Wimbledon 2016: Of Willis and Federer, winning French and Americans – and rain

The headlines and quotes of an unusual week at the All England Club

The weather during the 130th playing of Wimbledon had been in danger of becoming the star of the show, even threatening to out-perform the thunder, lightning and floods that swamped Roland Garros, Queen’s, and almost every other tournament through June.

Day after day, matches have been moved, suspended, and cancelled before they had even begun. By Friday, with more rain all across the grounds, the tournament caved in and scheduled play on sacrosanct “Middle Sunday”—for only the fourth time in its history.

22,000 tickets, sold for the first time entirely online, went in half an hour, and by Sunday itself, the weather was playing ball alongside all the remaining contestants.

But as the second week dawns, it is not just the 16 men and 16 women who have made it to Manic Monday’s singles banquet of contests who have stood out, but some of those who have not.

Marcus ‘fairytale’ Willis

Even the No772-ranked 25-year-old Marcus Willis felt he was living some kind of film script. Currently, he lived at home with his parents because even with part-time coaching, he could not afford to move out, and had almost given up tennis entirely except for his girlfriend’s encouragement.

But here he was, having played six matches in pre-qualifying and qualies, and with his first-ever match-win on the main tour, and he was about to face seven-time champion Roger Federer on Centre Court.

Then the wit, charm and smile shone through. No he hadn’t spoken to Federer: “I don’t think he was at Tunisia F1 this year.”

Yes he had seen him play: “He’s been in a fair few finals and semis here.”

And how would he describe his game compared with Federer’s? “I’m not sure he can play on grass—that’s good!”

Willis would enjoy every minute of all three sets, as did Federer—especially when Willis put up the lob of the tournament to beat the Swiss star.

The next day, the story that Federer called ‘gold’ had added £50,000 to the £300 Willis had won thus far in 2016

The next day, he was back home playing a league match at his local club, no-one, including by his own admission Federer, would ever forget that Wednesday on Centre Court.

Querrey’s day in the sun/rain

Most spectators lost count of the times Sam Querrey and world No1 and two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic took to No1 court in an attempt to complete their third-round match. But the first break came as the American No28 seed took a two-sets lead, and the last came at 6-5 in fourth set to Querrey. Djokovic would have to return to court and serve to stay in the match.

He did just that, and led the tie-break 3-1—but a slew of uncharacteristic errors, and Djokovic was out, 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(5), bringing to an end a run of 30 straight Grand Slam wins and his first loss before the second week in seven years.

Querrey, on a by-product of beating Djokovic at Wimbledon: “All the guys collect the Wimbledon towels. That’s been like the one bonus to all these rain delays. You get two every time. I got like 50 in my locker room for my friends and family!”

American dream

Querrey became one of six Americans to reach the second week, along with great friend Steve Johnson, who next plays Federer, plus Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe and two Williams—the quartet of American women who reached the fourth round last year, too. They play, with a fine sense of timing, on 4th July.

Madison Keys on American tennis: “Well, it’s not dead, and I’m really happy that we’re having positive conversations about it for once. I had Sam one court and Stevie on the other while I was warming up for my match. It was amazing to watch those guys do so well. It’s really fun to see people who you know work so hard get to have great tournaments like this.”

Four of the last 16 women are American, and four are Russian. But the match to catch will be between Serena Williams and fellow 30-something Svetlana Kuznetsova, whose rivalry dates back 12 years. The Russian beat Williams in Miami this year, and is on the brink of returning to the top 10 after six years.

French fancy

A seventh American, John Isner, lost a marathon five-set thriller to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on People’s Sunday in a 19-17 fifth set after almost four and a half hours. The win also took Tsonga level with Jean Borotra’s 103 Grand Slam match-wins, overtaking another famed Frenchman, Henri Cochet.

Tsonga enthused: “I’m happy to win today one more match. It’s good to be alive!”

So for the first time since 1929, there are four Frenchmen in the last 16, as Tsonga now plays compatriot and chum Richard Gasquet for a quarter-final place. Gasquet, who reached the semis here last year, has split his eight meetings with Tsonga, 4-4.

The 34-year Nicolas Mahut has only won four singles titles, all on grass, but has lately shared the No1 doubles ranking with young French partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert after winning the US Open and three Masters titles together.

But Mahut beat first No13 seed David Ferrer then that same doubles partner to reach his first Grand Slam fourth round—in his 10th Wimbledon. The No51-ranked Mahut next plays Querrey.

Sisters doing it for themselves

Between them, 34-year-old Serena and 36-year-old Venus Williams have won Wimbledon 11 times separately and five times together, and still they strive for more.

In a difficult week, both sisters had to fight tooth and nail to reach their allotted places: Serena battled for two and a half hours, coming back from a lost first-set tie-breaker, to beat Christina McHale in the second round. Venus battled through countless rain breaks and two hours 41 minutes to beat No26 seed Daria Kasatkina, 10-8 in the third.

With her People’s Sunday win, Serena also scored her 300th Grand Slam win (and passed the 800 mark for aces at Wimbledon). Her reaction?
“Was it? Cool, oh nice. I had no idea. That’s awesome, right? That’s a lot of matches.”

More cool moments

Juan Martin del Potro, after six years of wrist injury and surgeries, played at Wimbledon for the first time in three years, and his first Grand Slam in over two years. In reaching the third round, he also put out No4 seed Stan Wawrinka: “As you can see I’m exhausted. I finish really, really tired this tournament… My body is hurting everywhere, but that’s normal after a big match against Wawrinka. I have to keep working hard, because in the future I will need to be feel better physically than today. [But] I’m not hurried to play better, I’m not hurried to go up in the ranking. I just have to stay patient and try to get better as soon as I can.”

The 35-year-old Aussie, Lleyton Hewitt, 2002 singles champion at Wimbledon, came out of retirement to partner Jordan Thompson, and despite the doubles matches being reduced to best of three, it took them 3hrs 58mins to beat David Marrero and Nicolas Almagro, 6-7(6), 6-4, 19-17.

Petra Kvitova, two-time Wimbledon champion and No10 seed, who did not complete her second-round match until Saturday, lost in straight sets to unseeded Ekaterina Makarova. “Yes, it’s very weird, I have to say. I felt like I was stuck in the second round for a while… I was waiting all day long almost every day to be scheduled on, and didn’t really have a chance to finish or step on the court. So it was really weird. I think it’s when you still waiting and your nerves are still going, it’s always a little bit difficult with energy and everything.”

Andy Murray is through to the fourth round for his 22nd straight Major, scoring his 18th straight victory over an Australian, John Millman. Now he plays another: Nick Kyrgios. Should the Briton reach the quarters, it will take him to 50 match-wins at Wimbledon.

Alexander Zverev, the only teenage seed in the men’s draw, reached his first Wimbledon third round, and has grown used to fielding questions about being tipped as a future No1: “Of course, it’s nice to have attention and stuff like that [but] I’m far away from that. Second, there’s been a million ‘future No1s’ that never got to No1. There’s other guys right now who want to become No1 after Novak.”

Nick Kyrgios, the youngest remaining man in the draw, age 21, reached the quarters here in his first appearance two years ago. But former controversial behaviour continues to draw provocative questions in press conferences:

Q: “You seem to be on your best behaviour today. Even put the water bottles in the bin afterwards. Was this a conscious decision?
A: “I threw my water bottles in the bin after the first round and second round. Terrible question!”

No19 seed Bernard Tomic, a quarter-finalist as a teenager here in 2011, on the scheduling of his third-round match against No14 seed Roberto Baustista Agut: “I didn’t know where Court 17 was. I knew where Court 18 was. I had to really think where I was playing. I couldn’t believe I was going from Court 2 to play on Court 17 where he’s 13 in the world, I’m 18, 19. The schedule was horrendous… It was just chaos for the Wimbledon organization. It’s something they have to take into consideration today because it was a tough, tough, tough five days, and that’s one of the reasons we were playing on Court 17.”

Finally Federer, one of the few players to reach the fourth round on the allotted day—and before anyone else in the draw: “I know it sounds boring, but [the weather] is not my mistake. It’s just what happened. I might take a day off tomorrow just because I can [laughter]. Yeah, I can— I’m sorry! I have to take them when I can: I’m an old guy!… Now that I know I’m through, you can start making plans, so please let me go so I can make those plans before everybody is asleep at home.”

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