The early starters on Manic Monday at Wimbledon made their way into the quarter-finals after 3-set contests and while Aryna Sabalenka’s passage as the No 2 seed past Elena Rybakina was no surprise, Ons Jabeur’s demolition of Iga Swiatek after losing the first set was more unexpected.
Of course, I'm really happy, but this is not the final goal for me. I'm happy for now, but tomorrow is another match. I'm trying to stay focused. I will think about everything later. Aryna Sabalenka
This was to be the last Manic Monday in the history of The Championships, which has long been a fan favourite because every men’s and ladies’ fourth round match is featured on the programme but, as of next year, the traditional Sunday rest day will become an additional day of play.
For the sheer quantity of elite tennis, the second Monday is the busiest day in the calendar of any tournament on the planet but advances in grass technology and maintenance mean the surface no longer requires a day of recovery mid-tournament.
So from 2022, to tie in with the centenary of the Centre Court, the 16 matches of Wimbledon’s fourth round will be spread across Days 7 and 8 of the tournament.
“We want more of this wonderful event to be available to more people around the world to share in the joy of The Championships,” explains Sally Bolton, the All England Club’s chief executive.
“Including Middle Sunday permanently in our schedule will allow us to do just that and begin a new tradition which we hope we can become immensely proud of. It enables us to do more with the second Monday, which is known as ‘manic’ for good reason.”
Out on No 3 Court, Sabalenka made her way into her first Grand Slam quarter-final with a tight 6-3 4-6 6-3 win over Rybakina.
The Belarusian broke her Kazakhstani opponent twice to take the first set in 35 minutes in which Rybakina made just 47 per cent of her first serves, and threw in 4 double-faults.
After a comfort break, she returned to the court a rejuvenated player and immediately broke Sabalenakto love and then established a 3-1 lead.
The whole use of the so-called ‘comfort break’ is a subject of much debate as this is often used to change the momentum in match, which proved the case here.
While Sabalenka responded with some power-hitting and thunderbolt serves, Rybakina levelled at a set all.
With the match finely poised at 3-3 in the decider, Sabalenka surged ahead by winning the last 12 points of the match, effectively leaving Rybakina in her dust and securing her spot in the quarters for the first time in her career.
“Of course, I’m really happy, but this is not the final goal for me,” Sabalenka told the media later. “I’m happy for now, but tomorrow is another match.
“I’m trying to stay focused. I will think about everything later.”
Sabalenka will meet the No 21 seed from Tunisia, Ons Jabuer, who came from a set down to beat Iga Swiatek in three sets in a match that will see the winner reach her first Grand Slam semi-final.
“Well, she has good touch, good serving game, moving well,” Sabalenka remarked about meeting Jabeur next. “I also have a good serve, play aggressive.
“Kind of trying to use my touch also. Try to be not only aggressive on the court, sometimes change the speed.
“Yeah, it’s going to be interesting match. It’s going to be great battle. Yeah, really looking forward for this match.”
Jabeur continues to make tennis history books and Monday was no different when, after a thrilling fourth round, she upset 7th-seeded Swiatek 5-7 6-1 6-1 to become the first Arab or North African, man or woman, to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals since Egypt’s Ismail El Shafei in 1974.
The Tunisian posted the 6th top-10 victory of her career to move into the last-8 at a major for the second time, and first at The Championships.
“It was a great match,” an elated Jabeur told Mats Wilander on court as Arabic chants bellowed around the stadium. “I lost the 5-3 lead at the end of the first set, I had to close it but then I stayed calm; I didn’t think getting angry would be the answer for me, so I just stepped in, point by point and played my game.
“You have to change it up a little bit, everybody knows I’m doing drop-shots now but, honestly, I didn’t feel the need to do any drop-shots today, just a few times.
“Being aggressive was the key today and that’s what I did.”
Jabeur was facing a third Grand Slam champion in a row, following victories over 5-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams and 2017 champion Garbiñe Muguruza.
Swiatek and Jabeur have both won majors as juniors but their career trajectories could not have been more different.
The Pole won the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon in 2018 and became a women’s singles champion at Roland-Garros two years later at the age of 19, while it took Jabeur eight-and-a-half years after she lifted the junior trophy in Paris in 2011 to reach a maiden Grand Slam women’s quarter-final at the Australian Open in 2020.
In their only previous meeting, Swiatek came back from a set and 1-4 down to defeat Jabeur in Washington in 2019 but the Tunisian took down the Pole serve in the first game and fended off 3 break points to forge a 3-1 lead.
Although the No 7 seed pegged her back and was soon on level terms at 3-3, a forehand winner helped Jabeur to a break for another two-game advantage.
The 26-year-old hit her first double-fault of the match while serving for the opening set and, despite saving a string of break points, a blistering forehand return winner from Swiatek followed by another Jabeur double-fault that saw the Pole level for 5-5.
Swiatek, who is 20, found her range from the baseline and put immense pressure on the Jabeur serve to clinch her 4th game in a row and secure a one-set lead.
Jabeur, the Birmingham champion whose grass record this year now stands at 10-1, brought her renowned drop-shot into play and as it clicked began to outfox Swiatek.
The Tunisian won 13 to 14 points behind her first serve during the near-perfect second set, and hit just 6 unforced errors.
A magnificent forehand winner on the run sealed a 3-0 double-break lead in the second set that drew gasps from the Court No 2 crowd and Jabeur close it out in supreme fashion, essaying two successful drop-shot returns and, in between, a forehand return struck with such pace that Swiatek could barely react before it was past her.
In total, Jabeur found 30 winners to 23 unforced errors, but her win was just as much down to her ability to rise to the challenge of scoreboard pressure, and her focus on the basics on big points, converting all 7 of her break points she brought up, 3 times with clean winners, and saving 12 of 15 on her own serve.
“Honestly, it was very close from the beginning,” Jabeur said. “I knew I had the rhythm.
“She played really well. She deserved to honestly break me and take the serve. That’s why I stayed calm. I didn’t think the anger would be the answer right that second.
Yeah, I tried to stay calm at the second set and focus more on my serve. I knew I had to be aggressive.
“As you notice, I didn’t do a lot of drop-shots today, just felt like doing, like, slices and be more aggressive was the key here to win in a good two sets.”
Jabeur broke Swiatek twice in the final set as the Pole failed to find her rhythm on serve and the North African lifted her arms in triumph when she punched her ticket into the quarter-finals on the 81-minute mark.
Throughout the first set, Jabeur’s 47% first serve percentage was the reason she had needed to scrap so hard, but she raised that to 70% in the second set and 71% in the third, allowing her more free points as well as a more comfortable base from which to execute her creativity.
In each of the last two sets, she faced break points in one crucial service game, and won both to lead 4-0 in the second and 4-1 in the third.
“Honestly, I try to have the whole package of having the drop-shot, the slices, being aggressive at the same time,” Jabeur added. “You never know. You play against players, sometimes you have to change the rhythm to make them feel bad. Sometimes you have to be aggressive to also try to win the point.
“I always want to say that grass is my favourite surface, but I cannot really because there is only, like, two or three tournaments per year on grass, which is a very short season.
“But I like to think of myself as a player that adapts very well to all the surfaces, play good on clay, play good on hard, on grass also.
“Like I said, I want to have the whole package so I’ll be ready for any type of player.”
For Swiatek, her grass education continues after a loss that was distinctly reminiscent of her 4-6 6-0 6-1 defeat at the hands of Daria Kasatkina in the second round of Eastbourne last week.
After failing to break Jabeur back in those 2 key games in the second and third sets, the Pole ran out of ideas somewhat, hitting out wildly at the end of both acts, scoring a disappointing 27 unforced errors to 20 winners.
Nevertheless, a second-week showing in her second Wimbledon appearance is a fine result to build on, and for passages in this match the 2020 Roland Garros champion showed that both her movement and shot selection on grass have improved substantially over the course of the past two weeks alone.
For Jabeur it is Sabalenka next: “I think it’s a big, big challenge for both of us,” she observed.
“We have different styles. She likes to hit hard. I like to change the rhythm. It’s going to be, honestly, an interesting match.
“Whoever is going to be able to take control from the beginning is going to be playing much better.
“We practiced together here. She’s honestly an amazing player. She hits really hard. She can put pressure on the opponent.
“For me, I’m going to try to be ready. I’m going to try to be as low as I can and try to return every ball.”