Sightings from the Mountain, Tuesday

Ferrer d. Almagro, 4-6 4-6 7-5 7-6(4) 6-2

For almost three sets, Nicolás Almagro played the match of his life. Hitting aggressively, firing backhand winners down the line or blasting David Ferrer out of position with explosive inside-out forehands, Almagro converted every break point he had. Ferrer played defensively, even by his standards, and made unusually many unforced errors—a bad combination.

And then Almagro served for the match. No doubt the thought occurred to him that he had never beaten Ferrer in 12 tries. No doubt he realized that he was four points away from reaching his first slam semifinal, and on a surface that isn’t his best. Suddenly his forehands started fizzling short or sailing meters long. Suddenly his backhands sprayed wide. He kept going for his first serves, as he did throughout the match, but could hardly count on them to see him through by themselves, as he only put 47% of them in play throughout the match.

Meanwhile Ferrer cleaned up his own play, making sure Almagro would have to close the match with his own racket. Ferrer broke Almagro’s serve, for the first time in the match, and then broke it again to take the third set.

Almagro recovered his composure and his groundstrokes in the fourth set, and took the lead again. He served for the match at 5-4. Again his groundstrokes crumbled. Again Ferrer broke back. After an extended battle, Almagro broke again. Perhaps starting to cramp, he called the trainer for a thigh massage, which only gave him extra time to dwell on the fact that he was about to serve for the match for a third time. Again Ferrer broke back. Almagro fell behind early in the ensuing tiebreak, and then tore a groin muscle leaping for an overhead. Ferrer won the tiebreak.

Almagro was treated for the groin injury between sets, and continued icing it on every changeover. He looked determined to finish the match, but his face at the beginning of the fifth set showed he had little hope left of winning it. He kept going for his serves and his groundstrokes, but did his best to avoid running. After Ferrer broke his serve to take a 3-2 lead, Almagro looked completely resigned to another loss. On his way to sit down for the last changeover, down 2-5, Almagro tapped his compatriot on the knee with his racket as if to say, “Well, you’ve beaten me again.”

It was sad to see Almagro come so close to a career-changing victory and be unable to complete it, and sad that his injury eliminated any realistic possibility of a competitive fifth set. But if a player can ever fairly be said to have choked away a match, it was Almagro in this one. Almagro was two points away from showing the world that he is a real threat to top-10 players, and a real threat on hard courts as well as clay. Instead, Ferrer once again showed the world that his defensive ability, unyielding courage, and unsurpassed endurance place him above all but a few of the sport’s greatest.

Sharapova d. Makarova, 6-2 6-2

After beating Angelique Kerber in the fourth round (see below), and before Maria Sharapova had played her fourth-round match, Ekaterina Makarova told the on-court interviewer she hoped Sharapova would be her opponent. Makarova had lost to Sharapova in the quarterfinals last year (after upsetting Serena Williams), but this year Makarova said she was feeling confident about her game and wanted another chance to beat Sharapova.

Makarova started this match with an ambitious strategy, going for big shots early in points and seeking to finish at the net. For four games it looked like she might really test Sharapova, who had only lost five games in her previous four matches. But Makarova’s timing wasn’t nearly as good as it had been against Kerber, and her unforced errors accumulated. Hitting a little harder, a little flatter, and with significantly better accuracy, Sharapova took the lead in the middle of the first set and never looked seriously threatened thereafter.

Kuznetsova d. Wozniacki, 6-2 2-6 7-5

While Caroline Wozniacki lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets just as she did in Sydney, her performance in this match was more encouraging. Wozniacki looked for opportunities to get to the net, taking control of many points and denying Kuznetsova opportunities to exploit her renowned volleying skills. However, Caro’s lack of experience at the net showed in some awkward volleys and missed overheads, and she struggled to control her much-criticized forehand. Dictating the majority of points from the baseline, with her more powerful, topspin-loaded forehand, Kuznetsova took the first set.

Wozniacki played more aggressively from the baseline in the second set, exploiting her strong backhand and better controlling her forehand to hit deeper and more consistently. Keeping Kuznetsova on the run and drawing errors, Wozniacki took the second set.

Kuznetsova started the third set by striking harder and earlier from the baseline, seizing control of the net, where she feathered some difficult soft volley winners to gain an early service break. Wozniacki replied by hitting her forehand much harder, leading to a couple of errors but also a couple of surprising winners that allowed her to break back and level the score at 2-2. However, when the tension mounted at 5-5, Caro showed she still lacks confidence in the more aggressive elements she’s trying to add to her game. Apparently unable to decide whether to hit a drop shot or an approach shot, she played a short forehand slice that Kuznetsova easily hit for a winner. Sveta put away an easy volley and hit two big forehands from the baseline to complete the break, and confidently held serve to complete her victory.

With her aggressive game and enormous versatility, Kuznetsova will always hit some errors and make some questionable tactical choices, and this match was no exception. But she stayed focused and played well when it counted most. After missing six months for knee surgery, she looks ready to resume her place among the game’s elite.

Stephens d. Jovanovski, 6-1 3-6 7-5

Bojana Jovanovski has days where it seems she can outlast and outhit nearly anyone in rallies from the baseline. This was not one of those days, but in the second set it looked like it might be. Sloane Stephens made an aggressive start in the first set, and Jovanovski made far too many errors to keep up. But in the second set, Stephens played more conservatively, perhaps expecting Jovanovski’s errors would continue and hand her an easy win. Jovanovski took the opportunity to find her range, and took control of the majority of the rallies.

Jovanovski is not a good volleyer, and is much less effective when her opponent breaks up her rhythm by forcing her to move forward and backward in the court. Perhaps Stephens isn’t comfortable making the shots necessary to achieve this, or perhaps the strategy didn’t occur to her. Instead, the third set turned into a tense baseline battle. But Stephens stepped up her aggression just enough to draw more errors from Jovanovski, and also hit a few excellent backhand winners down the line to give herself the necessary edge for victory.

Makarova d. Kerber, 7-5 6-4

Having upset Marion Bartoli in the previous round, Makarova started this match well, serving strongly and hitting her left-handed forehand with more power and depth than Kerber’s. Makarova served for the first set at 5-2, but got nervous, and suddenly became much more erratic. Kerber showed her usual grit, running down Makarova’s balls and hitting her own groundstrokes with more depth and initiative, forcing Makarova to go for more of the big shots she was mostly missing at the time. Makarova again failed to serve out the set at 5-4.

But Kerber seemed unable to hit her first serve as hard as usual, and Makarova managed to break again. Serving for the set for a third time, she served more conservatively, making sure to get her first serve in play, and executed her groundstrokes better to finish off the set. The reason for Kerber’s serving troubles became clear at 3-2 in the second set, when she left the court to get treatment for a back injury. Kerber used more drop shots and approaches to the net in the second set to try to gain control of the match, but Makarova eventually landed enough big returns to break her serve for a 5-4 lead. Serving for the match, Makarova’s confidence didn’t waver, and increasing forehand errors by the injured Kerber allowed her to finish with a love game.

Injuries

Janko Tipsarevic retired from his fourth-round match with a heel injury while trailing Almagro, 6-2 5-1.

Kevin Anderson is having surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, and expects to be off the tour for about 5 weeks.

Other Results

Quarterfinals

Djokovic d. Berdych, 6-1 4-6 6-1 6-4
Li d. A. Radwanska, 7-5 6-3

Fourth Round

Djokovic d. Wawrinka, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10
Berdych d. Anderson, 6-3 6-2 7-6(13)
Ferrer d. Nishikori, 6-2 6-1 6-4
Chardy d. Seppi, 5-7 6-3 6-2 6-2
Murray d. Simon, 6-3 6-1 6-3
Tsonga d. Gasquet, 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-2
Federer d. Raonic, 6-4 7-6(4) 6-2

Azarenka d. Vesnina, 6-1 6-1
S. Williams d. Kirilenko, 6-2 6-0
Li d. Goerges, 7-6(6) 6-1
A. Radwanska d. Ivanovic, 6-2 6-4
Sharapova d. Flipkens, 6-1 6-0

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