Among the most compelling reasons to watch Novak Djokovic is the Serb’s unpredictability, which echoes the pleasantly surprising narratives that emerge from this unpredictable sport. Expecting an engaging Day 5 after perusing the order of play, however, we were unpleasantly surprised by the dreary day that developed from what had seemed fascinating encounters. On the women’s side, not only were there no three-setters, but only one of the sixteen sets even reached 5-5. On the men’s side, most of the matches that weren’t routine ended anticlimactically, including a fifth-set retirement and a Roddick-Kohlschreiber collision that grew less rather than more dramatic as it progressed. Settling into the monochrome mood, even Federer returned to routine efficiency after the tension-soaked rollercoasters that had characterized his first two rounds. Relatively unpromising compared to its predecessor, the Day 6 order of play perhaps will startle us in the opposite sense by unfolding a thriller or two. Here are the most likely candidates for that role:
Soderling (6) vs. Bellucci (25) (Court 1, 1st match): Opting for rest rather than a grass preparatory event, Soderling has vindicated that decision by smothering his first two opponents with withering serves. Across the net stands one of the ATP’s most upwardly mobile newcomers, a Brazilian lefty who shines most notably on clay but possesses sufficient power to challenge on all surfaces. Steadily rising through the rankings, Bellucci has relied upon similar serve-groundstroke combinations to the Swede, so their matchup should be littered with unreturned serves, short points, and ultra-aggressive, sometimes impatient shotmaking. Soderling should consider using his cross-court forehand to expose his opponent’s weaker backhand side, while the Brazilian should test the sixth seed with wide serves into both the deuce and the ad courts; the Swede proves least comfortable when extended laterally early in rallies. As formidable as anyone in the first two rounds, Soderling should march onwards towards another meeting with Nadal; shot for shot, there’s no arena in which his adversary holds the edge. Yet one expects Bellucci’s sliced serve to dart elusively across the grass and allow him to hold with adequate regularity to stay within range for at least one or two sets.
Malisse vs. Querrey (18) (Court 1, 3rd match): The future of American’s tennis attempts to translate his Queens Club success to Wimbledon by exploiting a relatively open draw. More than once on the brink of a fifth set against the unheralded Ivan Dodig in the second round, Querrey still struggles occasionally to efficiently close out matches without allowing his opponent renewed hope. Nevertheless, his victory in the marathon fourth-set tiebreak (well, not “marathon” in the Isner-Mahut sense) testified to his recently enhanced focus, suggesting that some long-awaited maturity may have finally arrived for this lanky Californian. Among his Queens Club victims was the enigmatic Malisse, plagued by injuries and inconsistency but dangerous when fit. The Belgian demonstrated his fitness in a five-set opening victory over last year’s quarterfinalist Ferrero, which extended his momentum from an upset over Djokovic in the preparatory event. If Querrey enters the contest a trifle complacent or unwary, as he might considering his recent victory at Queen Club, the veteran will have a real opportunity to accomplish a minor upset. On grass, Malisse won’t need to hit as many shots in order to finish a point; the surface rewards his style of low-percentage shotmaking more often than punishing it. On the other hand, he’ll find that breaking Querrey on this surface is a tall order indeed.
Errani (32) vs. Radwanska (7) (Court 2, 1st match): Although one typically associates grass with the mighty ball-striking of a Williams or a Sharapova, Radwanska has demonstrated the effectiveness of the opposite style. Rather than greeting each ball with full-blooded swings (and shrieks), the Pole exploits the vagaries of the soft surface with feathery drop shots and dipping slices. Her exceptional finesse has carried her into consecutive quarterfinals at the All England Club, at which stage she was ruthlessly outgunned by the sisters. Also much more gifted at subtlety than power, Errani excels at opening up the court with unexpected angles and befuddling opponents with clever play at the net. Don’t be surprised to see numerous service breaks and more extended exchanges than one has grown accustomed to expect on this surface. During an era of Bolletieri-inspired baseline bombing, it can be diverting to watch these ingenious artisans display their craft before mightier warriors seize center stage (and Centre Court) later in the tournament.
Wozniacki (3) vs. Pavlyuchenkova (29) (Court 2, 2nd match): According to recent history, this matchup should be less scintillating than one would suppose, since the third seed cleaned the Russian’s clock twice already this year. Once the world’s foremost junior, Pavlyuchenkova has stalled a bit since last year and has been hampered with untimely injuries; like most Russians, she has become increasingly susceptible to clusters of double faults. Injuries are far from unknown to her opponent, however, for Wozniacki (unwisely, we think) continues to play through a hamstring injury incurred at Charleston in April. During the first two rounds, an average performance sufficed to dispatch a pair of unprepossessing foes, and something between decent and solid should prove adequate again. Moderately powerful yet not overwhelming from the baseline, Pavlyuchenkova probably will donate quantities of unforced errors as the Pole-Dane’s counterpunching challenges her consistency. On the other hand, Wozniacki has endured several post-injury losses to foes less formidable than the Russian, so one never quite knows how much support her ankle will give her on any given day.
Chardy vs. Ferrer (9) (Court 12, 1st match): For the fourth time since the start of 2009, these two forehand-oriented games collide as the promising but mercurial Frenchman confronts one of the steadiest competitors in the ATP. Splitting their two non-clay meetings in airtight three-setters, they’ve traded blows from the baseline while rarely venturing into the forecourt. Having cultivated a much more imposing first serve, Chardy will be better able to seize control of points from the outset and showcase his potentially explosive brand of first-strike tennis. Almost antithetical to classic grass-court tennis, Ferrer’s style relies upon relentless retrieving and meticulous point construction much more than upon line-clipping missiles. At Slams, however, the mental component often plays a significant role, so the Spaniard will trust his superior experience to outlast his temperamental foe, still a little unripe at this stage in his development.
Kvitova vs. Azarenka (14) (Court 18, 1st match): Consider packing a suit of armor for this match, filled with more attitude and more explosive tempers than can reasonably be crammed into this cramped outer court, forever famous as the scene of Isner-Mahut. Discomfited by quirky lefty servers in the past (see M for Martinez Sanchez), Azarenka has looked not only sharp but relatively self-possessed during her first two rounds. The Minx from Minsk should find her penetrating, symmetrical baseline game amply rewarded on the grass, where she reached the quarterfinals a year ago. As she battles the volatile Czech, however, her patience may be tested a bit more vigorously than against her previous overmatched opponents. Springing an upset upon then-#1 Safina in a third-set tiebreak at last year’s US Open, Kvitova has both the weaponry and the self-belief to trouble the top players, but her idiosyncratic game generally breaks down under pressure. Moreover, her loopy groundstrokes expose her to the vagaries of the surface more than would compact swings, although Azarenka also might want to shorten her forehand swing (and enhance her second serve) in order to maximize her future chances here. If the Belarussian can control her temper early in the match, she should exploit the Czech player’s inferior movement while punishing Kvitova for her often injudicious shot selection.
Briefly noted: Without the Queen to daintily applaud his exertions, Murray continues his Wimbledon campaign against the recently injury-addled Simon, an outstanding competitor but manifestly ill-equipped for success on grass. While the Scot should extend his fortnight without drama, the charismatic duo of Fognini and Benneteau target an unexpected niche in the second week; deceptively careless in demeanor, the Italian possesses excellent fitness and movement as well as occasional forehand power, while the Frenchman serves more effectively and approaches the net more adroitly. Therefore, a baseline-oriented contest with extended rallies favors Fognini, whereas a more traditional grass-court, net-rushing clash with short points would swing toward Benneteau. Likewise gifted with a delicious opportunity for a second-week appearance are Dulgheru and Kanepi, two players who revitalized their games on the clay before capitalizing on that momentum here. We expect a more competitive match than some of those involving more familiar names, one of whom contests her first third-round match at Wimbledon since a win over Ai Sugiyama in 2007.
Maria seeks her first second-week appearance at a Slam since the 2009 French Open.