Wimbledon 2018: Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber head to QFs
Golden oldies Part 2: Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber progress to the last eight at Wimbledon
On super Monday at Wimbledon, the schedule was packed with the last 16 men and women in the draw.
They had enjoyed their ‘day of rest’, or at least a day away from competition and crowds of fans, to go about some gentle practice with fellow survivors, and alongside a new wave of players, the junior draws.
So Monday, ‘manic Monday’ some insist, saw every court packed from start to finish as old champions, new champions and hopeful future champions donned their whites and their rackets.
Both the men’s and the women’s singles draws had certainly seen their share of upsets. The last 16 men included six unseeded players among their number, but even so, the old familiar names were there: Former multiple champions Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, plus a couple of Major finalists and a US Open champion, Juan Martin del Potro.
But on the women’s side, the final 16 had a far more open look. Of the eight women seeded to reach the quarter-finals of this year’s Championships, only two remained in contention before the first week was over.
The defending champion Garbine Muguruza, who many saw as a strong candidate to retain the title here, lost out to the 47-ranked Alison van Uytvanck in the second round. And that completed a purging of the top women’s seeds that began in the first round with No8 Petra Kvitova, No6 Caroline Garcia, No4 Sloane Stephens and No5 Elina Svitolina, and continued in the second round with No2 Caroline Wozniacki.
Stephens and Wozniacki, reigning Major champions, even had the chance to claim the No1 ranking if they made it to the final. No more: Simona Halep would hold her spot there, but only just. She lost in third round of the draw in a thrilling three-setter against former doubles champion, the 32-year-old Su-Wei Hsieh.
Many other seeds departed early, too. Johanna Konta, a semi-finalist last year, made it to the second round, and Maria Sharapova joined fellow former Wimbledon champions Muguruza and Kvitova in falling at the first hurdle.
That left just one woman from the top 10, No7 seed Karolina Pliskova, as the 128 women became 16—the fewest at Wimbledon in the Open era. She was, indeed, one of only seven remaining seeds altogether in the second week—the fewest to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon since the number of seeds was increased to 32 in 2001.
It meant, for the fans, that they could sit back and enjoy some new names. More than half of the women were appearing in the fourth round here for the first time. Along with Pliskova and Hsieh were Kiki Bertens, Julia Goerges, Daria Kasatkina, Evgeniya Rodina, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, van Uytvanck, and Donna Vekic.
And then there was Serena Williams.
She was not among those top 10 seeds, and her reasons have been covered extensively. She won the Australian Open last year, while two months pregnant, had a daughter in September, suffered serious post-partum problems, and returned to competition—briefly—this March.
Along the way, she rose to No1, the oldest woman to do so, but arrived here with just seven matches from four tournaments in the last 18 months.
Yet here was a woman who had first played here 20 years ago, reaching the third round, as a 16 year old. She reached the semis in 2000, won the first of her seven Wimbledon titles in 2002, and as she played for a chance to reach the quarter-finals, she was also in pursuit of her 90 match-win here.
Yet she was, in fact, ranked at only 181—she had been awarded a discretionary 25 seeding in recognition of her previous appearance here and her No1 status when she went on maternity leave. But by the time she was facing fellow mother, Rodini, ranked at 120, Williams was emerging as a strong favourite for a run to the final.
She was yet to drop a set, and as the opposition got stronger—and the unseeded Kiki Mladenovic ended last season at No11 before injury problems impeded her progress—so did Williams.
It took her only an hour to beat the Russian qualifier, 6-2, 6-2. The toll of qualifying and then beating No10 seed Madison Keys in three long sets, had taken their toll. She could not live with the Williams power and experience, nor fend off 10 aces and 30 winners.
Now Williams faces No52 Camila Giorgi, who beat Ekaterina Makaraova, 6-3, 6-4, and she has won all three of their previous matches.
On paper, however, Williams had the prospect of a much tougher opponent come the semis: Pliskova. But the Czech, a former finalist at the US Open and former No1, could not keep the flag flying for the top 10 women. She was beaten in straight sets by No20 Bertens, 6-3, 7-6(1).
She will now play Goerges, seeded 13 here, and playing some fine tennis to beat Vekic, 6-3, 6-2.
The highest remaining seed is No11, Angelique Kerber, who has been quietly moving through the bottom half of the draw vacated by Garcia and Muguruza. After taking out the dangerous youngster Naomi Osaka, she beat Belinda Bencic, 6-3, 7-6(5), though the Swiss player, still only 21 and a former No7 in the world before injury problems, did have set points but could not convert.
Kerber, age 30 and producing some of her best results in the latter stages of her career, was a runner-up here in 2016 and won both the Australian and US Open that same year. After a slight slump in confidence last year, the German picked up her form this season to make the semis in Australian, the quarters in Paris, and reach the finals on the grass of Eastbourne.
In that last event, she beat the woman she faces next, Kasatkina, and that was a cracker, decided in Kerber’s favour, 6-1, 6-7(3), 7-6(3).
Beyond that, one of the potential semi-final opponents for Kerber is Dominika Cibulkova, who missed out on a seeding after Williams was promoted among the 32. The Slovak has been proving her worth, too, beating Konta and Mertens before dominating Hsieh, 6-4 6-1.
Cibulkova will first face Jelena Ostapenko, who beat Sasnovich 7-6(4), 6-0.