Wimbledon Day 5 | Nadal easing towards the top
By the end of The Championships there could well be two new world No.1s. With Angelique Kerber under pressure from Simona Halep in the women’s draw, we also have Andy Murray holding off the challenges from Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, both of whom he will have to beat to stay at the top of the rankings.
First set and a half, I think, was very, very well. Very happy (with) the way that I played Rafa Nadal
Nadal and Murray were in action on the fifth day and both survived into round four and are expected to meet in the semifinals. Nadal, who has to make the final if he is to replace the Briton at the top, was in determined mood as he took out the latest future star to emerge onto the scene, Russia’s Karen Khachanov, a big, strong 21-year-old with a bazooka-like serve, 6-1 6-4 7-6(3).
“First set and a half, I think, was very, very well. Very happy (with) the way that I played,” Nadal said in a television interview after walking off the court. “Then it was a little bit tougher. I think I stopped a little bit with the legs and he started to hit stronger, but he’s still a tough opponent and it’s impossible to win easy.”
It’s incredible to think that six months ago no one would have suggested Nadal, or even Roger Federer, would be attempting to dislodge Murray in the belief that the only player who could do so would be Djokovic.
But then no one expected to see the string of results leading to a new domination by Nadal and Federer. In addition, Djokovic seems to have regained some of the fervor and focus which helped him distance himself from the rest of the field for several years.
The battle is now clearly joined with the Wimbledon final looming as a possible watershed.
On Monday, Nadal will face Gilles Muller who ended Aljaz Bedene’s 2017 challenge 7-6(4) 7-4 6-4 who has scored a win over the Spaniard on the grass of Wimbledon way back in 2005, with Nadal avenging that slip in 2011, the last time he got past the fourth round going on to reach the final only to lose out to Djokovic.
“He’s a specialist on grass,” Nadal said of Muller. “Probably his best surface, without a doubt.”
Interestingly, Murray followed Nadal onto Centre Court for his match against Fabio Fognini and the contrast in body language between the two title contenders, was quite marked. While Nadal looked energised and positive, Murray looked fatigued and irritable albeit he did win a great battle with the Italian who has always given him trouble and had professed before the match, that he would do so again.
Murray eventually scraped through 6-2 4-6 6-1 7-5 and admitted: “Obviously the end of the match was tense and it was a tight game to break him as well in the five-all game.
“I served it out really well to finish but it was a very up-and-down match. I didn’t feel like it was the best tennis at times, it was a little bit tense but I managed to get through.”
There was an upset with the ninth seeded Kei Nishikori suffering a four-set loss to Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, one of the most consistent players around who reaches the fourth round of a grand slam for the seventh time in nine attempts.
He won 6-4 7-6(3) 3-6 6-3 out on Court Three with the former 2014 US Open finalist admitting: “I could not get into my rhythm. It was really hard for me to be aggressive today. In the third set I began to move him around a bit but it didn’t last long enough unfortunately. I totally lost my rhythm out there.”
But Bautista Agut will face stiffer opposition on Monday when he plays Croatia’s seventh seed Marin Cilic the player who beat Nishikori at Flushing Meadows and is showing good consistent form to be a serious threat to add to that US Open crown, his only grand slam title.
Cilic strode into the fourth round by beating American Steve Johnson 6-4 7-6(3) 6-4 hitting 17 aces and making just 13 unforced errors and is well on course to clash with Nadal in the last eight.
He said: “I’m quite happy with the position I’m in, also with my own form. I’m extremely satisfied with the last couple of months.
“Obviously players Roger Federer, Rafa, have had great success this year, and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – you cannot ever rule them out of the grand slams. They are always having that little bit extra pressure or spotlight on them. It releases pressure on me.”
Also through to the last 16 is Kevin Anderson, the big South African, who eliminated the Belgian qualifier Ruben Benelmans 7-6(3) 6-4 7-6(3)
With light fading, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sam Querrey will have to return Saturday to complete their match having been out on court for three hours. The score was level at 2-sets apiece and on serve 6-5 in the fifth. The winner goes on to face Anderson.