Manic Monday, as the second Monday of Wimbledon is referred to, claims a special place on the tennis calendar, mostly for good reasons. However, some of the effects of this day are unavoidably unwelcome.
You can call it a “first-world tennis problem,” a consequence of the All-England Club’s annual decision (due to the politics of maintaining a good relationship with the Village of Wimbledon) to skip play on Middle Sunday, but it’s real: When all fourth-round matches for the women and men are bundled into one day, it’s hard to keep track of all the action. It’s also hard for any of the eight victorious women to celebrate too much. They have to play the quarterfinals the next day, on Tuesday, also known for years as “Ladies’ Day” at The Championships.
The eight women’s quarterfinalists at Wimbledon are often familiar names. They’re often the players we expect to see at this stage of tennis’s most prestigious and famous major tournament. This year, a few highly recognizable faces exist in the last eight for the women of Wimbledon, but only three or four — at most — were expected to be here. On a larger level, all eight women carry compelling stories with them into Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
If you’re a tennis diehard, you know what these athletes have achieved to get here, but if not, you have only a short time to read up on them before the quarterfinals begin:
Serena Williams is, of course, the player everyone knows about. She defeated older sister Venus on Monday to move one step closer to her third major title of the year in as many tries. (Spare a thought for Venus: She drew eventual champion Petra Kvitova in the third round last year, and she might have lost to the eventual champion in the fourth round this year, all at her favorite and most successful tournament.) Serena’s storyline needs no embellishment — not when the simple facts are grander and more glorious than any work of fiction could possibly describe.
Everyone other than Serena, though, can be viewed as something of a surprise at Wimbledon this year — some more than others, but all with flaws in either the present or past tense.
Maria Sharapova is the other global icon in the round of eight, but she is making just her second quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon since 2006. She’s rarely been able to make deep runs at either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open over the last nine years. She got a kind draw to get here, but she can only beat the players in her path. If she makes the semifinals, it will be a great result for her, regardless of her cake-filled bracket.
The third particularly prominent name in the quarterfinals — one of the three women remaining who can be said to be a heavyweight-level champion in the sport — is Victoria Azarenka. Formerly the world No. 1 but sidetracked by injuries, Azarenka has built back her career. By reaching the quarters here at Wimbledon, she’s boosted her ranking and will move inside the top 20, thereby improving her draws at future tournaments, something she sorely needed to do.
Then the quarterfinal field becomes particularly surprising.
Madison Keys has a game made for Wimbledon, but she’s played nerve-addled tennis throughout the first four rounds of the tournament. Keys has lasted this long because she’s been able to overcome her nerves, especially after losing first sets on multiple occasions. Young players don’t regularly steady themselves within matches the way Keys has. Her tennis has been uneven, but her determination and skill set have powered her into the round of eight.
Timea Bacsinszky reached the semifinals of the French Open and had a set-and-a-break lead on Serena Williams before falling short in three sets. She unfurled a 15-match winning streak earlier in the season and has been the breakout player on the WTA Tour. Yet, with Sabine Lisicki, a regular second-week Wimbledon player, looming in the third round, Bacsinszky was not a likely choice to make a deep run at The Championships. Yet, she clinically defused Lisicki’s power game and then rallied in the fourth round against Monica Niculescu to reach yet another major quarterfinal. This is one of the more remarkable stories in women’s tennis in 2015.
The person pictured in our cover image is Agnieszka Radwanska, who is very much a puzzle to tennis fans, but for the best of reasons at this tournament. Radwanska came into Wimbledon with no expectations, given that she failed to win more than three matches in every single tournament she played heading into the grass-court season. Early exits have been the norm for Radwanska in the 2015 season, and while she made deeper runs in her two grass warm-up events before Wimbledon, she still lost matches (semifinals of Nottingham, finals of Eastbourne) to players ranked many notches below her.
At Wimbledon, though, Radwanska has come alive. She lashed 22 winners in the first set of her victory over Jelena Jankovic (the slayer of no-longer-defending champion Petra Kvitova) and played marvelous tennis throughout that fourth-round clash on Monday. Radwanska owns the distinction of being the only player in the bottom half of the draw with a prior appearance in the Wimbledon singles final. If she uses that experience well, she could be headed for a repeat of the 2012 final with Serena.
Garbine Muguruza has made the quarterfinals of a major before, but that was on clay at the French Open. Not every player is skilled enough to make the transition from clay to grass, but Muguruza’s done so. She certainly has the power and shotmaking prowess to be a top-5 player in the not-too-distant future, but her arrival at the Wimbledon quarters this year is not a “we should have seen it coming” moment — not quite.
Finally, but certainly not least, CoCo Vandeweghe has powered her way into her first Wimbledon quarterfinal, also her first major quarterfinal. She beat a former major champion, Samantha Stosur, in the third round, and then took out French Open runner-up (and 2014 Wimbledon finalist) Lucie Safarova in the fourth round on Monday. Maria Sharapova will probably deserve to be favored in the quarterfinals, if only because the stage is one she’s handled before, but if Vandeweghe can be impervious (enough) to nerves, the contours of the matchup do favor her.
It’s a very unexpected field of eight in the women’s quarterfinals — perhaps not so much because of the players in it, but more because of the players who aren’t part of it. Then again, the larger story beyond Wimbledon alone is that after Serena (and to a much lesser extent, Sharapova), top-12 players on the WTA Tour aren’t backing up major-tournament results from one event to the next:
SLAMS '15 2-Petra 3R 4R 3R 3-Halep QF 2R 1R 5-Woz 2R 2R ? 7-Ana 1R SF 2R 9-CSN 1R 3R 1R 10-Kerb 1R 3R 3R 11-Plisk 3R 2R 2R 12-Genie QF 1R 1R
— Jason (@Hurleytennis) July 4, 2015
The 2015 Wimbledon women’s quarterfinals are manifestations of the pronounced state of flux in women’s tennis (except for Serena, of course). Another stat which puts this women’s tournament in perspective is that all eight quarterfinalists were not part of last year’s quarters. Serena and Sharapova lost early in 2014, while the likes of Kvitova and Safarova made the deep runs but then lost comparatively early this time around.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for five of the eight players left. Then there’s Sharapova, trying to pull off an unexpected second Wimbledon. Then, most of all, Serena and Azarenka meet in Tuesday’s blockbuster quarterfinal.
There’s something for everyone at Wimbledon, but very little time left before Quarterfinal Tuesday. Appreciate these eight WTA stories while you can.