In the last shock of a tournament that has left many fans feeling as if they’d be tasered more than a few times, the men’s Number 1 and 2 seeds actually got through to the final. However, the outcome of today’s matches was about the only thing that went as expected.
That Juan Martin Del Potro would even play today against Novak Djokovic was in question, as late as this morning, due to a knee injured and re-injured in two previous rounds. If he did play, the conventional wisdom had it, he’d better serve big and get off the court in a hurry. Instead, they played the longest match ever in a Wimbledon semifinal, with Nole prevailing after 4 hours, 43 minutes: 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3. Surely, it was the best match of the tournament. In all of that time, there were only 5 breaks of serve. The ace count was 22-4, but the surprise was that it was the Serbian ace who hit 22 winners, while the Tower of Tandil came up with only 4. Perhaps even more unexpected was that, of rallies that went 9+ shots, it was the 6’9″ Del Potro — he of the gimpy knee — who won more of them, over the fast and flexible Serb. Glancing at today’s match stats, you’d have been forgiven for reversing the names.
In the “marquee” match of the day, when it finally started, many expected that the young Polish hopeful, Jerzy Janowicz, would be intimidated by the moment, in his maiden semifinal of a Major. But his display of nerves lasted about 3 or 4 points into Murray’s first service game. Then he settled in, taking on the Great Scot and the heavily partisan crowd with big serves, shot variety, and a more than a little aplomb. He got the first set to a tiebreaker and dominated it, surprising nearly everyone, it seemed, but himself, and putting all of Britain on its last nerve, after the nail-biter they’d endured against Verdasco on Wednesday.
The next three sets went Andy Murray’s way, but not without a fight. Or controversy. With Murray finding his A-game, and riding a huge wave of momentum to win the third set, the chair umpire decided to close the roof as a preventive measure against impending darkness, which was some 45-60 minutes away. (The only previous set that lasted longer than 43 minutes was the first, at 50.) While it only takes 10 minutes to close the roof, it takes another 10-15 to acclimatize the arena, and then the players have to warm up again — essentially all the time it might have taken to play a fourth set. Additionally, Janowicz had been seeming to campaign for closing the roof since around lunchtime. And no wonder…he had previously beaten Murray in Bercy last autumn, an indoor event. The sometimes curmudgeonly #2 complained, but there’s no getting an umpire to back down.
After carrying on, (and on…) Andy managed to keep calm, and came back to break early in the 4th and close it out: 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
In all, there was much good news for men’s tennis today: Juan Martin Del Potro is still very much a danger; young Janowicz may be the brightest of the up-and-comers, fully willing to stick his chin out; and for the moment, at least, a little order is restored.
Here’s hoping that the final can live up to the semifinals that proceed it, and appropriately cap off a rather astonishing Wimbledon.