after an hour and three-quarters.

Murray has twice played Tsonga at Wimbledon, in the quarters in 2010 and the semis in 2012: Murray won both, but in close four-setters. Already, though, win No50 at Wimbledon is in the bag, with No100 on grass up for grabs at the next.

Raonic battled from two sets down for the first time in his career to beat Goffin, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, and will next play Sam Querrey in a big-serving fest. The American is into his first Major quarter-final after beating Mahut, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-4.

No32 seed Pouille broke more new ground at Wimbledon by beating Tomic, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 10-8, after almost three hours. Until this year, the 22-year-old Frenchman had never won a match at Wimbledon, now he is into his first Major quarter-final, where he will play either Berdych or Vesely.

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