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5 things to watch Monday at Wimbledon

Posted: July 1, 2013 - 12:07am
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Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns to Jeremy Chardy of France in their Men's singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London,  Saturday, June 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)  Sang Tan
Sang Tan
Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns to Jeremy Chardy of France in their Men's singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Saturday, June 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

LONDON — Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam tournament that schedules all 16 men’s and women’s fourth-round matches on the second Monday. Here are five matches to watch:

1. SERENA WILLIAMS vs. SABINE LISICKI: If Williams’ 34-match winning streak is going to face a real challenge, it might just come from Lisicki, the 23rd-seeded German who upset Maria Sharapova in last year’s fourth round at the All England Club and is now working with Kim Clijsters’ former coach, Wim Fissette. Williams owns the undisputed best serve of any active woman — and perhaps of any woman, of any era — but Lisicki can smack ‘em, too: Her season ace total ranks No. 2 behind Williams, and she’s won 27 of 29 service games this tournament. Lisicki is “dangerous when she dictates points,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, the French coach who’s been helping Williams during the stretch in which she’s won 77 of 80 matches and three of the last four Grand Slam titles.

2. NOVAK DJOKOVIC vs. TOMMY HAAS: After his gut-wrenching, 9-7 fifth-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the French Open semifinals, Djokovic didn’t sulk; he came out stronger than ever. For the first time, he reached the second week of Wimbledon without dropping a set, and he made only three unforced errors in the third round. But the top-seeded Djokovic hasn’t faced much of a test yet. He could against Haas, who eliminated Djokovic en route to the 2009 Wimbledon semifinals, and also defeated him at Key Biscayne in March, becoming the third-oldest man since 1968 to beat the No. 1 player. If the 35-year-old Haas can do it again, he’ll become the oldest Wimbledon quarterfinalist since Tom Okker in 1979. When they met at Roland Garros, though, Djokovic topped Haas in straight sets.

3. ANDY MURRAY VS. MIKHAIL YOUZHNY: Think anyone around here might tune in for this one? Murray is their man, their hope to end a 77-year drought without a British male champion at Wimbledon. He gets loud support from the stands — and also loud groans when he misses a makeable shot. Murray’s popularity skyrocketed when he bared his emotions and teared up during his runner-up speech after losing to Roger Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, so imagine how big a deal he became a month later when he beat Federer at the All England Club to win a gold medal at the London Olympics, not to mention when he finally won his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open. Murray has won 14 consecutive grass-court matches, and 20 of his past 21, but Youzhny is no pushover. The 20th-ranked Russian reached the final on grass at a tuneup tournament before Wimbledon, was a quarterfinalist at the All England Club in 2012, and twice reached Grand Slam semifinals. He’s also a character. He once made himself bleed by hammering himself in his head with a racket; used his foot to write a word of apology in the red clay at Roland Garros during a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 loss last year; and destroyed a racket at this year’s French Open by whacking it nine times against his sideline seat.

4. LUKAS KUBOT vs. ADRIAN MANNARINO: You might never have heard of these guys, but one will be a 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinalist. Kubot is ranked 130th, Mannarino 111th, which is why theirs is the only men’s or women’s fourth-round match scheduled for Court 14 and its 312 spectators’ seats. Their matchup pits one guy who’s been serving really well (Mannarino and Djokovic are the only two men who have not lost a service game so far) against another who’s been returning really well (Kubot leads the remaining 16 men in percentage of return points won against first serve, 44, and in percentage of return games won, 50). The winner of Kubot-Mannarino faces the winner of Jerzy Janowicz against Jurgen Melzer, so a member of that quartet will end up in the semifinal spot that pretty much everyone figured would belong to Federer or Nadal.

5. SLOANE STEPHENS VS. MONICA PUIG; LAURA ROBSON vs. KAIA KANEPI: OK, so listing two matches here raises the total to six to watch, but they’re both worth a mention. Stephens is 20, and both Puig and Robson are 19; the trio represents some of the top up-and-coming talent on the women’s tour. “There’s definitely a new generation,” Williams said. “I feel like this might be the beginning of, maybe, the future. I mean, eventually there’s going to have to be a shift.” Stephens, an American, is seeded 17th, and into the fourth round for the fourth time in the past five Grand Slam tournaments, including a run to the Australian Open semifinals in January, when she beat Williams. So Stephens must be considered the favorite against Puig, a Puerto Rican who is ranked 65th and playing in only her second major after reaching two junior Grand Slam finals. Robson, meanwhile, is the first British woman in the final 16 at Wimbledon since 1998, and therefore a big crowd favorite — not to mention someone who’s been drawing a lot of attention here for Twitter interactions with members of the popular boy band One Direction. Kanepi, 28, is far more experienced and accomplished at this point, having played in four Grand Slam quarterfinals.

New names alongside Djokovic, Murray at Wimbledon

LONDON (AP) — Get ready for some unfamiliar names at Wimbledon.

With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal long gone, and Maria Sharapova out, too, after a havoc-filled Week 1 at the All England Club, Week 2 begins Monday with a schedule that includes participants such as Kenny de Schepper and Adrian Mannarino, Ivan Dodig and Jerzy Janowicz, Karin Knapp and Monica Puig.

None of that group has played in a fourth-round match at any Grand Slam tournament.

Members of the usual cast of characters are still around, of course, such as Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. None of that trio has dropped so much as a single set yet; all are expected to be around by next weekend.

Still, Djokovic likes the idea of some players getting a chance to introduce themselves to a wider audience.

“It’s interesting ... to see new faces — for the crowd, for (the) tennis world, in general,” said Djokovic, who might not feel quite the same way if he were among the 11 men and women seeded in the top 10 who no longer are playing.

Truth is, there hasn’t been much variety of late at Grand Slam tournaments, especially at the very end: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 31 of the past 33 titles.

“It’s good (to have) change, in a way, because it’s always expected, obviously, from top players to reach the final stages of major events. When it doesn’t happen, it’s a big surprise,” said the top-seeded Djokovic, whose six Grand Slam titles include Wimbledon in 2011. “It’s a bit (of a) strange feeling not to have Federer or Nadal at the second week of a major. In the last 10 years, it was always one of them.”

Over a shorter stretch, it’s also always been Djokovic, who meets 35-year-old Tommy Haas on Monday. Djokovic has played in 16 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals — the longest active streak, now that Federer’s 36-major run is done. At the past 10 Slams, Djokovic has reached the semifinals every time, picking up five trophies and three runner-up finishes.

Murray, meanwhile, has been a finalist at the last three major tournaments he entered and won the U.S. Open in September, only increasing the expectation among the locals that he can deliver Britain’s first male champion at Wimbledon in 77 years.

Nothing is guaranteed right now, though.

“Second week of a Grand Slam is a new start, especially here, where you have (time) off,” said 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up who faces the 104th-ranked Knapp, an Italian making her first appearance in a major’s fourth round. “It’s really a new tournament starting.”

So on the traditional middle Sunday’s day of rest, there they were on the practice courts — six-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, but also Janowicz, who’d won a grand total of six matches at major tournaments until this one; 2011 French Open champion and two-time major runner-up Li Na, but also 19-year-old Laura Robson, the first British woman to get this far at the All England Club since 1998. Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, wore thick wraps of white tape around his left knee, which he hyperextended in a tumble Saturday, and a strip of black tape down the back of that leg.

When play resumes Monday with all 16 men’s and women’s fourth-round matches — Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam tournament that sets things up that way — fans get a chance to discover some folks they might not recognize immediately.

Five of the remaining 16 men are making their fourth-round Wimbledon debuts; only one in that group has ever been that far elsewhere. Six never have reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal: de Schepper, Dodig, Janowicz, Lukasz Kubot, Mannarino, and Andreas Seppi. Perhaps not coincidentally, each of those relatively unknown half-dozen players benefited from at least one of the record-tying 13 walkovers or mid-match retirements from injury or illness so far.

Four of the 16 women left are hoping to reach a major quarterfinal for the first time: Robson, Knapp, 19-year-old Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, and 20th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium.

The No. 1-ranked Williams, naturally, is an overwhelming favorite to win the title. She is a five-time Wimbledon champion, including last year. She owns 16 Grand Slam titles all told, while the other 15 women in the tournament own two among them: Li’s at Roland Garros, and Petra Kvitova’s at Wimbledon in 2011.

Narrow the focus, and facing Williams becomes even more daunting. She is 46-2 this season and has won her past 34 matches, the longest winning streak for a woman since older sister Venus’ 35-match run in 2000.

Consider this, too: Williams has won six titles in 2013, the same total as the other 15 women combined.

It’s entirely possible that the toughest match she’ll face the rest of the way will come Monday against 23rd-seeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany. Lisicki is a mediocre 16-15 at other Grand Slam tournaments, but 16-4 at Wimbledon, where her powerful serve is nearly as much of a threat as Williams’ is on grass.

Of the women in action Monday, Lisicki leads the way by having won 93 percent of her service games in the tournament (Williams is next at 91). Lisicki’s 202 aces this season rank second on tour only to Williams’ 292.

Lisicki reached at least the quarterfinals the previous three times she appeared at the All England Club, including a semifinal run in 2011 that included victories over Li and Bartoli. A year ago, she beat 2004 champion and No. 1-ranked Sharapova in the fourth round.

When it was pointed out that everyone is pretty much ready to hand Williams the trophy, Lisicki smiled and recalled: “I was in that situation last year, when everybody was saying that Sharapova was the favorite. I’m probably going into that match being the underdog, but I like that.”

“Probably” the underdog against Williams?

“Well, you have to play your best to beat her, that’s for sure,” Lisicki said. “But, you know, everybody’s (a) human being.”

Especially, it seems, at this particular edition of Wimbledon, marked by so many injuries and so many surprises.

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