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Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 7 Preview

Photo Titled Federer breather

so, here we are in the second week of the 2009 Championships and still the biggest deadlock of all has not been broken. The black clouds gathered, the lightning crackled and still it did not rain on Andy Murray's Centre Court parade on Saturday evening. The roof remained stubbornly open although it was a close-run thing.

So then, onward and upward to today's fourth round of the men's and women's singles. This is traditionally the highlight of the tournament's fortnight for those without tickets to the two main courts, since big names are on show all around the ample acreage of Wimbledon.

No chance, alas, for those without Centre Court access to get any closer to Murray's action than the giant screen on Henman Hill once again. Andy is back inside the cathedral of tennis, no doubt fired up to see if he can put Stanislas Wawrinka to the sword as effectively as he speared Viktor Troicki on Saturday. Their rivalry has so far been another close-run thing, with Andy 4-3 ahead, though significantly he has won four of their past five meetings.

A Davis Cup stalwart for Switzerland, Wawrinka's career has begun to flourish despite the considerable shadow cast by his nation's number one, Roger Federer. Every year the ranking has moved up, every year he has become more of a threat to the top men. At Monte Carlo in April he even beat Federer, for heaven's sake. So again we will be hearing the words "tough" and "respect" from Andy about this next opponent, despite the fact that he is producing the sort of wizardry that could land him a starring role in any future Harry Potter movie.

In Murray's section of the draw, the top half still contains some pretty useful gunslingers, none more experienced than Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 champion, and none more dangerous than a resurgent Andy Roddick, the runner-up here in 2004 and again in 2005. France's Gilles Simon, the eighth seed, had advanced so quietly he might have donned carpet slippers to get this far, and at a cost of only one set.

Croatian Alp Ivo Karlovic produces aces the way ice cream vans dispense cornets

Hewitt, battling and bellowing loud enough to set his cricket colleagues an example for the forthcoming Ashes series, has been a revelation so far. Three matches played, nine sets won. It's the Lleyton of old and it is difficult to see the Czech, Radek Stepanek, the 23rd seed, resisting this Aussie flood tide, especially since he was frequently taking treatment as he laboured through five sets against David Ferrer on Saturday.

What a smart move it was of the All England Club to offer Juan Carlos Ferrero a wild card this year. An acknowledged great, his Grand Slam was nevertheless achieved on the clay of Roland Garros, but the 29-year-old Spaniard could yet match - or even exceed - his quarter-final place in 2007. At this rate Rafael Nadal won't be missed too much, and those Spanish tennis journalists who opted out because of Rafa's withdrawal may yet be left looking a little foolish.

Having blunted Fernando Gonzalez and his boom-boom forehand in the semi-darkness of No.1 Court on Saturday, Juan Carlos (named by his parents after the nation's king) next takes on the softly , softly man, Simon.

On the face of it Roddick, seeded sixth, should have no trouble marching on past today's opponent, the 20th-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych, except that Berdych, rather like Simon, has been gliding through the field so far and has not conceded a set in three rounds. Can the American's master blaster style disrupt this? All tennis fans in the United States will hope so, for he is their last man.

Roger Federer, aiming for that record 15th Grand Slam, will not be unduly worried about his upcoming contest with Robin Soderling. After all, his win over the Swede in the Roland Garros final earlier this month was his 10th in succession. But he may be more concerned about the possibility of running into the Croatian Alp, Ivo Karlovic, who produces aces the way ice cream vans dispense cornets. And still in there in the lower section of the draw is Novak Djokovic, still busy becoming friends with his new racket but making a better job of it all the time.

If the USA is coming up short in the men's event, things are inevitably looking better in the women's singles because of the Williams sisters. But the fact that the USA has three in the last 16 is an eye-opener, thanks to the 17-year-old qualifier from Marietta, Georgia, Melanie Oudin, who ousted an ailing Jelena Jankovic on Saturday. Now Melanie can contemplate even more spectacular inroads, since she next meets Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, who is seeded 11th. It should be easy enough when you realise that Jankovic was the sixth seed.

But in the world of reality, it is that incredible sister pair, Venus and Serena, who continue to dominate even though the opposition is getting more demanding. Serena takes on the unseeded Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who can point to one victory in their previous seven matches, while Venus has been only marginally less successful against her fourth round opponent, Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, the 2008 French Open champion, having won five out of six.

The new brigade, led by Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, may still have a while to go before they can realistically expect to usurp the Williams dominance, not that they will admit such a thing since they are very much alive and kicking in the fourth round

So, too, is the world number one and top seed, Dinara Safina, three times a Grand Slam finalists and never yet a winner. She must now face someone who has won two majors, Amelie Mauresmo, the 2006 champion here, who may be pleasantly surprised at her progress this year following some thin times - and hard times - of late. Allez Amelie!

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