Thirteen of the 32 singles players to reach the round of 16 at Wimbledon this year are unseeded. Four of those are ranked outside the top 100. Seven top-8 seeds are already out of the tournament: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Sara Errani, Angelique Kerber, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Only two of the 16 fourth-round matches feature both of the players the seedings predicted—Li Na vs. Roberta Vinci and Novak Djokovic vs. Tommy Haas. This leaves some gaping holes in the draws, particularly in the men’s bottom half. With everyone scheduled to play on Monday, which unseeded players have the best shot at advancing further, into the quarterfinals and beyond?
Guaranteed Unseeded Quarterfinalists
The easy answer is that three fourth-round matches will feature unseeded players on both sides of the net, guaranteeing that there will be at least that many unseeded quarterfinalists. None of the three pairs have ever played each other before. Let’s take a look at who these players are, their form scores at the beginning of the tournament, how they reached the second week, and what their grass-court track record tells us about their chances:
Laura Robson and Kaia Kanepi are among the highest-ranked unseeded players left in the tournament. Both are players on the rise, Robson as a 19-year-old and Kanepi having just returned to the tour in April after recovering from a foot injury. Both are among the five unseeded players who earned their way into the fourth round by beating the highest seeds in their sections, Kanepi having beaten 7th seed Kerber and Robson having dispatched 10th seed Maria Kirilenko.
Both stand 5’11” (1.80 m) and rely primarily on taking early control of points with their formidable serves and powerful groundstrokes. Neither has an extensive history of major achievements on grass. Kanepi reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2010, upsetting seeds Sam Stosur and Alexandra Dulgheru (both of whom struggle on the surface) and beating unseeded Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round. Since then, Kanepi was 0–4 on grass until this week.
Robson won the Wimbledon girls’ title in 2008. Her next notable achievement on grass came last year, when she beat then-#49 María José Martínez Sánchez in Eastbourne—just her second victory over a top-50 player—and then upset #23 Lucie Safarova a month later at the Olympic Games.
Whether Kanepi or Robson wins is a close call, and it depends on who executes better today. With the crowd behind her, a better game at the net, and arguably a more impressive history against quality grass-court players, the left-handed Robson may have the edge.
The winner will have a very steep hill to climb in the quarterfinals, where she is likely to face dominating #1 and defending champion Serena Williams.
French 26-year-old Kenny De Schepper is only in his fourth year as a professional, and still spends most weeks on the Challenger circuit. He is at his career-high ranking, and before this week had beaten only one top-50 player—then-#49 Adrian Mannarino in 2011. At a height of 6’8″ (2.03 m), De Schepper’s serve is a key part of his game, and he has had his best results on fast surfaces. He reached the third round of Queen’s Club three weeks ago (beating competent grass-courter #90 Rajeev Ram in the first round), but then lost in the first round of Eastbourne to 18-year-old wild card Kyle Edmund, ranked #442.
Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco is in the Wimbledon fourth round for the fourth time, but has never reached the quarterfinals. His most impressive grass-court result came at Wimbledon in 2008, when he beat Philipp Kohlschreiber and Tomas Berdych before losing in the fourth round to Mario Ancic, 13-11 in the fifth set. While he’s had better results on hard courts and clay, Verdasco is a powerful athlete and plays aggressively enough to be a threat on grass as well. Like too many players in the modern game, Verdasco has often tended to overemphasize his athletic preparation at the expense of the tactical wisdom, mental disposition, and technical execution necessary to beat the opponent across the net on a given day.
De Schepper has had the tournament of his career, capped by upsetting 22nd seed Juan Mónaco in straight sets in the third round, his best win ever by far. But the fact remains that De Schepper profited from an incredibly lucky draw. Marin Cilic, the top seed in the section, withdrew with a knee injury, giving De Schepper a walkover in the second round. The players De Schepper beat this week—Mónaco and journeyman Paolo Lorenzi, are largely clay-court specialists. While Verdasco didn’t have to face Tsonga, the top seed in his section, he did beat three formidable grass-court players this week—Xavier Malisse, Julien Benneteau, and Ernests Gulbis—the last two in straight sets. Unless Verdasco suddenly reverts to his very worst form, he should end De Schepper’s run easily.
In the quarterfinals, Verdasco is likely to fall to Andy Murray, who is a much better grass court player.
French 25-year-old left-hander Adrian Mannarino says his best shot is his volley, and has had his best results on fast surfaces. In his career-best year of 2011, he beat Mónaco on his way to the Auckland quarterfinals, then reached the semifinals on the high-altitude hard courts of Johannesburg three weeks later. That summer he beat Gulbis, Gilles Simon, and Juan Martín Del Potro to reach the quarterfinals at Queen’s Club. Largely on the strength of those results, he briefly broke into the top 50, but has had very few victories at the ATP Tour level since. This week Mannarino beat struggling clay-court specialist Pablo Andújar in the first round, profited from John Isner’s retirement with a knee injury after two games in the second round, and then beat #189 Dustin Brown in the third round. Brown had beaten aging 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt in the second round and is another flashy and talented volleyer, but like Mannarino has struggled to string tour-level victories together for most of his career.
Lukasz Kubot’s ATP biography says he prefers slower surfaces, but over the past three years some of his best results have come on faster ones, and he has recently added more hardcourt and grass-court events to his schedule. Unlike Mannarino, the 31-year-old has been in the second weeks of slams before—most recently at Wimbledon in 2011, when he beat Arnaud Clement, Ivo Karlovic, and Gael Monfils before falling to Feliciano López, 7-5 in the fifth. Over the past year, his victories have become increasingly spotty as he continues to play exclusively at the tour level, and after spending most of three years as a top-80 player, he has found himself overtaken by competitors who are more willing to boost their points by playing Challengers. Kubot began this week by beating clay-court specialist Igor Andreev, who returned to the tour in April after recovering from a shoulder injury and has yet to find form. Kubot received a walkover to the third round when Steve Darcis withdrew due to his own shoulder injury, and then upset 25th seed Benoit Paire in straight sets. Paire is a talented player and is having by far the best season of his career, but his whimsical and reckless shotmaking makes inconsistency a recurring flaw of his game.
The outcome of this match is difficult to predict, as neither player had much previous success this year, and both arrived at this stage of the tournament thanks to enormous gifts of luck. As the player coming off of a more impressive victory and with experience in the later rounds of major events, Kubot may have the edge.
The remaining seven unseeded players face seeds in the fourth round. Against more seasoned competitors who have already proven themselves worthy survivors of the tournament’s first-week carnage, they have a more difficult path to the quarterfinals. But most of them have a real chance.
Of the seven, Jürgen Melzer is the highest-ranked. A skilled volleyer, he won doubles titles with Philipp Petzschner at Wimbledon in 2010 and the US Open in 2011, and the 2011 Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Iveta Benesova (now his wife). Left-handed and a devotee of the drop shot, he has a tricky game that, at its best, can threaten nearly any player. In singles, he upset David Ferrer and Djokovic to reach the semifinals of Roland Garros in 2010. He followed that by beating Brown, Viktor Troicki, and López to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon the same year, and reached the fourth round of the next two slams as well, bringing him to a career-high ranking of #8. Since then he has regressed into the week-to-week inconsistency that has characterized most of his career. Aside from Wimbledon in 2010, his grass-court results have been unremarkable, and he’s had more success on clay and indoor hard courts.
This past week Melzer’s best victory came in the first round, where he upset 30th seed Fabio Fognini. Fognini is a skilled player and is having the best season of his career, but his success on grass is limited, and he’s better-known for generating drama at major tournaments than he is for stringing victories together in them. After that, Melzer beat journeyman Julian Reister, and big-serving but one-dimensional Sergiy Stakhovsky.
In fourth round Melzer will play Jerzy Janowicz for the first time. The 22-year-old Pole first played in the main draw of a slam just a year ago at Wimbledon, where he qualified and beat Gulbis to reach the third round. At the end of last year he vaulted into the top-30 by upsetting four top-20 players to reach the final of Paris-Bercy. He faltered a bit at the beginning of this season, but has now secured his status as a top player, reaching the third round of every slam this year. He has had some luck with the draws—this week he escaped a potentially tricky second-round battle with Radek Stepanek when Stepanek retired with a hamstring injury in the second set, and then reached the fourth round by beating 15th seed Nicolas Almagro, who has a solid and powerful game but is hardly at his best on grass.
At 6’8″ (2.03 m), Janowicz has a more dominating serve than Stakhovsky, as well as exceptional touch and tactical unpredictability to match those of Melzer. I expect Janowicz to win, but if he’s unnerved by the occasion or Melzer plays unusually well, Melzer could pull off the upset. Whoever wins will face the Kubot–Mannarino winner in the quarterfinals, and will be a heavy favorite to go on to the semifinals.
A Murray–Janowicz semifinal would be interesting, as Murray was surprised and confounded by Janowicz’s game in Paris-Bercy, falling in three sets.
Ivan Dodig is an inconsistent player, but when he’s on form he’s extremely dangerous on any surface. Aggressive from both the baseline and the net, in the last three years he has beaten top-10 players Rafael Nadal on hard court, Robin Söderling on clay, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on grass. Dodig profited from two retirements to reach his first slam second week, though he deserves a great deal of credit for wearing down 16th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round and leading by a break in the fifth set before Kohlschreiber quit, citing illness and fatigue.
As the more consistent player with plenty of experience in the late rounds of slams, David Ferrer has to be considered the favorite in this match. In their only previous meeting, at Ferrer’s home tournament in Valencia, Ferrer won in three sets. But Ferrer’s counterpunching style is hardly optimal on grass, and if Dodig rises to the occasion and plays as well as he’s capable, he will spring another big upset.
The winner will face either 8th seed Del Potro or 23rd seed Andreas Seppi. Del Potro has never been entirely comfortable on grass, and injured his ankle and knee crashing into the umpire’s chair at the end of his third-round match. Seppi would be playing in his first slam quarterfinal. Either could be vulnerable.
Australian 20-year-old Bernard Tomic got ahead of himself at the beginning of the year, when after beating a jet-lagged Novak Djokovic in the Hopman Cup exhibition event, he immediately began talking about reaching the top 10 by the end of the year. He failed to back up a strong run in January’s Australian tournaments, and struggled even more after his father and coach was charged with assaulting his hitting partner in Madrid and barred from subsequent tournaments. But he’s done himself credit this week, as the only player to earn his way to the fourth round by upsetting both seeds in his section—21st seed Sam Querrey and 9th seed Richard Gasquet.
Tomic has the talent, power, touch, and physique to become a top player, and his versatile game works well on grass, as he proved by reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2011. (Though he had a lucky draw that year, in the third round meeting Söderling, who was already ailing with the mononucleosis that prompted his indefinite departure from the tour a month later.) The question that still looms is whether Tomic will find the mental commitment to achieve consistent results throughout a season, and to overcome fierce resistance from top veterans in the biggest matches.
Tomas Berdych’s mental fortitude has been questioned over the years as well, and his results on grass have been somewhat disappointing since his big serve and skillful volleys took him to the Wimbledon final in 2010. He has advanced straightforwardly to the fourth round this week, but hasn’t been seriously tested, having never lost in eight previous meetings to his third-round opponent, 27th seed Kevin Anderson.
I’d like to think Berdych’s arguably more solid and powerful game and his greater experience on the big stage will give him the edge. But he may also feel more pressure than Tomic, for whom expectations are relatively low given his recent family turmoil. Tomic also has more tactical options at his disposal than the more one-dimensional Berdych. It should be an intriguing match.
The winner meets either Djokovic or Haas. Each has beaten the other once this year, Haas winning in Miami and Djokovic at Roland Garros. Haas won both their matches on grass, but Djokovic has improved on the surface since 2009, when those matches were played. I expect Djokovic to do a better job rising to the occasion and to reach the final, but neither of his next two matches will be easy.
In just her second slam main draw, and her first ever main-draw appearance on grass, 19-year-old Puerto Rican Monica Puig upset 5th seed Sara Errani in the first round. She showed her youthful inconsistency in the next two rounds, losing sets to the relatively unheralded Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Eva Birnerova, but each time found her range again and powered her way into the second week. Like the taller Sabine Lisicki and Kerber, and the shorter Dominika Cibulkova, the power of Puig’s shots comes not only from her upper body, but from her exceptionally strong lower body. That strength also gives her the speed to be a good defender.
Only six months older, Sloane Stephens already has considerably more experience at the WTA Tour level, and I picked her to win this match a week ago. But Stephens looked disappointingly disinterested and tactically passive in the third round, allowing Petra Cetkovska to dictate play for much of the match with her combination of power and versatility. Stephens only won after Cetkovska, who returned from injury only a month ago, became nervous and erratic and gave away leads in both the first and third sets.
Puig definitely has no lack of self-confidence, and will look to be the aggressor throughout the match. Stephens will have to raise her level beyond what she has shown so far in the tournament, pushing Puig behind the baseline with her best power and depth if she wants to stop Monica’s career-best run.
Although Tsvetana Pironkova has become an occasional threat on other surfaces over the past two years, grass courts are where her game has been truly impressive—particularly at Wimbledon, where she reached the semifinals in 2010 and the quarterfinals in 2011. In those runs, she upset five-time champion Venus Williams (both times), 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli, and 2010 finalist Vera Zvonareva. She has a strong serve and backhand, and her unorthodox slice forehand works well on the surface. She has also improved her ability to hit her forehand hard and flat, introducing a new weapon and source of unpredictability in her game. Pironkova beat Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets in their last match on grass, last year in Eastbourne—Aga’s last match before she made her career-best run to the Wimbledon final.
Dealing with a chronic shoulder problem, this year Radwanska has seldom matched the power she applied to her serve and forehand during that run. But she still has all of her precision, touch, defensive speed, unsurpassed sense of court space, and tactical ingenuity. She did exactly what she needed to do in the third round to take advantage of Madison Keys’ inexperience and win a close three-set battle against the teenager’s more powerful but less consistent attack. Aga seems to have embraced her position as a top-5 player, saving her best performances this year for the slams.
For all Pironkova’s grass-court skills, she’s unlikely to be capable of matching Radwanska’s consistency, guile, and mental steadiness on this stage. I expect Aga to win without too much trouble.
The winner faces either Li Na or Roberta Vinci, who have only played each other once since 2006, Li winning in three sets in Madrid in 2011. If Li plays her best, the grass should favor her fundamentally more powerful game. But if Li repeats the mental lapses she has shown in her last two matches, she could be lured into excessive errors by Vinci’s variety of spins and willingness to attack the net.
Li has a 6–4 record against Radwanska. They are 1–1 in completed matches on grass, and also 1–1 this year.
The most surprising woman to reach the fourth round is 26-year-old Italian Karin Knapp, who upset 27th seed Lucie Safarova in the second round. I didn’t even mention her as a contender in my draw analysis a week ago. A physically imposing player and aggressive hitter, Knapp made a splash on the tour from 2007 to early 2008, briefly reaching the top 40 before her form deteriorated. Her successes at the tour level have been few and far between since, though she did upset Kirilenko on her way to the semifinals in Estoril last year. Movement around the court has been a major weakness for her, although she looks fitter now than she did last year when I last saw her play.
Bartoli plays a similar style, but despite her recent struggles, does everything better. In their only previous meeting, during Knapp’s career-best stretch in Sydney in 2008, Bartoli won, 6-1 6-0.
With Sharapova and Azarenka gone from her half of the draw, Bartoli must be salivating at her opportunity to turn her season around. She hasn’t lost a set yet this week, but her quarterfinal opponent—either Stephens or Puig—will be the strongest threat she’s faced by a significant margin. Bartoli will have to serve and return well, and limit her errors to take advantage of the way her draw has opened.
For months after returning from wrist surgery, Flavia Pennetta struggled, particularly with her serve and her confidence. Finally a month ago in Strasbourg, she found some form and momentum, reaching the semifinals. This week she took another step, taking advantage of Azarenka’s withdrawal and overcoming the embarrassment of a 0-6 first set to beat 29th seed Alizé Cornet in the third round.
Unfortunately for Flavia, in between her run in Strasbourg and her run at Wimbledon, she encountered Kirsten Flipkens in the first round of Roland Garros. Playing the best tennis of her life this year, Flipkens won, 6-0 in the third, on a surface that favors Pennetta. This time things will be even more difficult for Flavia. Like her, Flipkens has a versatile all-court game and is a tactically intelligent player. While Pennetta’s backhand is more of a weapon from the baseline, Flipkens’ slices and more active pursuit of opportunities to approach the net are likely to be more effective on grass.
Flipkens’ quarterfinal opponent will be either Petra Kvitova or Carla Suarez Navarro. While the surface inherently favors Kvitova’s power, Suarez Navarro has improved on fast surfaces this year, and her slice, consistency, and pursuit of aggressive court positioning will cause Kvitova some trouble. Kvitova lost sets in both matches she has played this week, and will need to maintain a better level of play throughout each contest if she wants to keep advancing. Flipkens will be even more of a threat than Suarez Navarro, having dominated Kvitova at beginning and end this year in Miami, 6-0 4-6 6-1.