Newsday (N.Y.): Sam Querrey’s Wimbledon run ended by Marin Cilic in semis; Roger Federer advances to final

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

WIMBLEDON, England — He played well. Sam Querrey said that about himself. He knew he was a good tennis player. But Friday it wasn’t quite good enough.
Marin Cilic of Croatia, who has won a Grand Slam tournament, who was a higher seed, who was 4-0 against Querrey, beat him in a Wimbledon semifinal, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-5. Function followed form.

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Newsday (N.Y.): Wimbledon: Venus Williams to face Garbine Muguruza in 9th final


A Wimbledon of pain for Murray and joy for Querrey

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Yes, Andy Murray, the defending champion, the Olympic champion, the No. 1 player in the world, was hurting. You could see it in his walk. You could see it in his grimace.

But maybe what you couldn’t see was the progress of Sam Querrey, who for the first time in a career that’s been going more than a decade has made to the semifinals of one of tennis's four biggest events, arguably the biggest of those four, the All-England Championships.

Querrey, the hang-loose guy from southern California, beat Murray 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1 on Wednesday in a quarterfinal that maybe, considering where it was held, on a Centre Court surrounded almost entirely by Murray fans, was a shock. Or, acknowledging Murray’s aching right hip, wasn’t shocking at all.  

Murray had made it through four rounds, had the lead in this round, needed only one more game to advance. But either the hip that he said has bothered him for years, if not as seriously as in the last month, or Querrey wouldn’t allow Andy to get that set.

Injuries happen. You play with pain. That’s a cliché of sport, a truism. Or if you’re unable, you withdraw. Which is what Novak Djokovic did in the second set of his quarters match Wednesday against Tomas Berdych because of his right elbow. “Unfortunate I had to finish Wimbledon that way,” Djokovic said.

He was the 2015 (and ’14 and ’11) winner. Murray was the 2016 (and ’13) winner. So the men who took the last the last four Wimbledons (and five of the last six) are out of ’17 because of injuries. The body takes a beating. You gut it out, or you pull out.

“If you play,” Venus Williams said here a few years ago, “you’re not hurt. If you’re hurt, you don’t play.”

Murray was hurt, and he did play. No champion wants to let his title go without a fight. “I tried my best,” said Murray, who will not slip from the top of the rankings. “Right to the end. Gave it everything I had. I’m proud about that.”

And then he said something that shouldn’t be overlooked, about the competence of his opponent. “Sam served extremely well at the end of the match,” said Murray. “You know. Loosened up. Was going for his shots. Nothing much I could do.”

There was plenty Querrey could do. As Murray said, Querrey served well. He had 27 aces, compared to Murray’s eight. That’s always been Sam’s game, power.

He’s always had potential, too. Standing 6-foot-6, he turned pro out of Thousand Oaks High instead of going to USC, mainly because his father, Mike, thought about his own decision.

Mike was a ballplayer. He had a chance to sign with the Detroit Tigers out of high school but instead enrolled at Arizona. “I didn’t want to ride the bus to Shreveport.” Mike told the New York Times. After college, he married and went to work in Northern California, where Sam was born. Then Mike tried to restart his baseball career, but he couldn’t.

The memory haunted him. He didn’t want Sam to make a similar mistake.

Sam’s career has been acceptable. But it was supposed to be remarkable. Finally last year he beat Djokovic, the defending champion, in Wimbledon’s third round. Now he beats Murray, the defending champion, in the quarters.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Querrey. “For me. It’s my first semifinal.”

Where on Friday he’ll meet Marin Cilic, who beat Gilles Muller, the guy who upset Rafa Nadal.

In the other semi, Roger Federer faces Berdych. Federer has won 18 Slams, won Wimbledon seven times. Cilic won the 2014 U.S. Open. Berdych was a Wimbledon finalist. They’ve been there, done that.

Sam Querrey still is trying.

"I was probably a little more fired up (Wednesday), especially in the fourth and fifth sets," said Querrey. ”There’s a little more on the line.”

Querrey said he didn’t intentionally attempt to take advantage of Murray’s injury. “Not at all really,” affirmed Querrey. “I kind of noticed it a little bit from the beginning. But I just stayed with my game. I tried to stay aggressive. I didn’t want to alter my game and get into those cat-and-mouse points because that’s where he’s really good. 

“I just kept my foot down and just kept trying to pound the ball.”

And Murray couldn’t respond.

“Not many people get to play tennis professionally,” Querrey said, “let alone play at Wimbledon, play on Centre Court, play against Andy Murray. It’s something that few people get to do, so it’s really special. Really proud.”

He should be. As Andy Murray, battling against his body, should be.


Once again at Wimbledon, it’s the Age of Venus

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON,  England — She hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Venus Williams always acted with a sense of responsibility. Played that way too. Younger sister Serena, as younger offspring often tend to be, was more emotional, more expressive, more likely to say or do, well, just about anything.

Venus, however, was measured, in actions and words. She never would have worn a T-shirt to a press conference with a double-entendre, as Serena did at Wimbledon. Wouldn’t have chewed out a linesperson with a burst of obscenities, as Serena did at the U.S. Open.

And yes, especially since 2011, when Venus disclosed she had the autoimmune disase Shjogren’s syndrome while Serena, in one stretch, won four consecutive Grand Slam events, Venus was somewhat in the shadows. Except in her own mind.

Retirement? Not a chance. “I mean,” she said Tuesday, “I love this game.”

An hour or so earlier, under the roof at Centre Court on the day the rain returned to Wimbledon, Venus defeated Jelena Ostapenko, 6-3, 7-5, in a quarterfinal. That Venus is 37 and Ostapenko is 20 meant nothing, except in terms of experience in a key match on the grass court.

Williams had years of it, Ostapenko only days.

Twenty years Venus has played at Wimbledon — starting in June 1997, weeks after Ostapenko was born. One hundred matches Venus has played at Wimbledon.

“It’s a beautiful game,” she said. ”It’s been good to me.”

As she and Serena, pregnant and not playing this Wimbledon, have been good for tennis, particularly American tennis.

Venus’ first pro match was in October 1994 at Oakland Arena, the building that later became Oracle Arena. She was the 14-year-old with her hair in beads, touted by her father, Richard, as a future great. As now many are touting Ostapenko, who won the French Open a month ago.

Ostapenko’s time should come. Venus’ time is now. Or maybe more accurately, then and now. She made it to the quarters in her second Wimbledon, 1998, and won it her fourth Wimbledon, 2000. And four times after that.

She’s the oldest woman to get to the semis since, as nine-time champ Martina Navratilova, doing commentary for BBC television, told the audience, “Me.”

Navratilova also was 37 that year. And made it to the finals, losing to Conchita Martinez.

For Venus to reach her first Wimbledon final since losing to Serena eight years ago, she will need to defeat Johanna Konta of Great Britain in their semifinal Thursday.

“I’m sure she’s confident and determined,” said Williams of Konta.

No more determined than Venus.

“I love the challenge,” Williams insisted. ”I love the pressure. It’s not always easy dealing with the pressure. There’s constant pressure. It’s only yourself who can have the answer for that.

“I love the last day you play. You’re still improving. It’s not something that’s stagnant. You have to get better. I love that.”

She had to love her serve, always the weapon. Venus started quickly, winning the first three games. Then in the second set, Ostapenko, having recovered her poise, seemed on the verge of at last breaking serve. But, zing, Venus powered an ace. It was going to be her game, set and match.

“I mean, she was playing good today,” said Ostapenko, who is from Latvia. “She was serving well. She was very tough to break. Because of that I had more pressure, because I had to keep my serve. I mean, she is a great player.”

And has been for two decades, a constant.

“It’s definitely a real asset,” Williams said of her serve. “Been working on that serve. Would like to think I can continue to rely on it as the matches continue.”

At the most, there are only two more matches.

“You do your best while you can,” said Williams. No flippancy, no arrogance. Just the straightforward comments of the older sister.

“I don’t think about age,” said Venus. ”I feel quite capable and powerful. Whatever age that is, as long as I feel like that then I know I can contend for titles every time.”

At Wimbledon once more, it’s the Age of Venus.


Querrey up against Murray — and all of Britain

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Playing Andy Murray at Wimbledon? It would be like playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Or the Warriors at Oracle Arena. “It’s going to be tough,” said Sam Querrey. “He’s defending champion, No. 1 in the world. He loves playing here. The crowd is going to be behind him.”

Querrey faces Murray Wednesday in a quarterfinal at Wimbledon. Which Murray won last year. And in 2013, then becoming the first British man in 77 years to be singles champion of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships.

So everything and presumably everyone will be against Querrey, the 29-year-old from Southern California — where, as Sam correctly pointed out, there’s baseball and football and basketball. ”I doubt people in L.A. even know what’s going on over here,” he said.

What’s going on is the oldest (115 years), most important tournament in the world, as much a part of an English summer as strawberries and cream and evenings that stay light until at least 10 p.m.

Murray, the home-country kid (well, he’s from Scotland but at the moment that’s still part of the United Kingdom), defeated Benoit Paire of France, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, on what is known as “Manic Monday” in one fourth-round match. Querrey defeated Kevin Anderson, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (11), 6-3 in another quarterfinal.

And Querrey was into the quarterfinals for a second straight year. And Murray for a tenth straight year. “It’s really impressive,” said Querrey. “I mean I’ve done it twice in my life.” 

Querrey is on the outside looking in. Men’s tennis has been the property of the Big Four: Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, who in a marathon match Monday was upset by Gilles Muller, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13.

A few years ago, when he passed up a scholarship at USC to turn pro out of Thousand Oaks High School, Sam was projected as one of the future greats. But in 2009, while at a tournament in Bangkok, he leaned on a glass coffee table, which shattered. His arm was cut severely, and he missed time during recovery.

So he never made the ultimate step. Not that he stopped trying to do so. Querrey said he gladly would accept the pressure the 30-year-old Murray faces, especially at Wimbledon,

“Yeah,” said Querrey. “Because that would mean I’d probably be No. 1 or No. 2 in the world, have a ton of money, have Grand Slams. Life’s pretty good. I do know that comes with a lot more.

“I’m very happy right now with my life. Yeah, I’d love to be at the next level.”

He could approach that with a win over Murray, as difficult as that would appear to be.

“He’s earned it,” Querrey said about Murray. “I’m sure he feels the pressure sometimes. He’s done an incredible job of backing it up and living up to and winning Wimbledon. He’s accomplished all that a player can accomplish.”

For two weeks, the Wimbledon fortnight, there’s no individual in Britain who gets more attention. Not the prime minister. Not the Queen. Not even the soccer player Wayne Rooney, although his return this past weekend to Everton up in Liverpool, after 11 years at famed Manchester United, was maybe only two notches below. As they say, timing is everything.

“The entire country seems like they watch Wimbledon,” said Querrey. “In the U.S., whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, tennis, a lot of people watch, but it’s not 100 percent of America, even the Super Bowl. It feels like everyone watches Wimbledon here with Andy Murray.

“But sometimes it’s fun to go out there and play where the crowd is behind the other player. I’m going to try and play aggressive, hopefully play well and can sneak out a win.”

At Wimbledon, with a nation watching and Murray on the court, even sneaking a glance at the chair umpire will require a special skill.