After what many would describe as typical British summer weather and miserable rain that had seen Wimbledon attendances hit a nine-year low in its opening week, the skies that had plagued SW19 lifted – at least to some degree – and allowed crowds to recover somewhat on Day 5.
That coincided with an intriguing Friday schedule, notably featuring a crossroads encounter of former grand slam winners and the action-packed promise of two showmen colliding. Both of those marquee match-ups ultimately delivered on court, whilst elsewhere there were talking points aplenty on the most exciting day of the tournament so far.
The men’s second-round draw had pitted former French and Australian open champion – and current world no.4 – Stan Wawrinka against Juan Martin Del Potro on Centre Court. Del Potro – the 2009 Us Open champion at the age of 20 – has spent the last number of years in tennis wilderness after hampering wrist injuries and several surgeries, but recently returned to winning ways at the top level of the sport after wildcard entries to a number of tour meetings.
That match was placed first on Centre, given it’s potential to possibly be the tie of the tournament, a battle between Wawrinka’s exemplary backhand and Del Potro’s fabled forehand if his wrists could hold up.
Then, on Court 2., an action movie in tennis whites. Australian bad-boy Nick Kyrgios squaring off with the dread-locked German Dustin Brown. Both men with a penchant for on-court flair, they had each recorded upset victories over Rafael Nadal at this tournament in the past two years.
Wawrinka and Del Potro were meeting for the sixth time in their careers, with the big Argentine leading their head-to-head series 3-2 going into the match. Way back in 2008 however, Wawrinka had won their only previous grass-court encounter in straight sets (7-6(5), 6-3, 7-5) and the way that the first set unfolded, it appeared as though the Swiss would claim just as routine a victory on this occasion.
The 31-year-old claimed an early break and maintained his advantage to comfortably take the opening set 6-3.
Wawrinka was making the most of the weakness of Del Potro’s backhand slice, far from what it once was, and was targeting his end of the rallies to that area. Del Potro, now ranked No. 165 in the world, managed to hold serve and lead 2-1 in the early stages of the second but there appeared to be some pretty ominous writing on the wall.
But then, shades of the man that had recovered from a set and a break down to Roger Federer in that US Open final appeared and Del Potro rallied to break Wawrinka and lead 3-1.
He held serve again to consolidate the break, and kept his composure to take the second set 6-3. We had a match on our hands, but the sense was that the third set would more important to Del Potro than it would be to Wawrinka if he were to win this match.
Whilst intervals of rain began to interrupt play on the outer courts, including Krygios’s battle with Brown, the Centre Court roof allowed the great theatre of Del-Potro-Wawrinka to continue. The third set would be a toe-to-toe battle that saw four breaks of serve (two each) but would end in a tie-break. And Del Potro took it, roaring his way to win the breaker 7-2.
Wawrinka is known for his resilience but the momentum was with Del Potro and when he secured a break in the fourth, he stood on the brink of what would be viewed as a an upset victory. Serving for the match at 5-3, a huge forehand powered him to 30-0 and at 30-15, he finally hit his first backhand winner to bring up two match points.
He would only need one, as Wawrinka sailed a backhand of his own wide. Del Potro won in four sets, to make at least the third round of Wimbledon after missing the last nine grand slams, and gave the Centre Court crowd an emotional salute.
It’s a good job that there isn’t a roof on Court 2, as the entertainment levels between Krygios and Brown were sky high. Brown, a human highlight reel whose theatrics are often more impressive than his tennis results unfortunately, was going through his full repertoire here, but the 31-year-old German was making an impact on the scorecard too and took the first set on a tie-break.
Though known for his own erratic behaviour and equally erratic results himself, the perception here was that Krygios was the better tennis player and that his talents should eventually win through. He demonstrated just why in the second, comfortably winning the set 6-1.
But Brown was not done as the man known to his Twitter following as ‘Dreddy Tennis’ swung the pendulum off the match once more, taking the third 6-2. If Krygios was to progress, he would have to do it in five sets.
There were many aces, between the leg shots, drop shots, lobs and acrobatic dives from both men aplenty, but eventually Krygios’s talent did trump the unorthodox Brown and he ousted the German 6-7, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. By Krygios’s standards, it was a mature performance and if the 21-year-old can maintain that discipline, without denting his box-office style of play, there’s a chance he could go deep in this tournament. Andy Murray likely awaits in the fourth round.
As well as exciting match-ups between fringe contenders for this year’s championship, Friday also saw the top seeds in both the men’s and women’s draw in action. Serena Williams followed Del Potro’s win on Centre, as she took on world number 65 Christina McHale, and was pushed surprisingly close by her fellow American as she was taken into a battling third set, but won 6-7, 6-2, 6-4.
Serena’s sister Venus preceded Novak Djokovic’s match with Sam Querry on Court One, and like her younger sibling was pushed close but eventually won late in the third, beating teenager Daria Kasatkina 7-5 4-6 10-8.
The rain had been intermittent and had delayed the schedule somewhat, but Djokovic and Querry eventually made it out for their third round encounter. But much to the amazement of the Court One crowd – and Djokovic – Querry raced into a two-set lead, taking the first on a tiebreak and then, in a tour-de-force exhibition of powerful serving, raced to win the second 6-1.
Djokovic was on the ropes.
The dominant Serb was in this position last year against Kevin Anderson however, recovering from a two-set deficit overnight to come back and win in five. And when the rain inevitably came again, forcing the protagonists to abandon the days play for good and return tomorrow, the world number one must have felt like he had been saved by the bell.
He’ll have to vastly improve tomorrow, but it’s something we’ve seen from Djokovic before.