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Trudging to the locker room after a 16-14 fifth set against Santiago Giraldo, Thiemo De Bakker must have feared that this protracted encounter would leave him at a physical disadvantage against his next opponent, either Isner or Mahut.  As all tennis fans know well, such thoughts proved unfounded as the Frenchman and the American shattered virtually every record in every single-match category.  In fact, their seven-hour, 118-game final set-in-progress stretched so far beyond the boundaries of credulity that one expects its statistical superlatives to endure forever.  Ten hours and 193 aces later, though, what difference does it really make?  This first-round battle between two non-contenders stalled the first-week schedule and virtually eliminated both of its participants from sheer exhaustion.  Once an advocate of the no-tiebreak format in Slam deciding sets, we feel compelled to reverse our opinion and call for a merciful ending to these inhumane endurance tests well before 50-50, as Kuznetsova whimsically suggested.  Surely this fast-paced sport doesn’t deserve such a mind-numbing, kidney-challenging stalemate, which provided a gluttonous serving (haha) of generally monotonous tennis.  In order to compensate for the difference between the best-of-five and best-of-three formats, perhaps the doubles super tiebreak (first to 10, win by two) could be implemented instead of the conventional first-to-7 structure.  At least, Slams could employ such a deadlock-denying tactic in the first week before the marquee stars intersect.  A marathon final set between Federer and Roddick in the championship match is a classic, but a marathon final set between Isner and Mahut in the first round is a human rain delay.  Here are a handful of Day 4 matches to note while Wimbledon’s Believe It Or Not winds into its eleventh hour of futility.

Soderling (6) vs. Granollers (Court 1, 2nd match):  At the start of 2010, the unremarkable Spaniard rallied from a two-set deficit to stun the Swede in his Australian Open first round.  Soderling had swept their three previous meetings, including a four-setter on these same British lawns in the same round a year ago.  Yet all of the sets were close on that occasion, indicating that this matchup bothers the two-time French Open finalist more than one might imagine considering Granollers’ pedestrian ranking.  Far more powerful than his adversary, Soderling will need to banish memories of their collisions in an intriguing test of his mental willpower.  During an opening win over Ginepri, he looked as formidable as any men’s contender and more formidable than most, but the Swede does remain vulnerable to the unexpected letdown.  If the Spaniard can stay close early, a little drama might develop before the sixth seed moves on to more tranquil waters in the third round.

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Dolgopolov vs. Tsonga (10) (Court 2, 1st match):  Unfocused and uncharacteristically irritable in his four-set opening win over the tricky Kendrick, the tenth seed alternated electrifying forehands and deft volleys with senseless misses and despairing moans.  One of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the draw, the much-misspelled Dolgopolov (add a Jr. if you want) has steadily climbed up the rankings this season with victories over Tomic, Fish, Seppi, Clement, and Gonzalez; last week, he reached the Eastbourne semifinals and mustered a creditable performance against eventual champion Llodra.  Boding well for his continued rise was his resolute demeanor when he encountered Nadal on clay, much sturdier than most developing stars facing an elite player for the first time.  His game remains raw and a little undisciplined, rendering an upset in a best-of-five format unlikely.  Nevertheless, Dolgopolov clearly has achieved an impressive comfort level on grass and brings much more surface experience to the contest than does Tsonga.  If his self-belief doesn’t falter on a Wimbledon show court, this match could be highly competitive although probably not exquisite tennis.

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Serena (1) vs. Chakvetadze (Court 2, 3rd match) :  Watching the once-formidable Chakvetadze in her opener against Petkovic, we noticed that she is striking her groundstrokes with greater depth and conviction than she has during most of her extended swoon since early 2008.  Not only creating clever angles with both forehand and backhand, she sensibly eschewed low-percentage shotmaking from behind the baseline and displayed further intelligence by occasionally wrong-footing the German.  A fountain of double faults over the past two years, her serve remained steady even under pressure deep in the final set.  Against Serena, of course, she’ll need to play at the very summit of her abilities just to stay competitive, and she’ll probably require some assistance from Serena.  After a thunderous first set in her opener, the top seed dropped her game a few notches in the second set, allowing her overmatched opponent to stay within range.  In this case, however, an overpowering first set probably would prove sufficient to crush the Russian’s ever-fragile confidence.  Long a mental midget, Chakvetadze needs to seize the early momentum and hope for a sluggish start from the American.  If this former prodigy starts promisingly, the match could be quite entertaining; if Serena establishes control immediately, it could get gruesome quickly.

Jovanovski vs. Azarenka (14) (Court 12, 2nd match):  After the initial wave of Djokovic, Ivanovic, and Jankovic, the Serbs just keep climbing up the tennis hierarchy in numbers vastly disproportionate to their nation’s size.  The latest Belgrade bombshell, the 18-year-old Jovanovski defeated Rybarikova, Molik, and Chakvetadze earlier in 2010 as she attempts to crack the top 100; in the first round, she ruthlessly eviscerated talented Australian lefty Casey Dellacqua.  Despite suffering from a leg injury in the Eastbourne final, Azarenka has relished the shift from clay to grass as much as anyone and should be eager to exploit an extremely inviting quarter of the draw.  While the Minx from Minsk endured a few puzzling losses during her last several events, she should decode the Serb’s game in plenty of time to advance.  It’s always fascinating to watch an evolving player adjust to confronting top contenders at top tournaments, however, and the first week of a Slam is a great opportunity to assess what potential future stars might offer.

Vinci vs. Pavlyuchenkova (29) (Court 14, 2nd match):  Like Soderling and Granollers, they met in the same place and the same round a year ago.  On that occasion, the cunning Italian veteran prevailed over an inexperienced player nearly a decade younger than herself.  A former junior #1 and junior Slam champion, the many-syllabled Russian avenged that defeat on the Brisbane hard courts this year, but injuries and erratic serving have led to several lopsided losses in recent months.  Not endowed with an overwhelming delivery either, Vinci will seek to disrupt the rhythm of her baseline-bound foe with tantalizing slices that invite her to move forward out of her comfort zone.  Can finesse and intelligent point construction prevail, or will Pavlyuchenkova’s groundstroke power deny the Italian time to create her artful combinations?  At any rate, expect more breaks of serve and longer rallies than are typical on grass; this match should prove a refreshing antidote to the serve-a-licious marathon a few courts away.

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Zheng (23) vs. Kvitova (Court 17, 1st match):  A surprise semifinalist here in 2008, Zheng produced a third-round upset over top seed Ivanovic that not only signaled the Serb’s vertiginous collapse but also showcased the ability of compact, balanced counterpunches to overcome towering, slow-footed sluggers.  The fearless Chinese star reprised that startling run with a second Slam semifinal appearance in Australia this year, after which she defeated Sharapova and threatened eventual finalist Wozniacki at Indian Wells.  Among the curious paradoxes of grass is its capacity to reward both the very tall and the very small, the former of whom can crack unreturnable serves and the latter of whom can manipulate the surface’s low bounces.  Against a mercurial Czech lefty, Zheng enjoys a substantial mental edge, but her high-risk style also can slip off the rails without warning.  She must elevate her first-serve percentage in order shield her puny second delivery from Kvitova’s bold return; also, she should target her adversary’s loopy forehand, a long swing that easily can be mistimed on so fast a surface.  If she takes chances at judicious moments, a delicious third-round collision with Azarenka beckons.

Briefly noted:  On such a relatively uneventful day, we had to upgrade the matches that normally would populate this section to a more privileged status.  Expect our usual coda to return for Day 5.

Meanwhile, the only women’s champion in the draw not named Williams returns on Day 4 with an outfit as immaculate as the lawns of the All England Club.  Let’s hope that clay specialist Ioana Raluca Olaru doesn’t muddy Maria’s dress as did Gisela Dulko in the second round last year.

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The British monarch won’t be the only queen to appear at Wimbledon on Thursday.

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