LONDON, July 3, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
On the day, Wimbledon second round results were peppered with five-setters, Reilly Opelka (literally), and Thomas Fabbiano and Fernando Verdasco stood tall as they crossed the distance over their respective second-round opponents.
United States’ Opelka, a former junior singles’ champion here at SW19, overcame mid-match patchiness and Swiss 22nd seed Stan Wawrinka’s resilience to win 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 in three hours and 13 minutes. Both players began strongly, hammering it out with their racquets from the baseline. A break in the 11th game of the opening set helped the 21-year-old win the set after consolidating the break in the 12th game.
In the second and third sets, errors crept in Opelka’s game even as Wawrinka managed to set aside the result of the first set. However, even as it seemed Wawrinka would run away with the match in the fourth, the 6-feet-11-inch tall American’s missing game came out of the shadows. And just like that, as had happened in his previous few matches, Wawrinka’s focus slipped allowing Opelka to take the fourth set and get back in the match.
The fifth set remained well on serve – despite both players having chances to break – and it appeared as though the tie-break would come into use at 12-all. But in the 14th game of the set, serving to stay in the match, Wawrinka found himself facing three match points after spewing his shots erroneously. The three-time Major champion saved the first but could not save the rest as his forehand from the middle of the court found the net, giving Opelka a place in the round-of-32.
Despite the loss that thwarted hopes of seeing complete the career Slam yet again, the 33-year-old Wawrinka was upbeat about his career trajectory. The Lausanne native told reporters in his post-match presser, “I know where is my level. I know what I have done to come back in that level physically. For me, what’s the most positive thing is what happened physically also, to have played three days in a row with five hours, my longest match in my career, so basically, and still be able to play great tennis today, more than three hours. This is really good for the future.”
In the interim, for Opelka, the immediate future will have a third-round clash against Canadian 15th seed Milos Raonic. The 2016 finalist defeated Dutchman Robin Haase 7-6(1), 7-5, 7-6(4) in the second round.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Fabbiano who played his second consecutive five-set match – after taking out the seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round – defeated Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic. The 25-year-old ousted his older-by-10-years rival – who was also the oldest man in the 2019 Championships’ draw – 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-4 in three hours and four minutes.
As a reward for his efforts, Fabbiano will get a chance to play against Spain’s Verdasco who had his own five-set tale to recount.
Verdasco upset British no. 1 and the 30th seed Kyle Edmund 4-6, 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and 42 minutes in a match that had sharp turnarounds. In the second set, Verdasco led by a break before losing the set in a surprising fashion. After having ranted at his player’s box for losing the set, the World No. 37 calmed himself down before setting about trying to make a comeback. Even as Verdasco employed his serve and forehand to success, Edmund looked to be battling with a compromised knee in tandem. So much so that at the end of the third set, the 24-year-old asked for the trainer.
Having the trainer provide him with resuscitation looked to help the Englishman as he built a 3-1 lead and had three game points for a 4-1 lead. However, Verdasco put pause on a four-set win for the home favourite as he notched two comebacks: the first to level the match with a break back, and the second to secure a second break of his own to take the match to the fifth. Proceedings in the fifth set winded too quickly for Verdasco, who broke Edmund in the third game of the set and served out the match in the 10th game.
This was the only sixth time in his career that Verdasco had come down from two-sets-down to win. The win also helped blur out the gloominess of the 35-year-old’s five-set loss to Marin Cilic at the Australian Open after having two match points.
Later in the evening, defending champion Novak Djokovic defeated American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in 92 minutes to make the third round at Wimbledon for the 11thconsecutive year. The top seed will next meet Hubert Hurkacz of Poland for the second consecutive Grand Slam. The 22-year-old Hurkacz beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-6(7), 6-3 to make the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
“He doesn’t have anything to lose,” Djokovic said of Hurkacz.