Wimbledon 2018

Wimbledon 2018: Cilic and Wawrinka beaten, but Federer, Djokovic and Nadal make their presence felt

Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka are among the big name exits in the second round of Wimbledon

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Go back 15 years and one man was about to dominate the tennis scene, the Major scene, and the Wimbledon scene in particular: Roger Federer.

Move forward a couple of years and he was joined by Rafael Nadal: They would top the ranks for years, and between them win 21 out of the 24 Majors from 2005 to 2010 inclusive.

The first key name to break that stranglehold, and a few years younger, was Novak Djokovic, who would go on to win 12 Majors—and counting.

In the last half dozen years, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka began to make inroads with three apiece, with just two other men able to make it onto the honours board in 12 years: Juan Martin del Potro was one, back in 2009, and Marin Cilic the other, in 2014.

Yet as the 2018 Wimbledon got under way, and following Andy Murray’s withdrawal, it was back to the tried and trusted. Only three in the draw had won the Major on the grass before: Federer, Djokovic and Nadal.

But among the number of fellow Major champions, one, Marin Cilic, was increasingly taking on the status of one of the favourites to cause an upset, to convert his runner-up run at Wimbledon last year into gold this time, especially after reaching the final of the Australian Open as well.

That he was also one of small band of players to have won a Masters title, and arrived here having won a sequence of fine wins to claim the Queen’s title, made him stand out all the more. There, he beat Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Muller, Sam Querrey, Nick Kyrgios and finally Djokovic, playing big gutsy tennis and saving Championship point in the process.

On the basis of his Wimbledon and Queen’s results, he even got a boosting in the seeds from No5 to No3, so avoided Federer and Nadal before the semis. As it happens, that would not matter.

The big Croat came through his opener in easy style, against Yoshihito Nishioka, and looked to be cruising, too, against a second left-handed opponent whose only win at Wimbledon had come in the first round. Guido Pella, ranked 82, was happier on clay, where his only two tour finals had been achieved.

And when Cilic surged to an 6-3, 6-1 lead, few were surprised. Then trouble arrived in the shape of the first brief shower of the tournament, late on Wednesday afternoon. Pella had got a break in the third set on a slippery damp court before they pulled the plug: Both men would have to come back the next sultry-hot morning.

Pella went on to take that third set, but Cilic quickly got on track—or so it seemed—with an early break in the fourth, 3-1, but the Argentine broke back to level, and then took the tie-break, 7-6(4).

Now the Argentine was serving first, and maintained constant pressure on the big-serving Croat. Cilic stared down two match points in the 10th game but aced twice and held, 5-5. He was soon facing trouble again, and again saved match point, but twice his usually strong forehand let him down, he faced one more break point, and netted his forehand to hand Pella his first trip to the third round of a Major, 7-5.

Pella was frank in his assessment:

“Yesterday the match started so bad for me because he was playing so good, very solid from the baseline with big serves, and I couldn’t do almost nothing.

“So the rain came, and today was very different because I started to feel very good. I closed the set in the third with big serves, with big two games. Then I started to feel better and better. I saw him playing a little bit slower than the day before, so I tried to fight every ball, tried to be close in the score, and that’s it.”

It sounded easy, but it was not: He played with energy, variety, and determination, and deserved his win in the face of too many errors by Cilic, as the Croat admitted:

“I was just not feeling as comfortable as yesterday with hitting. I was not as accurate. I was just missing some easy balls, giving him a chance to come back. That was playing the part. It was not just the pressure. It was me not executing on the court well.”

Extraordinarily, Pella will now play American world No103 Mackenzie Mcdonald, who will also be playing for the first time in third round of a Major. For this is a segment that has already seen the exit of No28 seed Filip Krajinovic and No17 seed Lucas Pouille, leaving the 171-ranked Dennis Novak also here, though he will play another former Wimbledon finalist, No13 seed Milos Raonic, for a fourth-round place.

Cilic was not the only big name to fall, though Wawrinka was unseeded in this quarter after his long absence for knee surgery last year. The Swiss took out the No6 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round, but also had to come back after a rain delay in his second match, and lost out to No224-ranked qualifier Thomas Fabbiano, 7-6(7), 6-3, 7-6(6).

So two Major winners gone in the space of an hour. There was better news for US Open finalist Kevin Anderson, who did come through, and for John Isner, who hit 64 aces in a five-set three-and-three-quarter hour match against Belgian qualifier Ruben Bemelmans.

But a quick look down the draw as it heads into Round 3 throws out some very familiar names.

At one end, Federer was in cruise mode, to beat Lukas Lacko with 48 winners for 11 unforced errors in an hour and half. He had taken an hour and 19 minutes to win his first match. He is now 93-11 at the All England Club, and looking every inch the eight-time champion.

And he was followed into the third round, in quick order, by No2 seed Nadal and No12 seed Djokovic—only ranked so low after his extended injury absence following his retirement in the quarter-finals here last year.

Three-time champion Djokovic took only an hour and a half to beat Horacio Zeballos, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 and reach the third round for the 10th consecutive year—his 60th match-win at the tournament.

And right at the bottom of the draw, Nadal took rather longer, but still just in straight sets, to beat Mikhail Kukushkin, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, the Spaniard’s 45th win at Wimbledon.

Nadal’s recent runs at Wimbledon may have been curtailed earlier than usual, but he is a two-time champion who has reached five finals here, and will be strongly tipped to make the fourth-round when he meets young Alex de Minaur, who has won his first two matches here this week.

Yes, this Major has a very familiar feel already: Three prolific champions playing championship tennis.

One more man with a single Major his name, though, joined them: del Potro. More than any of the ‘big three’, he has faced and overcome injury and surgery troubles. The No5 seed has made the semis at Wimbledon before, and arrived here on the back of one his best seasons since, as a 20-year-old, he won the US Open in 2009.

Can he shake up the old order again? He beat the very fine grass veteran, Feliciano Lopez, dropping just seven games. But he is likely to have to beat that entire trio to lift the famous cold trophy: Nadal in the quarters, Djokovic in the semis, Federer in the final—so will things really change this time?

Paul Merson
Paul Merson predicts the winner of Chelsea FC v Man City
Jurgen Klopp
Paul Merson reveals his prediction for Brentford v Liverpool FC
Thomas Tuchel
Shaun Wright-Phillips predicts where Chelsea FC and Man City will finish
Paul Merson
Paul Merson discusses his prediction for Man United v Aston Villa
Marcelo Bielsa
Paul Merson explains his prediction for Leeds United v West Ham United
Paul Merson
Paul Merson predicts the winner of Chelsea FC v Man City
Jurgen Klopp
Paul Merson reveals his prediction for Brentford v Liverpool FC
Thomas Tuchel
Shaun Wright-Phillips predicts where Chelsea FC and Man City will finish
Paul Merson
Paul Merson discusses his prediction for Man United v Aston Villa
Marcelo Bielsa
Paul Merson explains his prediction for Leeds United v West Ham United
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature