We are down to just eight players at the Wimbledon Championships. And there’s no real, true surprise like we have with Magdalena Rybarikova’s Cinderella run in the women’s draw.
Looking back to the fourth round, the big story was Gilles Muller’s stunner over Rafael Nadal. Muller has been dynamite on the grass this season while Rafa has struggled in recent years, so in my mind it wasn’t a huge upset when you take history into account. But it was by how he did it, 15-13 in the fifth, holding his nerve and often beating Rafa from the ground late in that match.
All that talk of Rafa playing better than ever, well?
Muller used that lefty serve to jump out ahead then somehow, someway regrouped in the fifth when it looked like Nadal would run away with it. Truly an amazing performance from a guy playing his best tennis in his mid 30s.
To me, the loss means Nadal probably will never win Wimbledon again – there are a lot of power servers like Muller. But Rafa will be fine ahead for the hard courts and depending on what Federer does this week, he’s the favorite to finish No. 1.
Milos Raonic beating Alexander Zverev was a mild surprise to me. The 20-year-old let a set and a break lead slip, then maybe just ran out of gas in the end.
Kevin Anderson also looked depleted by the fifth against Sam Querrey. Tomas Berdych got past Dominic Thiem also in five, while Murray and Marin Cilic both rolled, and Grigor Dimitrov stunk it up (again) against Roger Federer.
So the quarterfinals are set. To the matchups we go.
Andy Murray v Sam Querrey
Can Querrey do it again? Beat another No. 1 defending champion at Wimbledon? I doubt it. Murray leads 7-1 and has beaten Querrey at Wimbledon in 2010. Querrey also comes in after 5-setters against Anderson and JW Tsonga. Both great wins, but those players are nothing like Murray who has one of the best return games and can play defense.
Murray had a bad patch against Fabio Fognini, but otherwise has been on song and only lost one set. Querrey, though, does give him the jitters.
“he obviously likes the conditions here,” Murray said. ‘He played really well last year. He’s had some good wins here, some tight matches as well. He’ll be confident going in.
“Obviously a big serve. Goes for his shots. Very aggressive player. So I’ll need to, you know, like today, I maybe played one or two service games in the first set that weren’t the best. Against him, you can’t really afford that. He’s not an easy guy to break. When he’s ahead, he can serve well. He’s a good frontrunner. I’ll need to make sure I’m serving well and, you know, not letting him dictate too much.”
“When he’s standing up on the baseline, hitting forehands, dictating, he’s a very dangerous player.”
And that is a key: Querrey’s court positioning. On grass, you cannot stand too far back. If Murray’s dropping balls short, Querrey can pick those off. Though as I said, it’s already been a long event for the American and the big servers just don’t seem to get to Murray on the grass.
“It’s going to be tough,” Querrey said. “I’ve played him in the past. Like in Australia, many times before that. He’s playing at a high level. He’s defending champion. No. 1 in the world.
“He loves playing here. The crowd is going to be behind him. But sometimes it’s fun to go out there and play where the crowd is behind the other player 100%. I’m going to try to play aggressive, hopefully play well, and can sneak out a win.”
And he’s right. Sam will have to serve lights out and hope Murray falls apart, which of late he’s been doing. So I can’t rule out Sam, but unless Murray’s hip is bad, this one goes to the No. 1.
The Pick: Murray in 4
Roger Federer v Milos Raonic
The rematch! Raonic toppled Federer in five here last year in the semis. This time, Federer’s healthy and playing better while Raonic isn’t at the same level. Injuries and inconsistency have plagued him all year. And he knows it and last year even with a bum knee Federer almost still won!
“Roger’s been the best player I think this year, hands down, when he’s been on court,” Raonic said. “But it’s not about six months or whatnot, it comes down to Wednesday, one day. So I just got to try to find a way to try to be better on that day.
“Things are a little bit different sort of in terms of momentum for both of us. It’s just about going out there and trying to really put together a good match.”
A lot will depend on Raonic’s serve and Federer’s return game – we know Raonic can’t return. And if Fed can avoid the breaker and get a few returns back, mix in a lot of chips, he’ll avoid peril.
“I got to bring the intensity, the focus that I’ve shown throughout this tournament, the mentality on the serve, first and second serve,” Federer said sizing up Zverev or Roanic. “Very few wrong decision making. Understanding what to do at what stage. Then on the return, keep going for it, keep staying aggressive. Positive attitude. I do believe good things can happen. I think because as they’re both big servers and big hitters, it’s pretty much the same against either one of them.”
And it would probably be the same result.
The pick: Federer in 4
Marin Cilic v Gilles Muller
All credit to Muller for making his first Wimbledon quarterfinal, but the run ends here. Cilic beat him at Queen’s last month in three and I think Wednesday will be the same number of sets.
I just don’t think the 34-year-old Muller recovers after that 4-hour, 48-minute win over Rafa. And Cilic has to be fresh as a daisy.
“It’s quite high, considering I’m playing really well last few weeks,” Cilic said of his confidence. “I have been extremely good on grass court season and also after finishing clay court season. With all the parts of my game, really satisfied everything is working extremely good. The level is, I would say, quite solid. It’s not probably the best possible but definitely really, really solid, and considering with that, returning well, serving well. I’m moving on the court really good. So with everything, really satisfied.”
The key will be the first set. If Cilic jumps out early, it’s over. If Muller can get a quick break, maybe he can ride his serve and ride his confidence to another upset. But I just don’t see that.
The Pick: Cilic in 3
Novak Djokovic v Tomas Berdych
Djokovic was a little peeved about not getting his match in Monday. And he should be. But Andre Agassi and Mario Ancic will get him refocused on Tomas Berdych even though he owns the Czech 25-2.
The problem is we saw Djokovic shaking out that arm against Adrian Mannarino today. Is it something or is it nothing? We don’t know.
I do know that head-to-head and I do know Berdych just doesn’t match up well against Djokovic. Novak exploits Tomas’s lack of speed and gets too many ball back. If he’s healthy, I don’t see any reason that won’t happen tomorrow.
That said, Djokovic could come out flat like at the French and Berdych gets through. Andre and co. won’t let that happen.
The Pick: Djokovic in 5
Of the three, the biggest surprise for me would be Raonic beating Federer. Maybe Muller over Cilic. Murray and Djokovic have been fighting some niggles, and both Querrey and Berdych can get hot and have done it here – Berdych beat Federer and then Djokovic en route to the Wimbledon finals in 2010.
But with Zverev out and Muller running on fumes, all signs point to more Big 4 dominance.
Depending on your tastes – Center Court or Court 1 – ESPN and ESPN2 will have live dual coverage of both courts from 8am ET! Get ready!
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