By Jane Voigt
There were moments today when the possibility was palpable — not one of the big four would make a semifinal.
Rafael Nadal (No. 2) got his clock cleaned yesterday by ‘Nine-point Nick,’ that’s Nick Kyrgios, in that quarterfinal. One down.
First thing today defending champion Andy Murray (No. 3) went down to Grigor Dimitrov (No. 11). Scoreline: 61 76(4) 62.
Then top seeded Novak Djokovic teetered, getting behind by two sets to Marin Cilic (No. 26) — his first quarterfinal at Wimbledon — until Novak channeled his anger and put a stop to his slide. Scoreline: 61 36 67(4) 62 62.
Roger Federer had not faced a break point the entire tournament. Then … bam. Stan Wawrinka played big-time tennis, smothering the 7-time Wimbledon champ from every angle and won the first set. Federer wobbled to close the match, but he won … finally. Scoreline: 36 76(5) 64 64.
Things change mighty fast on grass. Scores swing the way clouds move across the sky on a windy day. But at the top of the men’s game, there has been no change. For ten years Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray have had slams locked up. Only twice have they wavered: 2009 U. S. Open, which was won by Juan Martin del Potro; and the 2014 Australian Open won by Wawrinka.
If all four had failed to reach their semifinal it would have been the first time since the 2004 French Open. But luckily for tennis, movement is afoot.
“It’s exciting for the game to see new faces, like Kyrgios, Raonic, Nishikori,” Roger Federer told the press. “There have been a few guys knocking on the door. We still don’t have enough teenagers. It’s hard to breakthrough. It’s hard for a youngster to be consistent over 3, 4, 5 matches where the big points are. But it’s a good time for tennis. I’m happy I’m playing now.”
Federer faces Milos Raonic (No. 8) Friday. He defeated Wildcard Kyrgios today, 67(4) 62 64 76(4). The six-five Canadian has never been beyond the second round of The Championships. But this year something clicked. He hit 39 aces today, bringing his total to 184 for the tournament. Don’t expect long points in this semifinal.
“He’s a big guy,” Federer admitted. “It’s very difficult to deal with his serve. Here on grass it’s never going to be an easy match.”
This is Raonic’s fourth appearance at The All England Club. He turned pro in 2002 and has persevered since to reach these heights.
Grigor Dimitrov is like Raonic. He has never seen play past the second round in four prior appearances. The Bulgarian’s game is full of variety and spunk. All was in full view against Murray today. Dimitrov won Queen’s Club a couple weeks ago, too, his first grass court title. He made the quarterfinals in Melbourne; and, Coach Roger Rasheed has done more for Dimitrov’s head then tweaked his game. Dimitrov is dangerous. And, he’s ready for a Grand Slam final.
“Of the three — Raonic, Dimitrov, and Kygrios — Dimitrov has the highest talent level and variety,” Joe Nardini Jr. said. “His upside is huge when he goes for his shots. He’s mentally sound, too, and handles pressure well.”
Dimitrov’s and Raonic’s confidence was bolstered by Kyrgios’ win over Nadal, too. They are a group, whether close in the locker rooms or friends through social media. That doesn’t matter. Their jobs point to messing things up at the top. Their time has come. They have to grab it.