Back before it was redeveloped in 2009, Wimbledon’s old number two court used to be known as the Graveyard of Champions, with an astonishing number of former winners consigned to first week exits when treading the lawns of the second court. Should the tournament witness another first week like the one that has just been, marketing teams might seek to designate the entire championship as a Graveyard of Champions, so brutal has the culling of the top seeds been.
Serenity Personified – Serena Williams
An appearance in the second week of Wimbledon was expected from the start, but the manner of Williams’ progress is (as usual) worthy of comment. Having dropped just 11 games in the course of her procession to the fourth round, it is worth reiterating that Williams has not yet lost enough games across the entire tournament to have tasted defeat in a match. Admittedly, Williams has yet to face seeded opposition in the competition, yet even so, her work throughout the tournament has been truly exemplary.
Harder challenges await, with fourth-round opponent Sabine Lisicki her greatest test yet, but the prospect of a further unseeded challenge in the quarter finals means Williams may not face one of her closer rivals until the semi-final stage.
Stumble and Fall – Maria Sharapova
The press, tennis fans and most interested observers had probably neatly pencilled in the prospect of a Williams-Sharapova showdown at Wimbledon’s latter stages. Yet after a couple of slips on the increasingly treacherous baseline of the new Court 2, the Russian third seed slipped all the way out of the tournament, bowing out in straight sets to Michele Larcher de Brito, a player ranked a distant 131st in the world.
Sharapova, as she is arguably her wont, refused to blame the surface for her exit while – essentially – blaming the surface for her exit. But the reality is she looked shaken and uncertain as soon as her footing gave out for a second time and de Brito took full advantage.
Gone before she Began – Victoria Azarenka
There was a point, during Victoria Azarenka’s first round victory over Maria Joao Koehler, in which it looked like the second seed might be a shock victim of injury and circumstance. After a heavy fall on a split step, the Belarusian required heavy treatment and – despite a comfortable lead – looked like she may not be able to continue.
Azarenka soldiered on, but come the morning of her second round match, she was gone; forced to withdraw through injury. Azarenka firmly blamed the courts, calling them ‘poor quality’. The only reality that mattered was that another of the tournament’s big guns would not be there for the latter stages.
Under the Radar – Agnieszka Radwanska
Arguably the most understated of the top seeds, Radwanska’s progress had been simplicity itself until she was pushed all the way in three sets against the exciting American, Marion Keys. Radwanska ultimately came through 7-5 4-6 6-4 and now faces more unseeded opposition in the fourth round with a path that ultimately should see her meeting Serena Williams in the semi finals.
Radwanska has been in genuinely good touch this tournament and may well benefit from having been put through her paces in the mid stages of the tournament.
Despite coming into the tournament on the back of a grass court victory at Eastbourne, Elena Vesnina’s tournament came to an early end against 23rd seed Sabine Lisicki. In truth, it wasn’t even close as Lisicki’s powerful, grass court friendly game saw her comfortably through against a player who looked like she’d expended her efforts early on.
Despite a good first round victory, Kerber also departed Wimbledon in the second round, beaten by Estonian Kaia Kanepi. An incredibly dangerous unseeded opponent, Kanepi simply had too much power for Kerber and is now effectively one of the dark horses of the tournament herself.
Well, thank goodness we got one right, but we’re not going to claim it’s been easy. After a simple first round victory, Stephens has been pushed to three sets in both the second and third rounds, and has displayed outstanding battling qualities to keep herself in the draw into the second week.
Well…it’s gone somewhere between horrendous and brilliant for the British contingent. But because the sun is shining and because it’s so easy to focus on the negatives, we’re just going to talk about the good (and surely, the future great) that is Laura Robson.
The last time a British woman made the fourth round, it was 1998 and Robson herself was just four years old. In that year it was Sam Smith, but with all respect to Smith, Robson is probably the first British female player we’ve had to get truly excited about in the course of The Sportist’s lifetime.
It could have been so different, though. Flat, nervous and apparently deserted by her game, Robson faced match points against New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic, down 1-6 3-5 and seemingly on her way out of the tournament for another year. Instead, something remarkable happened and a run of eight consecutive games later, Robson was two breaks to the good in the deciding set. Nerves tightened the young Brit up with the finishing line in sight, but she hauled herself over to make the second round of a grand slam for only the second time.
There are, of course, huge questions still to be asked about the state of British tennis, with no other British female (and indeed, only Andy Murray in the men’s draw) making it through to the second round. With Robson blazing a trail that will surely take her into the world’s top ten within the next 18 months and Heather Watson – unfortunate to have been stricken by ill health in the early stages of this year – not very far behind her, there are bright horizons for a small part of British tennis. And if Robson can battle her way past Kaia Kanepi and into the quarter finals, things will surely feel even brighter.
Image from http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/wimbledon thanks!