By: Andrew Eccles
Saturday night saw reigning Wimbledon champions Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova – alongside the ever-consistent David Ferrer – attempt to battle their way to the second week. Challengers Fernando Verdasco, Madison Keys, and Gilles Simon were all players that posed major threats, but on a night which all about staying mentally strong, only one of the major names would fall.
Ferrer vs. Simon: Grinding into the Ground
The Spanish No. 2 may not have a slam to his name, but his reputation as a regular feature deep in any draw meant that Gilles Simon was not taking his higher-ranked opponent for granted.
Ferrer is a grinder, a master of the long win, somebody against whom you must be fully fit. Simon and Ferrer had faced each other seven times in the past, with Ferrer leading the head-to-head by a healthy 5-2.
But four of those victories had come on clay; on hard courts, Simon had the edge.
The French former No. 6 is known as much for his difficulties closing out matches as for his estimable talents. Fans have become accustomed to long, drawn out battles featuring the No. 18 seed, and tonight would be no different. While Ferrer came out firing at the start – racing through a 6-2 first set – the rest of the match would play out in typically dramatic fashion.
This was a war of attrition, where each man battled to survive arduous rallies, struggling to find clean strikes to finish points. Very little separated them; over the course of the match, they hit an equal number of winners, 36 each. It was Ferrer’s nerve that would hold steady in the second set though, taking it 7-5, and heading into what looked likely to be the third and final set.
It wasn’t to be. The No. 9 seed served for the match at 5-2 and again at 5-4, wasting his opportunities and allowing his opponent back into the contest.
The Spaniard lost five games in a row, and a fourth set loomed.
With Simon looking exhausted, Ferrer was able to regroup and, ultimately, progress. The final stages remained tight; a tiebreak decided things, but the Frenchman couldn’t control his shots and just a few extra misjudgements cost him the match. Ferrer won, 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 7-6, with a margin of 66 unforced errors to Simon’s 72.
Ferrer next faces No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori to start the second week, in what promises to be another grinding affair.
Djokovic vs. Verdasco: Open & Shut
Fernando Verdasco is one of the most formidable floaters of the last decade, having made considerable impact on the ATP World Tour with an enigmatic game built around a fearless forehand. In recent years, the Spaniard has struggled to find the consistency and potency of old, but is still capable of a major upset if he plays at his best.
Djokovic is, by contrast, very much a player in his prime. The top seed is on a mission to reclaim his Australian Open crown after suffering a shock defeat to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in last year’s quarterfinals.
But Verdasco certainly had his chances. Djokovic found it difficult to get a grip on the ball in the first set, leaving things open for the Spaniard to strike early. It wasn’t particularly dynamic tennis – each man labored to keep on even footing with the other until key final games.
Where in the past we might have expected Verdasco to get pumped up towards the business end of the set, we saw a nervous display instead, one that betrayed the pressure he clearly felt from the World No. 1. With some truly terrible serving, Verdasco faded and Djokovic stole the opener, 7-5.
The Serbian didn’t look back from there. Reading Verdasco’s mental weakness, Djokovic began to hit the ball cleaner and find more opportunities to break serve. With the best players in the world, all it takes is the tiniest sign of struggle for the killer instinct to awaken. There was no way back for Verdasco.
Djokovic won rather convincingly in the end, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Gilles Muller will be the man awaiting him in the fourth round.
Kvitova vs Keys: The Ingenue & The Upset
With new coach Lindsay Davenport looking on, Madison Keys would attempt to become the fourth American woman to reach the second week. To accomplish this increasingly rare feat, she had to overcome the oft-unbeatable ground game of two-time Wimbledon champion, No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova.
Keys is one of the young WTA players to watch, without a doubt. She has a powerful serve, a great attitude and a hammering cross court forehand that makes the eyes water. What she has lacked in the past is the mental fortitude to overcome the best players in the sport.
If she needed luck, the universe provided a sign by way of seagull – the TV cameras caught the moment when a special delivery was dropped square on Davenport’s leg, causing an outburst of embarrassed laughter.
But luck was not the key for Keys in the end; it was consistency. Throughout the first set, the two women exchanged breaks of serve, one after the other. Each tried to be aggressive off the return to start the rally on the front foot. Neither player is great on defense – it’s all about hitting the ball early, often, and extremely hard.
There were a total of eight breaks over the course of the two-set match, but Keys was able to take advantage most consistently. For her part, Kvitova looked sluggish and disengaged. She didn’t play some of the horror show tennis we’ve seen from her in the past, where a failure to find rhythm leads to balls blasted meters outside of the tramlines.
What she did do was play with little thought. She did not attack the Keys backhand as much as she should have. She did not move her young opponent around the court as much as she might have wanted. She did not play with the ferocity that has seen her twice lift the Venus Rosewater dish in London.
Keys was ferocious, unblinkingly so. She continued to go for her serves despite getting regularly broken. She continued to pummel the forehand until Kvitova was forced into errors.
It was a solid, and calm display.
Learning to hold your nerve is a big step on the road toward becoming a top player, and over the course of her 6-4, 7-5 victory, Keys looked to have learned that lesson. She faces another American Madison in the fourth round, Madison Brengle – a fantastic opportunity to book her place in the quarterfinals.
What was your favorite moment of last night’s matches? Sound off in the comments!