SO Kyle Edmund couldn’t make it five out of five for Great Britain in the singles yesterday. But there is a keen sense of anticipation for the four Brits who take to the courts today. The officials at the All England Club have done their bit too, so there is a good chance there will not be too much overlap when they are on court.
Winning hearts and minds
Aljaz Bedene v Gilles Muller (11.30am, Court 2)
TO the casual observer, Aljaz Bedene would have sounded like a typical Eastern European tennis player at the start of the week. It’s an easy mistake to make given that he is from Slovenia, who qualified to represent Great Britain after undergoing the necessary residency rules. Bedene has been climbing the rankings nicely in 2017 but this week at Wimbledon has been his headline act. Toppling the giant Ivo Karlovic in the first round in over four hours was a big result, which he then backed up, but now he has a harder task.
Gilles Muller, the No.16 seed, is a wily campaigner on his favourite surface. The man from Luxembourg has the ideal game for grass with his big leftie serve and nice volleys and he won the recent event in Holland and reached the semis at Queens. But Bedene might hope that Muller is still feeling the effects of a long second round match on Wednesday.
A new lease of life
Heather Watson v Victoria Azarenka (1pm, Centre Court)
HEATHER WATSON returns to Centre Court for her first singles match there since pushing Serena Williams to the brink of defeat at this same stage two years ago. The fans loved the way she played that day and will hope for more today. Sadly Heather lost her way in the intervening period and had fallen to 126th in the rankings before a fine run to the semi-finals at Eastbourne last week.
Watson has backed that up at Wimbledon with more excellent tennis, arguably the best of her career and she has beaten three top-20 players in the last ten days. Now she has to step up against a Grand Slam Champion in Victoria Azarenka. But the Belarussian is in only her second event back on tour after becoming a mum last December. It’s a fascinating test for both players, but Watson knows she has the chance to produce a statement victory.
Jo Konta v Maria Sakkari (Court 1, approx. 3.30pm)
JO KONTA had her first ‘Wimbledon moment’ on Wednesday when she outlasted Donna Vekic over three hours to win 10-8 in the final set. It was the sort of nailbiting victory that Tim Henman and Andy Murray have given us so often over the last 20 years. In the time that has elapsed since her win, Konta has seen the two favourites for the women’s title, Czech pair Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova, knocked out.
Suddenly Konta is the bookmakers’ favourite to win Wimbledon. And yet this is her first appearance in the third round! Suddenly the burden of pressure and expectation is heaped on the No.6 seed’s shoulders starting today against Maria Sakkari of Greece, a player ranked outside the top 100, in a match Konta is expected is win. Konta is now in the spotlight, whether she wants it or not. How she gets on today could give us an indicator of whether she is a genuine contender to make the final a week tomorrow.
Friday night delight
Andy Murray v Fabio Fognini (Centre Court, approx. 5pm)
FOR the time being, Andy Murray is sharing the spotlight with fellow British players and it’s a novel situation for him. He has cruised through his opening two matches and has barely been troubled – either by his hip or his two opponents.
Next up for Murray is Fabio Fognini. This should pose more of a problem and Fognini won their most recent match in Rome in May in straight sets. But that was on clay in front of Fognini’s home crowd and surely the green, green grass of Wimbledon will be different. The Italian is seeded 28th, but he loves the big stage and plays flashy tennis. He has beaten Rafa Nadal in New York and also defeated Murray in the Davis Cup, so when his game is on, winners flow from his racket. But this is Andy’s own court and he should have far too much for Fognini, who can also blow very cold.
Seed in danger:
VENUS WILLIAMS is now the only woman left in the draw who knows what it takes to win Wimbledon, having done it five times. But that seems to count for little in this wide-open tournament. Today she is up against Naomi Osaka, a 19-year-old from Japan – 18 years the junior of Williams, and someone who wasn’t even born when Venus first played at Wimbledon.