Great expectations: Things to look for
WIMBLEDON, England -- The second week of "the championship fortnight," as we say in Britain, is when the cream rises to the top on Wimbledon's flavorful strawberries. Here are some things to look for when play resumes on Monday. Pay attention if you want to sound tennis-wise and when you discuss the festivities at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club with your co-workers over coffee. Or really show off and have tea and scones instead.
• Because Wimbledon is the only major championship that does not play on the middle Sunday, the second Monday may be the best single day of the tennis year, provided the weather cooperates. All eight fourth-round matches in the gentlemen's and ladies' singles are scheduled. If you are a real aficionado, it's a good time to call in sick or take a personal or vacation day and just watch ESPN.
• The women's match of the day should be No. 1 seed Lindsay Davenport vs. No. 14 Kim Clijsters. Look for the winner of that Centre Court showdown to make it to the final on Saturday. Clijsters had won six in a row against the current top-ranked player until Davenport beat her on red clay at this year's French Open, the surface on which you'd least expect that result. Davenport has lost only eight games in three matches here and likes grass courts, but Clijsters, after a siege of injuries, looks ready for a breakthrough. I'll pick Kim-possible.
• The most entertaining of the fourth-round men's matches could be Taylor Dent against Lleyton Hewitt. They know each other well. They played a superb five-setter at Wimbledon in 2001. Dent is an American; his mother is former U.S. top-ten player Betty Ann Grubb, his father former Australian Davis Cupper Phil Dent. Phil scouted Hewitt's third-round victory over Justin Gimelstob intently. 'Whether I want his report or not, I'm going to get it," Taylor said. "He just loves to dissect players and dissect all that information."
• The most fascinating women's fourth-rounder was supposed to be Serena Williams vs. older sister Venus, but Serena got waylaid by Jill Craybas on Court 2 at dusk on Saturday. Expect Venus to avenge the upset, decisively, and carry the Williams family banner to the semis. Don't expect Venus to avenge Serena's loss to Maria Sharapova in last year's final, though. If they meet in the semis, as I suspect, Sharapova will put enough pressure on Venus's shaky forehand to prevail, and proceed to meet the Davenport-Clijsters winner for the title.
• Far-out prediction: Prime Minister Tony Blair will make his first visit to Wimbledon. He is a tennis fan, and is regularly invited by the All England Club, but hasn't turned up yet. For security reasons, guests in the Royal Box are not announced in advance. It was 35 years ago, in 1970, that then Prime Minister Edward (Ted) Heath attended the memorable final in which Margaret Court outlasted Billie Jean King, 14-12, 11-9, prompting one British writer to wonder: "Why should the Prime Minister stay at Westminster when King and Court were at Wimbledon?"
• Virginia Wade, the last British player to win the singles at Wimbledon (1977) and now a BBC commentator, is an astute observer of the game, so I sought her out after Davenport's match Saturday and asked whom she thought has the total package, physical and mental, to claim the women's title. Her take: "I really think the only person who has that totally together is Sharapova, but she's not necessarily the most consistent player. Mentally, she can tackle it. I would like to say Clijsters, but we haven't seen her fire quite the right way in Grand Slam finals. But she is such a good striker of the ball, and I always think Kim should beat Lindsay because Kim is so quick, and shots that Lindsay would normally think are clean winners keep coming back with interest from Kim."
• Look for French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who was beaten in the second round by Gilles Muller, to be courtside again supporting his friend and Spanish teammate Feliciano Lopez. The flamboyant Nadal wants to learn as much as he can about playing on grass. The teenager claimed the premier clay-court title in his first appearance at Stade Roland Garros in Paris, and now has set Wimbledon as a long-term goal. He wants to build a grass court at his home for practice.
• Lopez is already an accomplished player on grass. As Russian Marat Safin, the No. 5 seed, said after Lopez beat him in straight sets: "He's a tough player. He's a lefty. He serves very well. He moves, he covers the court. He goes to the net If he plays the same tennis, I think he can do really big things here. But you never know with these guys. One day they can play the best tennis, and the other days, they just cannot put two balls inside the court."
• Mario Ancic of Croatia, a semifinalist last year and the last man to beat two-time defending champion Roger Federer at Wimbledon, plays Lopez on Monday. Ancic has to be favored, but Lopez could give him a battle. I expect Ancic to beat the Hewitt-Dent winner in the quarters, then fall to Federer in the semis. My crystal ball sees Andy Roddick continuing to gain confidence in his net play and edging Sebastien Grosjean in the quarters and David Nalbandian in the semis before losing to Federer.
• Keep an eye on Amelie Mauresmo of France, the No. 3 seed. Everybody has written her off because of her history of injuries and getting tight in big matches. But she quietly has won three matches in straight sets and may be a threat because not much is expected of her. She has the game. Wade, who won Wimbledon when most people thought her time had passed, concurred: "She's considered very much an also-ran, which may be just what she wants. She can play absolutely divine tennis on grass, which she did last year, but then things happen, like they did when it looked as if she had a chance against Serena in last year's semifinal. You do have to wonder if it's all psychological."
• The combination of hot, sunny weather most of the first week, followed by cooling and some rain, should make for an outstanding crop of Grade I Kent strawberries, which are the only kind served at Wimbledon. More than two tons of strawberries are expected to be consumed daily during the second week. And the tennis should be just as delicious.
Barry Lorge, former Washington Post staff writer and sports editor/columnist of The San Diego Union, has covered tennis in more than 25 countries on five continents. He co-authored the section on tennis in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
MORE TENNIS HEADLINES
- Sock advances in Atlanta with straight-sets win
- Ex-champ Jovanovski into quarters of Baku
- Monaco beats 3rd seed Garcia-Lopez at Swiss
- Rosol, Berlocq both advance at Croatia Open