Grass Threats Nalbandian, Blake Ousted at Slow Wimbledon

Posted on July 1, 2006

Playing with the grass length, density and weight of the balls over the years, Wimbledon has endeavored to make grasscourt tennis more "watchable," moving away from serving contests and towards protracted rallies akin to hardcourt tennis.

Like the adage says, be careful what you wish for.

On Friday Wimbledon officials saw former runner-up David Nalbandian, former No. 2-ranked net-rusher Tommy Haas, and Top 10 fan-favorite James Blake exit the event, with Nalbandian and Haas the victims of free-swinging baseliners loving the modern slowed-down lawns.

The No. 4-seeded Nalbandian was defeated in straight sets by the ferocious forehand of Spaniard and No. 28 seed Fernando "Hot Sauce" Verdasco; the No. 19-seeded Haas was edged 8-6 in the fifth by No. 13 Tomas Berdych; and the No. 8-seeded Blake, who seemed like a definite week-two threat after beating Andy Roddick at Queen's, dropped the fourth and fifth sets 6-1 and 6-0 against unseeded Max "The Beast" Mirnyi.

"There's no one thing that I'm doing wrong in fifth sets, I don't think," said Blake, who dropped to 0-9 in career five-set matches. "But if anyone can figure out one thing, I'd love to hear it...I wasn't making my first serves. Just went off for a little while. That hasn't happened to me in a long time."
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Berdych, whose win lifted his career five-set record to 8-0, will next face world No. 1 Roger Federer, who he beat at the Athens Olympics. Federer straight-setted Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, noting his success lay in staying primarily at the baseline on the slowed grasscourts.

"I realized early on that I wanted to be the dominant player from the baseline, whenever there's a rally from the baseline, that I'm in command," said Federer after notching his record 44th consecutive win on grass. "I tried to stay back a little bit more often and it worked. It was a tricky match."

Other seeded winners were No. 6 Lleyton Hewitt, defeating Korea's Hyung-Taik Lee 6-4 in the fifth in the continuation of a match started Thursday, and No. 14 Radek Stepanek who dropped the first set but outlasted former No. 1 and No. 24 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero 11-9 in the fifth.

Unseeded Brit-Scot hope Andy Murray delighted the crowd by completing his darkness-delayed match from the previous day, defeating Frenchman Julien Benneteau 6-1 in the fourth to set up a Saturday meeting with two-time defending runner-up Andy Roddick.

"This is the best I've played for the last couple of months," Murray told the BBC. "I feel like I can go for my shots a lot more and they'll drop in rather than going two feet out. Playing Andy Roddick is a huge match for me. He's a former finalist, a former world No. 1, a Grand Slam champion, so it's an honor to be on the same court as him."

Other winners in all-unseeded play were Swede Jonas Bjorkman (d. Bracciali), and Serb comer Novak Djokovic (d. Youzhny in four).

No. 7 seed Mario Ancic was tied with Stan Wawrinka 7-6(5), 6-7(5) when the match was suspended due to darkness.

Saturday's blockbuster line-up at Wimbledon includes highlights (2) Nadal vs. (25) Agassi, (3) Roddick vs. Murray, (5) Ljubicic vs. (27) Tursunov, (15) Grosjean vs. (18) Baghdatis, (10) Gonzalez vs. (23) Ferrer, Fish vs. Labadze, and (6) Hewitt vs. (26) O.Rochus.

"He obviously beat him [Roddick] earlier this year but Roddick has been to two Wimbledon finals and that is a great record," Andy Murray's brother Jamie told The Scotsman. "But if there was a time for Andy to beat him I think it is now. Roddick isn't as confident as he has been previously."