Wimbledon Day 6 | Magnificent Muguruza moves on as leading ladies struggle
Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza has not been making the headlines as the 14th seed for the title, coming in to Wimbledon on a not-so-successful note as she has yet to fulfil the potential she demonstrated in Paris by winning Roland Garros last year.
I felt today I improve a little bit my game compared to the previous matches. I'm happy the way I'm, you know, playing out there. It's not easy. I'm working hard. Garbine Muguruza
She reached her first Grand Slam final at the All England Club in 2015, losing the title match to Serena Williams, and is making her fifth main draw appearance at The Championships.
The Spaniard has been serenely sailing through the draw without expending too much energy and has yet to lose a set.
On Saturday she continued her untroubled progress with a routine 6-2 6-2 trouncing of Sorana Cirstea to reach the fourth round, needing only 70 minutes to see off the Romanian.
Cirstea, who reached the third round after American opponent Bethanie Mattek-Sands suffered a horrible knee injury on Thursday, matched Muguruza for power but made too many errors to pose any real or lasting threat.
The Romanian held on to her opening service game with an ace but Muguruza was quickly into her groove and reeled off the next five games before Cirstea managed to briefly stem the tide.
Much the same happened in the second, when Cirstea again held in the opening game with a backhand winner, before Muguruza changed gear and went on another five-game streak.
Muguruza, 23, showed there was more to her game than pace with some silky drop shots as she powered on to victory in a little over an hour on Court Two.
She has now won 12 of her last 16 matches and is beginning to look every inch a champion again.
“Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good,” she told the media.
“I felt today I improve a little bit my game compared to the previous matches. I’m happy the way I’m, you know, playing out there. It’s not easy. I’m working hard.”
The coach in her corner is not her usual ally, Sam Sumyk, who was called home for family reasons, but former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez, Spain’s Fed Cup and Davis Cup captain.
“It’s not that different because I work with her during the Fed Cup weeks, and also before in Barcelona she was helping me as well few days here and there,” Muguruza said earlier in the week.
“It’s actually, you know, relaxed and funny because we get along very well. She knows how to play here. So I love it.”
The collaboration has clearly settled the Spaniard down enough to start enjoying the challenge of the grass again and she now faces Angelique Kerber, who survived an epic tussle with Shelby Rogers.
The World No 1 has looked very shaky at times but she is still in the running, despite the year she has been having.
After an outstanding 2016 in which she won two Grand Slams and was runner-up at Wimbledon, Kerber has had a miserable follow-up year in which the German has yet to win a tournament.
She suffered the indignity of a first round loss in Paris, winning just four games, that plunged her confidence to an all-time low.
Being the world’s best player has not been sitting comfortable with Kerber, despite the 35 weeks or so she has held the top slot, and to retain that spot she must return to the Wimbledon final 12 months after losing the title match against Serena Williams.
If Kerber, who regained the top ranking from Serena in March, fails to make the final, she will surrender pole position to Romania’s Simona Halep or Czech Karolina Pliskova.
Out on Court 2 Kerber came up against Rogers, ranked 70 who had seen off Lucie Safarova in three sets on Thursday, and she found herself in a real dog fight.
The difference now is that Kerber is coming through these tests and is re-finding her form in time to remind everyone, particularly herself, why she got to the top in the first place.
The American seemed to have the edge for much of the match and Kerber had to fight back from a set and a break down to win through 4-6 7-6 6-4 in two hours and 17 minutes.
If Kerber was at all miffed at being cast out on Court 2 instead of Centre or No 1, she was very diplomatic about it: “I’m really not looking out of the schedule, I’m trying to thinking more about my game,” she told reporters later.
“It doesn’t matter which court. It was a really good atmosphere there. I mean, we had full house. It was really good to play on this court, as well,” she said.
“It was tough to find my rhythm,” Kerber admitted. “She played very well from the first point. She was hitting the balls very hard, but in the second set I was starting to feel the ball better and better.
“I think the key was at the end that I was fighting. I think it was important that I found that because without this I don’t know if I would be in the next round right now.”
Another American, CoCo Vandeweghe, the No 24 seed, is back into the Round of 16 for the third year in a row after defeating fellow American Alison Riske 6-2 6-4 in one hour, 15 minutes.
Vandeweghe fired seven aces and won 85 per cent of points behind her first delivery.
The 24th seed, who is coached by former men’s winner Pat Cash, has yet to drop a set in her three opening matches and is looking a good bet to defy the odds as the women’s draw becomes increasingly hard to predict.
While her form has swung between the extremes of a semi-final run to the Australian Open in January and a first round exit at the French Open in May, she has some pedigree on grass, having reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 2015.
She has hired Cash hoping he can give her an extra edge, 30 years after the head-band wearing Australian lifted the trophy at the All England Club.
She broke twice to race through the opening set against Riske and twice more at the start of the second to take a 4-0 lead but then the wheels threatened to come off as her compatriot fought back to level at 4-4.
Vandeweghe, however, steadied her nerves to break again and set up three match points with an ace before checking out with a service winner.
She will next face the fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who stared down the face of defeat at the hands of 21-year old Anett Kontaveit of Estonia for a spot in the quarter finals.
The Dane was pretty much overpowered as she trailed by a set and 3-5 to the powerful Kontaveit, but she hung on grimly and eventually turned the match around.
Kontaveit, one of the most dangerous unseeded players in the women’s draw having won the Den Bosch grass court title in the build-up to Wimbledon, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and was 30-0 ahead in that game, but Wozniacki’s superior experience prevailed.
The Estonian missed a routine backhand that would have given her three match points and Wozniacki levelled at 5-5.
World number 38 Kontaveit broke again to lead 6-5 but faltered on her serve again, with the winning line so tantalisingly close.
She crumbled in the tie break and Wozniacki turned the screws in the decider as the Dane moved through, 3-6 7-6(3) 6-2, to a last-16 clash with the equally hard-hitting Vandeweghe.
The fifth-seeded Wozniacki has never reached the quarter finals at the All England Club – the only Grand Slam tournament in which she failed to advance to that stage.
“I felt she started to get just a little bit nervous at the end of the second set and I just went for it at that point,” Wozniacki said in a television interview.
Agnieszka Radwanska was the runner-up in 2012 and has been scrapping her way through the women’s draw, carving out a tense three-setter against Christina McHale in round three, having to dig deep again against Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky.
She too faced defeat with courage and prevailed in the opening action on Centre Court where, for a considerably long time, it looked as if an upset was on the cards.
While the wide-open women’s draw should give genuine hope to the ninth seed, Bacsinkszky is a tricky opponent and, having saved two match points in the second round, Radwanska came back from a set behind again to take her place in the last 16 here for the sixth successive year.
The 2012 runner-up had fallen to the Swiss in both their previous meetings, but with Bacsinszky increasingly hobbled by a left thigh strain, the former world No 2 came through 3-6 6-4 6-1 in two hours and nine minutes.
She will face Svetlana Kuznetsova for a place in the quarter-finals, an old foe who Radwanska has beaten just 4 times in 17 previous meetings, and just once in their last 10.
“I don’t know if the third set would have been closer without Timea’s injury,” said Radwanska.
“I was feeling better and better. In the first set I had a lot of chances, pretty much on every game, and just slipped away.
“Tennis is tougher now in the early rounds than it was when I started. Back then it was easy.
“t was like, you don’t have to play 100 per cent and you’re going to win. Now you have to play at 100 per cent or else you’re in big trouble.”
Another former Grand Slam champion, Kuznetsova, eased into the second week with a 6-4 6-0 defeat of Polona Hercog of Slovenia.
The Russian has yet to be truly tested and has not come too close to losing a set so she should feel confident in taking on Radwanska.