It was both a shock and not at all unexpected.
That is how it is – and probably always be – with Petra Kvitova. The 10th seed, and Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, was defeated in the third round by the Russian Ekaterina Makarova. One set down overnight, the 26-year-old Kvitova came out on Saturday afternoon with her trademark mix of the unplayable and the unfathomable and went down 7-5, 7-6.
To be fair, it was a stinker of a draw for Kvitova, a real banana skin. Makarova, the world No35, is unseeded here but a two-time grand slam semi-finalist and cracking doubles player who is right at home on grass. She is also everything that Kvitova is not: compact, durable, unemotional on court. In this match Kvitova hit the lion’s share of winners – 26 to 12 – but you do not want to know how many unforced errors she made. Well, maybe you do: it was a galling, insurmountable 43. Even the best grass-court talent of her age can not get away with that.
Afterwards, Kvitova, who recently split from her long-time coach, suggested that upheaval might be partly responsible for her wobbly form. “In the last couple of months a lot of things happen in my life,” she said. “I made decisions which I still believe were right, so that’s how it is. Of course, the challenge with that is that it’s still up and down. The ups are not as great as maybe last year or the years before, but I still hope the ups will come soon.”
Kvitova’s departure removes one of Serena Williams’ main threats in the top half of the draw. Eugenie Bouchard went down too, beaten in straight sets by a resurgent Dominika Cibulkova, a recent winner at Eastbourne. The redoubtable Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No3, did make it through with a classy 6-3, 6-1 victory against 20-year-old Katerina Siniakova, who started the day as the youngest player in the draw. Cibulkova and Radwanska face each other next and that will be worth a watch for sure.
Meanwhile, on the other side, the women’s tournament remains as hard to predict as SW19’s meteorology. The surprise defeat in that section of the No2 seed, Garbiñe Muguruza, the recent champion at Roland Garros and finalist here last year, has left a host of contenders perhaps feeling they can now go deep into the second week.
There is no Maria Sharapova, too, of course – banned for two years for taking meldonium – but the 2004 champion still managed to dominate tittle-tattle at the All England Club with news that she has signed up for a two-week summer course at Harvard on global strategic management. The highest-earning female athlete for more than a decade clearly has no intention of letting her $300m career earnings dribble away.
On a frustrating day of bright sunshine and blobby rain showers – sometimes simultaneously – first up to make her case was the German world No4, Angelique Kerber. She raised eyebrows – possibly even her own – by beating Serena Williams to win this year’s Australian Open, her first grand slam. The petite leftie has Wimbledon previous too, making a run to the semi-final in 2012.
There have been complaints from some women – specifically the Williams sisters – that male players have tended to hog the show courts in the first week. It was hard to argue, though, with Kerber’s match against her compatriot Carina Witthöft being stuck on Court No2. The one and only time the pair have met before was at last year’s Wimbledon and Kerber “double-bageled” her: 6-0, 6-0 – the most comprehensive indignity of the 21-year-old Witthöft’s short career.
Twelve months on, this third-round encounter was immediately a very different story. The 27-year-old Kerber came through 7-6, 6-1, but it could easily have gone Witthöft’s way. If Witthöft is only Germany’s 10th best female player, then that country sure has some tennis system.
The decisive period was the first-set tie-break, which ended 13-11 in Kerber’s favour. Both players had set points and who was serving seemed to make little odds. At 9-9 the umpire had to remind both players to change ends: they were like boxers who had become punch-drunk and did not know which corner was theirs.
It was a cracking match actually: a clash between the relentless attack of Witthöft and Kerber’s impenetrable defence. Technically it lasted a little more than 90 minutes, but it played out over four hours, with two breaks for rain. Kerber prevailed but she might need the more adventurous spirit that she showed in the second set if she is to match or improve on her 2012 performance.Meanwhile, on Centre Court, under the roof, Romania’s Simona Halep, the world No5, faced Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands, seeded 28. The middle Saturday is when Wimbledon invites a selection of sporting greats to look on from the Royal Box. An announcer promised us “England’s football heroes” – long pause, some incredulous looks – before continuing “from the 1966 World Cup”. Those chaps received an enthusiastic ovation, though the loudest cheers were saved for David Beckham (and his mum), and then Halep and Bertens took the stage.
On paper, this looked like it could be fag-paper tight and so it threatened to be, at least in the opening set. Both players are 24 and both know what it takes to reach the business end of a grand slam: Bertens, indeed, was fresh from a career-best semi-final at this year’s Roland Garros and has won more matches than any other player on tour in 2016.
But this was a less engrossing match than Kerber-Witthöft. Halep and Bertens have similar playing styles – punchy serves backed up by power-hitting from the baseline, no obvious chinks, rare artistic flourishes – but Halep, yesterday anyway, does everything with just a fraction more consistency. It was enough to see her come through 6-4, 6-3 and set her up for a hard-to-call fourth round against the American No9 seed Madison Keys, who beat France’s Alizé Cornet in three sets.
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