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2:44PM

The answer always is Wimbledon

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — The answer is Wimbledon, no matter the question.

Grass courts that mystify (unless you’re Roger Federer)? Wimbledon.

Tournament often as crazy as it is important? Wimbledon.

Event the players would never criticize even though it should be criticized? You got it, Wimbledon. 

On Day 5 of Wimbledon 142 — yes, it started in 1877, but there was the interruption called World War II — Roger Federer and Serena Williams kept winning.

Venus Williams and Sam Querrey failed to keep winning. 

And the stories in the dailies that weren’t about Dominika Cibulkova’s thigh slapping or England’s World Cup quarterfinal were about an oversize balloon in the form of Donald Trump wearing a diaper that will fly over London

Ready? Your serve. And with this heat wave, 85 degrees on Friday, remember to stay hydrated.

Federer, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 over Jan-Lennard Struff and Serena, 7-5, 7-6 over Kristina Mladenovic, stayed on course. So did John Isner, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 over Radu Albot.

But after taking the first set, Querrey was beaten by the flashy French guy, Gael Monfils, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. And Venus, 38 years old, lost to Father Time, and to 26-year-old Kiki Bertens, 6-2, 6-7, 8-6.

“There always are more upsets at Wimbledon,” said Querrey, who a year ago had one of those, beating Andy Murray. “I think it’s because of the grass. It’s such a different surface.”

Whether Bertens defeating Venus could be labeled an upset is judgmental. Venus did win Wimbledon five times and did get to the final in 2017 before being whipped by Garbine Muguruza — who, talk about upsets, lost this year in the second round.

But Venus sadly is starting to look the age she is, eliminated in the first round of both the Australian Open and French Open and now being eliminated in the second round at Wimbledon after losing the first set in all three matches. 

“Just ran out of time in the end,” said Venus, an ironic comment that now could apply to her career as much as to the match. Not that she ever would even hint of stepping away.

“The plan,” said Venus when asked about disappointment, “is to go out and try to win the matches. You just go out and regroup afterwards. You know, I think she was just a little bit luckier than I was in the end.”

Johanna Konta of England wasn’t as concerned with fortune as she was with Cibulkova slapping her thighs during the Thursday match that Cibulkova won, 6-3, 6-4.

“Jo complained to the umpire about me slapping my leg when waiting to receive,” Cibulkova told The Sun. “But I have been doing that in my whole career, and I see no reason to stop. That is what I told the umpire. That is the first time anyone has ever complained.”

Konta is No. 24 in the rankings and Cibulkova is No. 31, so the result could be called an upset. For sure, Konta, a back-page tabloid star in this, her homeland, was upset emotionally.

“She’s very intense,” Konta said of Cibulkova, a Slovakian. “She was slapping her thigh. It was like clapping. I asked the umpire if it would be the same if someone else externally, from the crowd, would clap between first and second serves.”

No one’s been clapping of late for the achievements, or lack of same, of American men at Wimbledon or the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

“I feel like things come in waves,” said Querrey about the inability of U.S. men to contend. Querrey did make the semis a year ago, but that was that. The last American to win a Slam was Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open — 15 years ago.

“I mean, in the ‘90s we were probably the best tennis nation,” said Querrey, alluding to the days when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi. Michael Chang and Jim Courier earned titles. “You have the dominance of Roger (Federer) and Rafa (Nadal) the last 12 years, Novak (Djokovic) and Andy (Murray). We have dropped off. Maybe in 10 years, we will have another wave.”

Or another lady who slaps her thighs waiting for a serve.

2:14PM

In England, a curse ending, a tennis tournament continuing

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — You’ve heard the line. England and America are two counties separated by a common language. It was attributed to George Bernard Shaw, who apparently never said it the way Mark Twain never said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

There are, certainly, items other than words that make us realize the U.S. and U.K. (right, that’s more than just England) are dissimilar. Start with football. Same name, very different game, although similar obsession.

Yes, we’re smack in the middle of the oldest, most important tennis tournament on the planet, the All England Lawn Championships, better known as Wimbledon. But also we’re figuratively smack in almost-the-middle-but-closer-to-the-end of the World Cup, the quarterfinals.

And England still is playing. As if anybody able to read the common language that separates the two countries is not well aware.

England won a penalty shootout over Colombia, 4-3, Tuesday night to advance after the teams tied, 1-1, through regulation and two overtimes. People literally were dancing in the streets when the game ended, or at least in one street, Lillie Road in southwest London, not far from Wimbledon.

Trying to avoid the game would have been like trying to avoid the Super Bowl on that first Sunday in February.

“I watched the game,” said Sam Querrey after his 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 second-round victory (in tennis, not soccer). “I was at the house that we’re staying at. Kind of tucked back. I’m sure if we were a little closer to the village, we would have heard. I saw some people in videos going crazy.”

Querrey, a southern Californian, stayed cool after his win, as did fellow Americans Serena and Venus Williams and Madison Keys after they won, as contrasted to the national population following the Cup triumph.

The Curse had been lifted. Or kicked away.

We knew the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Billy Goat. We knew the Curse of Candlestick, the San Francisco Giants never winning a title there. We knew the Wimbledon Curse, no British male having won men’s singles for 77 years until Andy Murray in 2013.

But only England knew the Curse of the Penalty Shootout.

That having a shootout to decide games in what some insist is the most important of any sporting event is nonsense, like shooting free throws to decide an NBA playoff game or holding a home run contest to decide the World Series. But that’s the way it’s always been done.

And, until Tuesday night, always the way that proved fatal for England. Six times previously, a World Cup game involving England had gone to a shootout, a kick-off if you will. Six times previously, England lost. Not this time.

“It’s the headline we have waited a lifetime to write,” headlined the tabloid Sun on the back page, “ENGLAND WIN ON PENALTIES.”

“Eric and Pick End Curse.” That’s Eric Dier with the deciding goal and Jordan Pickford, the England goalie whose diving left-handed save kept out what would have been a final Colombia score.

They never forget in England, where in the 1986 Cup at Mexico City they were beaten, 2-1, by Argentina in a quarterfinal on a disputed goal by Diego Maradona, who was accused of punching the ball in with his hand and countered with the explanation, “It was the hand of God.”

What delight then the creator of the headline under the photo of Jordan Pickford’s save must have taken in writing, “THE HAND OF JORD.”

Federer, the defending champ at Wimbledon was less enthralled with the England soccer win. His heart and attention were with his home country, Switzerland, which was kept from the quarters when it was shut out by Sweden, 1-0.

“It’s an opportunity missed,” agreed Federer, who on the courts rarely misses any opportunity. “In the end I thought (Sweden) were maybe a little bit better. It’s not sour. I think we deserved what we got.”

An English journalist then said to Federer, “Which team will you be rooting for now? Surely there’s only one answer to that.”

Federer hesitated, smiled and said, “Is there?’’

We’ll never know.

 

4:40PM

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.

Copyright © 2017 Newsday. All rights reserved.

1:35PM

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.

1:29PM

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.