Jul 03, 2022

2022 Wimbledon ATP & WTA Day 7 (Round Four)

ATP Singles
Djokovic vs Van Rijthoven :

This is the match we’ve been asking for from the beginning. It feels different now that it’s here. At the beginning of this tournament, Djokovic’s level was unknown. He’s the favorite heading into any Wimbledon in the last five years, but how sharp he’d actually be given his lack of matches was the big question (no warmup events played besides Hurlingham). TVR’s unbeaten streak this grass season is something the tour has actually never seen before, and his serve and groundstrokes are so easy and pure that ideas about his ceiling are still running wild. As far as that ceiling is concerned, a 6-4, 6-2 win against the #2 player in the world Daniil Medvedev is apparently the current minimum. TVR was oddly the established commodity, and there was some mystery about how Djokovic would arrive.

In round one, Novak looked a bit conservative, content to hang in rallies and outlast his opponent which resulted in a lot of good reps for Novak. In round two, Novak got into a good rhythm returning serve, and breezed through the match. TVR’s chances still looked good, but round 3 came and Novak put the tournament on notice. The first set against Kecmanovic was as scary a set of tennis as you will see an opponent play. There were errors and missed serves, but it was clear that Djokovic was looking to completely shut Kecmanovic down. We’re all trying to win out there, but watching Novak give up 0 ground and battle for every extra point was a good reminder of the high level he can elevate his game to.

TVR managed his own straight set win against Basilashvili nicely, but it wasn’t the same level of dominant performance as Djokovic. His serve is still sharp, his slices yielded errors, and his forehand was really sharp when he had balls to work with. Basil was right there in all three sets (although winning by a single break on grass is pretty efficient work conceptually). For me, “Can TVR snag Djokovic?” has shifted to “How good of a match can TVR give him?” The good news is a) Idk nothin and b) I think it’s going to be a classic. Kecmanovic is a great player, but he plays at a pretty consistent pace and has a very straightforward approach. It lets Djokovic get in a groove and measure his swings very easily. Tim Van Rijthoven has the variety of skill that lets players play on the top level though. His serve is well disguised, varied, and scores frequently. His forehand and backhand slices slide the court well, and it’s pretty fair to say that he’s going to be considered a grass specialist for a while even though his results on the challenger level have all been on clay.

Djokovic is probably going to win this match. Rijthoven was frozen a number of times by Basil’s groundstrokes, and Djokovic was getting some incredible pop on his shots against Kecmanovic. The win against Medvedev was huge, but we saw Daniil implode impatiently twice in the finals of grass events. He also is way more passive in rallies. I think it’ll be the first time we see TVR really rushed into errors on the backhand wing. He’s been going to a slice very often, and while it’s a nasty shot there isn’t a better low backhand on tour than Djokovic’s. He has the physical stamina and flexibility to always get low on this shot, and I’d expect him to be fairly patient now that his team has had a chance to watch some footage of Tiim. Tim’s serve is great, but he’s just played Basil and Opelka who don’t put a ton of returns in play. Djokovic is going to make him play the maximum amount of tennis that he’s played on tour, and TVR was only landing around 56% on his first serve in the last round.

Working in Rijthoven’s favor is his relative anonymity on tour. We all saw Radacanu’s opponents having to stay in more neutral positions when she had balls to work with; the more familiar you get with an opponent the better position you can get to defensively and quicker. Being able to shade to the more likely side is a a real bonus on tour and is also part of the reason we see so many incredible rallies from the big 3 who’ve played each other so often. Djokovic. Another bonus is he’s a big step up in quality and a huge change in style for Djokovic. Novak thus far has played guys who do one style extremely well, and none of them play the ideal grass-court tennis game. TVR does, and we’re all hyped to see what he can do but the hype is based in a really nice resume of tennis matches.

A lot of tennis analysis sounds super obvious when you read it out loud. If Djokovic is able to get into his service games early, this could be a straight set loss. This is a no-brainer, but I do think it’s important for Rijthoven to get some service holds in right away just so he can hang onto belief as this match goes into the business end. The Federer comparisons have been flying, and this is one of the most exciting 4th round matches that we’ve seen in a long time. In a tournament that has a ton of new names playing their absolute best, here we have the freshest challenger and the defending champion at their peak. If TVR struggles, the crowd will be there to pick him up, and his play is good enough that he can win a set unless Novak plays absolutely perfect tennis. Djokovic in 4.

Sinner vs Alcaraz :

This is one similar to the above match where two players are reaching their peak at the same time. Jannik Sinner beat Isner in straight sets, but the real impressive thing is that he was able to break him a few times. Andy Murray spend 3 hours trying every single thing he could and was barely able to get Isner’s serves in play, so Sinner is looking like a real problem. On grass he makes more errors than a hardcourt, but the pace of the surface also makes it easier for him to hit winners. Jannik has easy power, and this will be extremely necessary to score on Alcaraz, who is looking like a young Nadal/Djokovic/Murray in terms of being able to put extra balls back. Alcaraz cruised against Otte,and it’s pretty clear that his footwork and power kept Oscar a step behind the pace the entire match. It looked to me like Otte started trying to shorten points from the beginning, and this usually results in trying to do too much. Otte’s serves started missing by wider margins, and Alcaraz was abl to put this match away fairly quickly.

I don’t think anyone is going to be looking at Alcaraz and finding weaknesses, so this is a spot where Sinner can play freely. Being the underdog here removes any expectations, and having played on tour a bit longer will keep him from flinching if he does get to the finish line. For Alcaraz, there’s nothing huge to change tactically. I would hope he’d hit more body serves than usual since Sinner has a pretty aggressive return position and blocks the ball well into play. He was giving Isner a bunch of trouble with his backhand returns so Alcaraz may want to focus on the forehand which can be faster but more inconsistent. This feels like a match where the upset is very possible because of the pace of the play (sets get traded quick when players are hitting the ball hard), but difficult because Alcaraz is so good defensively. I don’t think Sinner will serve him out, and he’s probably going to be a few unforced errors worse than Alcaraz in each set. Alcaraz in 4.

Goffin vs Tiafoe :

This is the best fourth round in a major in a long time. The names aren’t the usual ones, but you tell me who isn’t absolutely ballin right now. Goffin and Tiafoe is pretty much guaranteed to be a tight contest. Goffin played a thrilling baseline duel with Ugo Humbert and for a four set win it certainly never felt like either player was an inevitable winner. Humbert’s level improved every round, but he was still a little bit off on some of the big points and those narrow misses gave Goffin a boost. Goffin also has dug into a really nice (and very Goffin-like) level from the baseline and is moving the ball well, low, and quickly. Tiafoe has been able to dominate things so far with his forehand, but Goffin is excellent at returning pace. It will take multiple shots per rally to win, and this will be a marked change from Tiafoe’s match with Bublik. Alexander served incredibly well and it was a high-skill affair from start to finish, but Bublik was consistently losing ground per shot in every baseline rally. Goffin rushes his opponents and if he can force Tiafoe to play backhand to backhand he’ll have a pretty good edge.

The serving battle is in Tiafoe’s advantage. He has a cannon for an arm and this is the first round Goffin is playing against someone with the single swing firepower to hit right past him. It doesn’t mean he will, but Tiafoe having the power means tired Goffin loses, so it’ll be interesting to see how Goffin fares as this match pushes deep. I could see either player winning, but it’s hard to see either winning in any straightforward fashion. Tiafoe’s serve and forehand combo is too strong and he has been excellent at net. Goffin’s game is looking like his vintage levels and he’s been ultra consistent all week which is what usually gives Tiafoe a bit of trouble. I think Tiafoe’s serve will let him pull away as the match stretches on, and it’s strong enough to get him deep in sets early in the match. In the pockets where he forces the issue and loses length on his groundstrokes,Goffin will likely dominate. Tiafoe in 5.

Norrie vs Paul :

I would fly to Wimbledon just to see this match. Hurkacz wins a title, beating Medvedev. ADF beats Hurkacz. Vesely beats Fokina. Paul beats Vesely 3, 2, 2? This on the heels of dismissing Adrian Mannarino in straight sets? ARE YOU KIDDING ME THOMAS? Tommy Paul is playing his best, and his physicality and speed coupled with his serve and forehand make him the perfect opponent to match up against Cam Norrie. I like Paul this match, but Norrie pushed Steve Johnson relentlessly as he closed out the match in the third round. A 6-1, 6-0 closeout saw Norrie basically not miss a ball for the better part of an hour. Johnson played the villain admirably, swinging away til the end trying to finally get one past Cam, but my glob can this kid defend.

Paul is playing his third lefty in a row, and I think that will serve him well. He’s very familiar with his opponent, having played him 4 times already and split the contests (thought Norrie won the previous two). I think Norrie’s serve has been a bit vulnerable this week, and the plan to wear down his opponent worked against Johnson but his forehand and serve don’t have the pop that Paul’s do. Paul’s serve also kicks up very high very often and Norrie’s swings up there aren’t the best (hard to control the flat backhand above your shoulders). Since Paul has a pretty Western grip on his forehand he’ll be able to deal with the low sliding backhand Norrie hits, and Cam playing 5 with Munar in round one isn’t the best. For the other side of this affair, Norrie’s defense tends to improve as a match goes on. When he hits a patch where he’s not missing, it can be frustrating for opponents to keep supplying shots and if Norrie takes the edge off his opponent’s shots by taking their legs out he is more than capable of working the classic lefty patterns with his forehand and of taking his backhand down the line (which slides and bounces extra low here at Wimbledon). In a later round, I think I like Norrie. Here, Paul should be nearly fresh. Paul in 4-5.

WTA Singles
Mertens vs Jabeur :

“Mertens would be the upset of the day … she leads the h2h 2-0 too” I typed lazily in the DC chat. It’s the kind of “what are we not seeing” gambling talk that we often throw around. Taking both sides of an argument for a match and trying to see the future you’re about to get blindsided by is 2 parts paranoid, and 6 parts ominous. It’s often a decent process though, and here was a spot that there were some signs pointing to Mertens. Kerber beating Linette easily, Mertens barely beating Udvardy, and slumping through the past few weeks should have seen her price go up as the match headed towards the start. Yet Kerber opened at -302 and dropped gradually to about -280 before the match started. Not a huge movement, but the $ isn’t generally going to flow in on Mertens in this spot to the degree that it would move the line. I mentioned her effectively being in a lucky loser spot since she was really toast against Udvardy before darkness fell and swung the momentum her way, and she played as free as one.

Kerber looked like she’d get the lead several times in this match, and did break in the second set several times (served for it once), but she always seemed pressured to try to end the rallies. Mertens was more consistent, and moved the ball without real risk throughout this match. It’s funny to see the favorite look so tentative and pressured when they’re playing fine, but Mertens looked comfortable with Kerber’s patterns and her classic retrieves paid dividends. Her next opponent will be similarly favored, but the problems with form that Kerber encountered on her forehand are likely not to affect Jabeur’s game. Ons has won her early rounds in straight sets, and her most recent match was a fun but one-sided affair against Diane Parry. Parry looks like she’ll be a threat on every surface, and her skill is high enough that I’m starting to think that the top 10 is likely in her future as far as ranking is concerned.

I don’t think Mertens’ consistency is enough to stop Jabeur, but her solid shot selection will pay dividends when Jabeur forces dropshots. It’s a good combination of power and finesse from Jabeur, but her tendency to bail out of long rallies with dropshots is something that Mertens can capitalize on. Will that be enough to win the match? Probably not. Jabeur is playing great this week and Mertens’ resurgence here is promising but she generally bows out of these events around this level. Jabeur in 2 close sets.

Maria vs Ostapenko :

Big oof. Or the same oof. Sakkari has lost another tough match at a major. She looked solid early on but Maria’s slices started to yield errors. Sakkari was looking to get to net against Maria’s backhand, but Tatjana went to a smooth topspin one hander and forced a number of volley errors. In the second set Sakkari went up 3-0 and served at 5-2, but she just couldn’t keep the ball in the court against the slice-heavy offering from Maria. I keep waiting for someone to crack this puzzle, and it just hasn’t happened yet. Sakkari went on to lose 5 games in a row to exit the tournament 6-3, 7-5. Is it bad if I suggest she spend some time training with the Spanish federation? Her shot patterns look to be entirely spur of the moment decisions, and this is fine when you’re on fire but it’s best to have some traditional patterns of point construction in your back pocket when your game is off (Spain thrives at this; see PCB, Munar, RBA, ARV).

Great result for Maria, but grass is her best surface by far so the lack of ranking points may see remain out of the top 100. Hopefully the organizations make a concerted effort to award some wildcards to the Wimbledon standouts. The good news is she gets another match. In the past I’d have said Ostapenko will definitely be undone by Maria, but this seems like a much different Ostapenko. She’s looking like “most lucky major winner” may be replaced by “most lucky majors winner”. Her power is letting her hit clean winners, and it’s her serving that’s setting this up. Maria will have a hard time breaking her, and her first serve percentage is down around 50% so Ostapenko’s aggessive returning is likely to pay dividends. This is the second time I expect someone to pass the test against Maria, but this is an offensive juggernaut and Sakkari is a counterpunching baseliner. Ostapenko in two.

Watson vs Niemeier :

Watson would you please lose you’re making me look foolish. Heather’s play has improved every round, and she was able to hold off a really tough test in Kaja Juvan. I watched a good chunk of this match, and what really stood out was Watson’s ability to create offense with her forehand. With Watson serving well and hitting her forehand effectively, the only real way to beat her (for Juvan) is to isolate her backhand. It didn’t look like Juvan was able to create errors though, and it’s dangerous to give up the lead against a British favorite at Wimbledon. Watson’s next opponent is one that I think will beat her, but I have a newfound respect for Watson’s tennis after her last two matches. Julie Niemeier is a player I was hyped about coming into this season, and last match against Tsurenko she showed that her tennis and her maturity is reaching another level.

Niemeier has always hit the ball hard and served big, but Tsurenko is a really tough opponent. She’s going to put a ton of balls in play and it takes several perfect offensive shots to get the ball past her. Heading into a third set, it was the classic spot where the younger player continues to try to play offense and winds up shooting themselves out of the match. They opened up with 5 breaks in a row, but it was Niemeier who held first. When the inevitable long points came at the end, Tsurenko was able to get herself out of trouble and put the ball deep in the court or short in tricky positions but Niemeier showed she was willing to reset the rally time and time again. Her patience paid dividends and her composure was excellent. When Tsurenko’s shot began sailing long at match point, Niemeier flung her racquet in relief. It was a great win, and I think she’s going to have a tough but winnable match against Watson. Watson’s serving and forehand will expose a slightly slower than tour level materal movement in Niemeier, but Julie’s power on her groundstrokes are likely to yield her control as the match reaches the finish line. Wang had the offense but lacked the serving. Juvan had the power but not the accuracy/serving. Niemeier has it all. Playing the hometown favorite and looking at Watson’s form, I think this will go three. Niemeier in 3.