Wimbledon: Middle Sunday Brings Plenty Of Joy And A Few Surprises, Too

Tatjana Maria (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 3, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

As a historic Middle Sunday unfolded at the Wimbledon Championships, nothing seemed certain in the women’s singles draw. With only World No. 2 Ons Jabeur and No. 12 seed Jelena Ostapenko remaining among the Top-20 seeds in the bottom half, one had to wonder if they could avoid the onslaught of upsets were the normal and not the exception during the first week. After all, World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek saw her 37-match winning streak come to a halt at the hands of unheralded Alizé Cornet a day earlier. So, anything seemed possible.

As it turned out, the third seed Jabeur beat No. 24 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 7-6 (9), 6-4, in an hour and 46 minutes to reach back-to-back quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Jabeur saved five set points in the opener before prevailing in a tie-break. Then, she secured victory on Mertens double-faulted on match point. The 27-year-old Tunisian is the highest seed remaining in the women’s draw.

However, Ostapenko, winner of the 2017 French Open and a 2018 Wimbledon semifinalist, wasn’t so lucky. She was upset by Tatjana Maria, a 34-year-old German mother of two, whose husband Charles is her coach. The 103rd-ranked native of Bad Saulgau, Germany, saved a couple of second-set match points and went on to pull out a satisfying 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 victory over the World No. 17 Ostapenko from Latvia, in two hours and 10 minutes on No. 1 Court.

Maria has been back on tour less than a year after returning from her second maternity leave from tennis. Now, she’s into her first Wimbledon quarterfinal in her 10th appearance at the All England Club. Sunday’s triumph was her eighth Top 20 victory. A round earlier, Maria took out the World No. 5 and fifth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-3, 7-5.

“It makes me so proud to be a mom,” Maria said. “That’s the best thing in the world. I love my two kids. … That makes it so special.”

The oldest player among the last 16 women – and ranked outside the Top 100 – Maria rallied from a set and 1-4 down and persevered through the mood swings and drama that Ostapenko threw at her. She saved match points at 4-5 before pulling out the second set. Then, after Maria was broken at love trying to serve out the win at 5-4 in the third, she broke Ostapenko to go ahead 6-5 and garnered the victory on her second opportunity.

“Oh, my God, there are no words for this amazing crowd,” Maria added. “I said to myself, ‘They believe in me, so I believe in me.’ I told myself, ‘I gotta keep going.'”

Maria finished with nine aces and hit 23 winners to 15 unforced errors. She converted six of 10 break points against Ostapenko, who struck 52 winners but also committed 57 unforced errors. Maria outpointed her opponent 115-102.

In press, Ostapenko said of her loss: “I just made mistakes. She just collected all my mistakes, unforced errors, and that’s how she won today.”

With her trailblazing victory, Maria becomes the oldest woman to make her Wimbledon quarterfinal debut in the Open Era and is just the seventh to reach the last eight after turning 34.

Niemeier dashes Watson’s hope for quarterfinals

It’s been a memorable Wimbledon main-draw debut for Germany’s 97th-ranked Jule Niemeier. So far, she’s 2-for-2 in Centre Court appearances, after dashing the home hopes for Great Britain’s Heather Watson, 6-2, 6-4, in 76 minutes Sunday afternoon in front of tennis royalty that included Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Stefan Edberg and Margaret Court, who were on hand to celebrate Centre Court’s 100th anniversary. Earlier, she took out World No. 3 and second seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the second round.

Now, Niemeier, who just broke into the Top 100 in May, has stormed into the last eight, where she will face surprising Tatjana Maria in an all-German quarterfinal on Tuesday.

“I didn’t want to watch the show before the match because I was pretty nervous and I saw all the players,” Niemeier, a 22-year-old Dortmund native, explained during her on-court interview following her victory. “So, I didn’t want to see it. But, of course, [Centre Court] is a special place. It’s one of the biggest courts on Tour.

“The court is so beautiful, and I feel honored I had the chance to play on Centre Court,” the 22-year-old Niemeier added.

“I just want to say sorry that I had to kick out a British player today.”

Playing fearlessly, from first ball to last, the big-hitting Niemeier dominated Watson, 30, throughout the fourth-round match. She finished with 22 winners to 17 unforced errors. Niemeier controlled play at the net by winning 15 of 22 approaches and broke her opponent four times in seven tries. She outpointed Watson 63-44.

Niemeier became the first woman since Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in 2019 to reach the quarterfinals in her Wimbledon debut. Although she relied upon her power, she also did a nifty job in mixing up her game, which included drop shots, slices and lobs.

Hall of Famer Tracy Austin, who was commenting on the match for the BBC, gave high praise for Niemeier: “I compare her to Ash Barty. This young lady has a special set of skills and an awkward game.”

As for Niemeier, she said: “The atmosphere was incredible. I was nervous, but as soon as I stepped on the court, I felt pretty comfortable. I just tried to focus on my game, tried to focus to play point by point and it went well.

“I’m super proud of myself. Coming out here, again, and performing, without actually missing that many balls is pretty good. So, I’m really happy with my performance today.”

Brit-watch: Norrie last Brit standing at Wimbledon

Add Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie to the list of British men to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals in the Open Era. Sunday afternoon on No. 1 Court, the No. 9 seed Norrie defeated No. 30 seed Tommy Paul of the United States, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, in two hours, 21 minutes, to move into the last eight. He joins Roger Taylor, Greg Rusedski, Tim Henman and Andy Murray as the fifth British man to go this far at the All England Club since 1968. Only Murray has won the Wimbledon title.

“I’m the last [Brit] standing, why not get behind me,” the World No. 12 Norrie said during his on-court interview, with a huge smile on his face.

Norrie won 70 percent of his first-serve points, overcame 36 unforced errors by hitting 26 winners and converted four of eight break-point chances against the World No. 32 Paul, who was 1-for-7 in break-point conversions. Norrie outpointed Paul 113-101 to advance against David Goffin of Belgium, who outlasted No. 23 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, in four hours, 36 minutes.

“To make the quarters for the first time, in front of my family and friends here from college is so special,” said the 26-year-old Norrie, who played collegiately in the United States at Texas Christian University. “In a huge match, to play the way I did, was really good. To execute everything. I really enjoyed it. It is pretty crazy. I have a lot of feelings.”

Meanwhile, Goffin, a former World No. 7 who is now ranked 58th, also prevailed over Tiafoe in the second round at Roland Garros last month. This time, Goffin gained a decisive break of Tiafoe in the 12th game of the final set that was the difference in what turned out to be the longest five-set match at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.

In 2019, Goffin also reached the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.

Sinner wins entertaining battle of youth over Alcaraz

No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time after prevailing over No. 5 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-3, in a hard-fought but entertaining three-hour and 35-minute Centre Court battle that began in the middle of the afternoon and concluded in as evening settled in.

In this clash of future tennis stars – certainly the beginning of a fine rivalry – it was fitting that Sinner, 20, and the 19-year-old Alcaraz were given Centre Court featured billing on Middle Sunday.

“Carlos is a very tough opponent and a very nice person, so it is always a huge pleasure for me to play against him,” Sinner said during in his on-court interview. “Today with such a great crowd and a special day today, 100 years [of Centre Court]. It’s just amazing.”

By winning, Sinner became the youngest man to reach the Wimbledon last eight since Nick Kyrgios in 2014.

Coming in, both Sinner and Alcaraz had already won five tour-level titles and each had reached a pair of major quarterfinals. Plus, Alcaraz had skyrocketed to a career-high World No. 7 earlier this year after winning four of his titles. The Spaniard fought off two match points to win a spirited third-set tie-break to prolong the fourth-round tussle..

“It’s tough when you have match point, and you still have to play [on],” Sinner said. “I tried my best, it is just part of the game, part of tennis, and obviously I am very happy how I reacted, because in the first [game] I was struggling. I am very happy to be in the next round and hopefully I can play some good tennis [then too].”

Sinner struck 35 winners against Alcaraz and outpointed his opponent 146-118. Twenty-seven of his points were won at the net and he also converted four of 12 break points Alcaraz hit 33 winners but also made 39 unforced errors.

Despite a bumpy road this season, in which Sinner had had to deal with a bout of COVID-19 plus a knee injury and a shakeup in his coaching ranks, he’s still won 31 matches.

“I think what we showed today, it’s a great level of tennis, great attitude from both of us,” Sinner said.

Around the All England Club

• The Czech Republic’s Marie Bouzkova, who has never advanced beyond the second round at a major, become the first woman to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals on Sunday.

The 66th-ranked Prague native, who resides and trains in Bradenton, Fla., in the United States, continued her dream run with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over No. 55 Caroline Garcia of France. After the unseeded, 23-year-old Bouzkova completed the job in one hour and 23 minutes on No. 2 Court, she fell to her back and could be seen visibly crying tears of joy.

Bouzkkova’ steady play and court coverage served her well and she maintained her composure during the match’s most important points against Garcia, who came into Wimbledon after winning a grass-court title at Bad Homburg, Germany. Although Bouzkova hit just 13 winners, she also only made four unforced errors. She converted four of 11 break points and outpointed Garcia 65-45.

Afterward, as a matter of routine, Bouzkova celebrated by eating strawberries with her team. “Right now, I am eating strawberries and cream with our team,” she said in her press conference. “That is our tradition after every match. We have to keep that going.”

Now, Bouzkova is the last Czech remaining in the draw and a Czech player has reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in three straight years. She will face No. 3 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the highest-remaining seed, in the last eight. “I am in the quarterfinals, so it could not get any better, honestly,” she said.

• Men’s doubles defending champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both from Croatia, advanced to the quarterfinal round by holding off No. 15 seeds Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain, 6-4, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, in three hours and 14 minutes on Court 12.

The No. 2 seeds Mektic and Pavic were joined in the last eight by No. 1 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain, who defeated No. 16 seeds David Vega Hernandez of Spain and Rafael Matos of Brazil, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Also, No. 6 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farrah, both from Columbia, defeated Radu Albot of Moldova and Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

• Women’s doubles No. 8 seeds Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Hao-Ching Chan of Taiwan advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) victory over Americans Coco Vandeweghe and Alison Riske.

They were joined by No. 2 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both of the Czech Republic, who beat Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium and Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

Centre Court centenary celebrated with parade of champions

Sunday marked the first time that play became continuous at the Wimbledon Championships throughout the entire British fortnight. The order of play was highlighted by four men’s and four women’s singles matches spread among Centre Court, No. 1 Court and No. 2 Court, plus men’s and women’s doubles, mixed doubles and juniors across the outer courts.

Although there has been play four times before on Middle Sunday, due to rain, this year cast a new tradition.

To mark the occasion and in conjunction with the centenary of the move by Wimbledon to its current All England Club site on Church Road and the opening of Centre Court – 100 years strong and looking more beautiful than ever – a lovely 30-minute program that paid homage to the cathedral of tennis was hosted by the BBC‘s Sue Barker and three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, who splits his broadcast time between ESPN and the BBC.

The presentation included historic video montages, live performances by singers Cliff Richard (reprising his 1996 a cappella sing-a-long “Summer Holiday”) and Freya Ridings (“Lost Without You”), and featured a parade of Wimbledon champions, which included Hall of Famers Rod Laver, Billie Jean King, Stan Smith, John Newcombe, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Leighton Hewitt, Conchita Martinez, Martina Hingis and Chris Evert, as well as current champions Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of matches on this court,” Federer, 40, an eight-time Wimbledon champion and four-time finalist, said during the on-court ceremony. “It’s great to be here with all the other champions. This court has given me my biggest wins and my biggest losses.”

McEnroe asked Federer if he’s going to come back to play at Wimbledon. The Swiss icon replied: “I hope I can come back one more time.” Repeatedly, he said he’s “happy at home.”

Sunday’s Wimbledon results

Monday’s Wimbledon order of play

By the numbers

Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, the 2014 US Open junior girls’ champion, hadn’t advanced past the second round in 13 prior major appearance coming into Wimbledon. Now, she’s won eight straight sets since losing the opener last week to No. 7 seed Danielle Collins in the first round.

The 66th-ranked Bouzkova’s victory over Caroline Garcia to advance to the quarterfinal round was her third victory of the tournament against a player ranked higher than her. She previously defeated Collins as well as No. 28 seed Alison Riske.

“Quotable …”

“I am just soaking in this moment. I don’t know how I got here, honestly. I enjoyed the moment, tried to embrace the emotions today and just to be in the quarterfinals, it is a dream.

“To be here [celebrating] 100 years of Centre Court [on] the first time we play on a Sunday, it is amazing. I love it so much every day. That is why we play tennis, for these moments.”

– No. 66 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, reflecting on reaching her first major quarterfinal.

“I think from the first round everyone has been behind me and supported me and I definitely think it has helped in some of the tougher situations in matches. When I was serving for the match there, I was going through a lot of different scenarios in my head. I was able to stay calm enough to close it out. It was great and you guys helped me through it.”

– No. 9 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, who became the first British male since Andy Murray in 2017 to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals.