Yesterday, like most days since the beginning of the tournament, was a very eventful day in Wimbledon. The Junior tournament started, the last matches of the third round were played in both Men’s and Women’s singles, and the second round of the doubles was completed as well.
Everything was put in place for tomorrow’s Manic Monday, but we were also treated to two marathons and a race against the clock that was, to a lot of us, far more stressful than the match itself.
Before talking about that epic fifth set contested by Marin Cilic and Sam Querrey, a little precision: I think Cilic should have put this match to bed in the fourth set, or even in the third. Of course, Querrey’s serve made it at times impossible to convert the break points he’s had during those two sets. Nevertheless, he missed some of them with routine errors and Querrey capitalised during the tiebreaks, both times.
This led us to an epic fifth set.
Epic due to its length and the tension built from seeing hold after hold for the first half of the set. Then, Marin Cilic broke at 5-5, only to get easily broken when he tensed serving for the match up 6-5. Afterwards, it was a game of holds, with Cilic serving with his back to the wall every time, and usually getting out of 15-30, and even one 0-30 game.
However, in this mental battle, never has he given a match point to his opponent. He’s given glimpses of it, but never gave a single match point which, in itself, is quite remarkable.
It finally ended up being not only a battle for the win, but also a battle against darkness, in which Marin Cilic ended up the victor, 7-6(6) 6-4 6-7(2) 6-7(3) 17-15, after 5 hours and 31 minutes of tennis. At some point, a lot of us wondered if they would go to another Isner vs Mahut and, in the wake, if they would ever finish it on Saturday or have to come back to finish it on Monday.
After the match, Cilic was asked to comment the duration of the match. I really like the parallel he made with the huge battle he fought with David Nalbandian at Parque Roca a couple of months ago:
“Yeah, it is the longest one. I mean, we didn’t have too many rallies that were physically tough. It was a lot of serving and one or two shots. It’s more of walking in the match for that long.
I played this year also five hours and ten minutes with Nalbandian on clay in Argentina in Davis Cup, so that was really difficult physically.
I would say this was more mentally tough to stay in there and to cope with all the things that are coming.”
Both players deserve respect for the battle that took place. It was not necessarily the most flamboyant or interesting tennis, but it was really gripping.
The second epic of the day was one that was not much mentioned, nor followed, sadly. This one also involved a player from the United States, but his opponent was not Croatian, but French. Also a shame was that not only this match was not much talked about (was it even mentioned?), it was also a Junior match. Consequently, no TV for that one. A shame.
The protagonists of that 3h28 Junior marathon were Alexios Halebian, an 18-year-old leftie from Hollywood, U.S.A., and currently ranked at no 51 in the combined ITF rankings, and Mathias Bourgue, an 18-year-old Frenchman from Avignon, currently ranked 40 in the combined ITF rankings.
Halebian took the first set 7-4 in a tiebreak, but then Bourgue came back. In that final set, which I followed on scoreboard, although not entirely, he saved at least two match points, then broke, and had to save a couple of break back points before emerging the victor, 6-7(4) 6-4, 14-12.
An epic win for the young Frenchman, who will luckily not play his second-round match until Tuesday, as his opponent will be the winner of the encounter between Brit Tommy Bennett and Belgian Julien Cagnina, which will be played on Monday.
As for Halebian, he sure gave it all and tried all he could. At that point, just like for Cilic and Querrey, it’s a shame a player had to lose. But talented as he is, I’m sure Halebian will bounce back nicely.
Sometimes I wonder if all of the Wimbledon traditions are good. For instance, that of starting the day at 1PM on Centre Court and Court 1. Especially if, on Centre Court, it is combined with, since the roof has been built and in use, an 11PM curfew for finishing the matches.
Where does that curfew come from? From an agreement the tournament has with the county where Wimbledon is located, which is a residential area (with little transportation and access, I’ve been told). During the weekdays, it makes plenty of sense. However, on the Saturday before Middle Sunday, it may give way to something as crazy as what we’ve seen yesterday: a race against the clock in order to finish a match before curfew time.
What happened is that the two matches preceding the last match on Centre Court, Serena Williams vs Jie Zheng and Andy Roddick vs David Ferrer, were pretty long matches, which left little time for Andy Murray vs Marcos Baghdatis to be completed before curfew time.
Had it been a normal day, with tennis the day after, it would have been no problem at all. Lights close and we finish tomorrow. As it was, it was the day before Middle Sunday and the players, had they not been able to complete the match on time, would’ve had to come back… Monday, leaving the winner either to play two matches (between four and six sets of tennis) on the same day, or playing three best-of-five matchs (one or two sets on Monday, full best-of-five matches the following days) in three days.
That’s the situation in which Murray and Baghdatis took the court: in a race against time.
Murray did not start it on the right foot(ing), that’s for sure. Slipping and tripping on the grass, he was playing somewhat sloppily at times, without much energy, whereas Baghdatis was his usual energetic self. It was, however, Murray who took the first set, a tight 7-5, before dropping (to the ground again and) the second set, 6-3, before the match was stopped to close the roof.
After the roof closed, there was about an hour left to finish the match. Would there be enough time to complete it? The Cinderella tennis had begun.
Murray had changed his shoes, had had his left knee, hurt during one of his falls, taped during the break, but started the third set as sloppily as he finished the second. Unable to capitalise on his break points, he was broken early on, but was able to recuperate the break when he changed his startegy. He had found the weak part of Baghdatis’s game.
He brought him more to the net, succeeding the vast majority of the times, and enabling him to break back. With Baghdatis serving to stay in the third set at 5-6, Murray again managed to break and take the third set 7-5.
There was then less than half an hour left, and the Brit started the fourth set with renewed vigour, serving better than he ever had the whole match. He quickly took a 3-0 lead in the fouth set, before Baghdatis held for the first time. After another quick Murray hold, everyone was becoming nervous, knowing it was now three minutes to 11 and then what would have happened?
Murray was so concerned about possibly not finishing the match that he just took a few sips and went straight back to his side at the changeover. Just like us, he was under the impression that, at 11PM, they would have to stop, whether the match was almost finished or not.
“ I was under the impression I was stopping at 11:00 regardless of what the score was. Even if it was in the middle of a game.”
On the strike of 11, Murray had just broken the Cypriot’s serve for a 5-1 lead and went to go to his chair, thinking it was over. But Steve Ulrich, the chair umpire, told him he could go serve it out.
It was his quickest service game of the match.
At 11:02PM, Andy Murray finished off a 7-5 3-6 7-5 6-1 third-round win over Marcos Baghdatis, in what was assuredly, for the fans, the most stressful match we’ve seen that day, and the only one in which, for the most part, who wins and who loses had nothing to do with the tension.
It was tennis against the clock, Cinderella tennis, and luckily for Andy Murray, at 11PM the balls didn’t turn back to mice, and Centre Court didn’t turn back to pumpkin.
It’s only afterwards that we found out that this stress was unnecessary in those circumstances and that, considering how close to finish it was, the match could’ve been finished past 11PM, as it was.
Side note: Murray’s pockets
There seems to have been a problem with the pockets of Andy Murray’s shorts, as a few times during last night’s match, balls fell off them while he was about to serve. The first time one fell to the ground, it was an automatic let, but later on in the match, Murray was deducted a point penalty for that reason (the rules are the rules).
It was likely a problem with Murray’s shorts not having pockets deep enough, but maybe, if Adidas doesn’t provide him with shorts that have appropriate pockets for the next match, he could ask the tournament to be allowed to wear one of these?
After all, he’s Scottish, no?