A TALE OF TWO SLOW STARTS
Rain, rain, go away…
The day starts with a rain delay, enough to trigger a slight down-shifting when it is already difficult to get a great jump out of the gate. First up on Center Court, young upstart Borna Ćorić (CRO) versus Stan Wawrinka (SUI), a veteran with a couple of Grand Slam titles to his name and a wicked one-handed backhand. Wawrinka, though, is susceptible to starting off a bit sluggishly. He needed time to get engaged, to become fully committed to the task at hand.
And today, with the rain pushing the start back a half hour or so, means Wawrinka is barely in first gear during the opening set. Based on the statistics, he’s playing aggressively, going for winners, making errors, while Ćorić settles into a defensive posture, letting Wawrinka’s errors define the match. All it takes is a minor slip, a couple of off-points on serve, and you’re down a break, right Stan? That’s it. First set, 6-3, Ćorić.
What becomes clear from the watching is that Wawrinka has the tools to overcome the slow start. His serve can elevate and remain at a higher level for a sustained period – from the 110-115 range into the lower 130s with pinpoint accuracy. The backhand, as I’ve stated, is a powerful weapon, possibly the best in the game. I should note that I’m a fan of the one-hand backhand as opposed to the two-hander; there’s something special about the free-swinging approach and the extension that comes with it. Roger Federer’s is a thing of grace, seemingly effortless in execution. Wawrinka’s is all power and crushing force.
He seems to wake up in the second set, shifting the gears more, but still not anywhere close to the red, his high-energy zone. Wawrinka trades service holds with Ćorić, lots of short points, although when the pair trade more than five strokes apiece, as the rallies ratchet up, it is Wawrinka who tends to win those points. Ćorić’s defense cannot save the day when Wawrinka cuts down on the unforced errors. By the time they reach the tiebreak, which will decide the second set, Wawrinka is focused and allowing for a few emotional releases that get the fans behind him as well.
It is only a matter of time, and when Wawrinka gets his first break in the third set (for a 4-2 lead), it is obvious that Ćorić realizes there’s nothing he can do. Wawrinka was already the more aggressive player, and now he’s scoring far more winners than errors, giving Ćorić no chance to get into points.
The flip side to this slow start scenario played out just across the way on the Grandstand, featuring American Sam Querrey versus Tommy Robredo (ESP). Querrey took out his higher-seeded (and ranked) compatriot John Isner, beating the big man at his own big-serving game. In order to truly replace Isner though, he needed to solidify his position with a win in the next round.
Robredo would be a different opponent though. Unlike the youngster Wawrinka faced, Robredo is a seasoned professional, with a solid all-around game. While he lacks the one major piece that can dominate anyone across the net from him, he can string together all the right shots to get the job done.
And that leads to questions about Querrey. He held serve initially in this match-up, but proceeded to lose every other service game en route to dropping the first set (6-1). I didn’t even feel the need to take detailed notes during the games because Querrey seemed to follow a one-note pattern – go for the big shot, whether it was a serve or a winner, and he lost most of them. He appeared surprised and then frustrated, but he did very little to change the outcome.
This was more than a slow start really. I’m not sure he, like Robredo, can truly put together a collection of shots, points, sets, and matches to advance into the higher ranks of the tour. He settled down somewhat in the second set, even stealing a break to capture the set (7-5), but he struggled to hold the attention of what should have been a partisan crowd, and as rain delays broke up the rhythm a couple of times during the match, you never got the sense that he was going to be able to take command of the match.
Querrey hasn’t been able to beat Robredo in three previous encounters, and number four was, eventually more of the same. You have to be able to get out of the gate.