WIMBLEDON, England — Despite all the calamity of the first week and a half at Wimbledon, the top half of the men’s draw somehow survived. The four top-seeded players, who are all among the top 10 in the world, progressed to the quarterfinals.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic is seeking to avenge a bad loss to Tomas Berdych earlier this year, while No. 4 David Ferrer is looking to extend his domination over Juan Martin del Potro.
The same can’t be said about the bottom half of the draw, which was once considered the “Group of Death” after Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were placed there and now features Andy Murray and three players making their Wimbledon quarterfinal debuts.
So after all the frazzling about “Wimble-geddon,” are we simply going to end up with No. 1 vs. No. 2 seeds for the Wimbledon title on Sunday? It sure is looking that way.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 7 Tomas Berdych (first match, No. 1 Court): Berdych is looking to score his second straight win over Djokovic after beating him in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open in May. Berdych is also eyeing his second straight win over the Serb at Wimbledon, having ousted him in the 2010 semifinals 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3 to make his first and only Slam final.
The funny thing is that those are the big-hitting Czech’s only victories over Djokovic, who leads 13-2. I’m not sure we can read too much into Berdych’s win in 2010, which came during Djokovic’s 2009-2010 slump before he surged to become the dominant No. 1 that he is.
“I didn’t play great at that match against Tomas,” Djokovic said, “but credit to him because he played in the finals that year, and he beat Roger [Federer] and myself, and played a good match against Rafa [Nadal, in the final]. So he knows how to play on grass. That’s the only time we played on this surface. I’m expecting a difficult match.”
Djokovic, who is trying to make his 13th straight major semifinal, hasn’t dropped a set in the tournament. He’s been broken only twice, both times coming in his 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Tommy Haas in the fourth round. He has looked nearly flawless and focused. Berdych cannot take three sets off him if he continues to serve this well.
No. 4 David Ferrer vs. No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro (first match, Centre Court): When it comes to the walking wounded, this match is the headliner. Spanish media report that Ferrer has been receiving pain-killing injections in his ankle to get through the tournament, while Del Potro hyperextended his knee running for a drop shot in the third round.
“The ankle is good and the knee is not good,” Del Potro said after his fourth-round win over Andreas Seppi. “But I’m allowed to play. Still bothers me in the left outside of the knee. I couldn’t do the MRI. That’s what I need for a specific result of the knee. But the doctor says nothing too dangerous, and that’s positive.”
Del Potro is on a four-match losing streak against Ferrer and hasn’t beaten him since 2009. The Argentine has the bigger weapons, but Ferrer crushed him 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in the fourth round of Wimbledon last year. Del Potro is a first-time quarterfinalist here, while Ferrer reached this stage last year and is pursuing his fifth consecutive major semifinal.
“He was a good player on grass,” Del Potro said of Ferrer. “When you check the papers or you see Rafa and the rest of the Spanish guys, you say they are better on clay. But David, he is a very good player on all surfaces.”
Ferrer will rise to No. 3 after Wimbledon regardless of the result, ahead of both Nadal and Federer.
Fernando Verdasco vs. No. 2 Andy Murray (second match, Centre Court): Verdasco in a Slam quarterfinal? What is this, 2009? The Spaniard has already produced his best result at Wimbledon, beating No. 31 Julien Benneteau 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second round and Ernests Gulbis 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in the third round. He has seemed to rediscover his lefty serve and booming forehand, which are huge weapons on grass.
When Murray was told after his fourth-round win that former British player Barry Cowan said Verdasco was a dream quarterfinal draw, he scoffed, put his head in his hands and shook his head in disbelief at the idea.
“Yeah, I don’t really know what to say about that, to be honest,” he said, laughing. ”Verdasco is a very, very good tennis player. He’s playing very well this week. He’s extremely dangerous when he’s on his game. Yeah, that’s it. Verdasco’s a very good tennis player.”
Verdasco is a very good tennis player, but he’s also beaten Murray only once in nine matches. That one win came during Veradasco’s incredible run at the 2009 Australian Open, where he beat Murray 2-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the fourth round on his way to a memorable loss to Nadal in the semifinal.
If Verdasco is allowed to just sit at the back of the court and crack forehand winners, he’s got a chance here. But Murray has enough variety and intelligence to keep the ball out of his strike zone and prevent him from loading up for a big hit. Murray has looked incredibly relaxed so far, getting through four matches without dropping a set. He looks destined for his second straight Wimbledon final.
Lukasz Kubot vs. No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz (second match, No. 1 Court): Hey, remember when this was supposed to be a blockbuster quarterfinal between Nadal and Federer? Oh, well.
But history will be made, as Poland is guaranteed its first Slam semifinalist. Janowicz, 22, has never faced his 31-year-old compatriot. Kubot, ranked No. 130, is in his first Slam quarterfinal after benefiting from Steve Darcis’ opening-round upset of Nadal, which busted his section wide open. After getting a walkover from Darcis in the second round, the serve-and-volleying Kubot beat No. 25 Benoit Paire 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 and outlasted No. 111 Adrian Mannarino 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to book his spot in the final eight.
Janowicz has had to play only one seed himself, No. 15 Nicolas Almagro, en route to his first Slam quarterfinal. He is coming off a five-set victory over Jurgen Melzer in the fourth round. He leads the tournament in aces, with 64, and has shown the big game that helped him make the 2012 Paris Masters final in his breakout performance. Expect Janowicz to come through here.