Tennis

American men down to Fish, Baker

Brian Baker
American Brian Baker, ranked 126th, advances to the men's round of 16.
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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND

Serena Williams needed 2 hours, 28 minutes before she could overcome the stubborn, and often brilliant, resistance of China’s Jie Zheng 6-7, 6-2, 9-7 on Saturday. Following Williams’ win, Americans were everywhere, spread out over the main courts of the All England Club on a day of wind and sun and drama.

Andy Roddick followed Serena on Centre Court and faded after a good start, losing to No. 7 seed David Ferrer 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3. By then Brian Baker, ranked 126th and the surprise of the year so far, continued his almost serene progress through the draw to reach a Grand Slam fourth round for the first time in his career with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over the talented, but erratic Frenchman Benoit Paire.

On a different court, Mardy Fish took care of the new talent from Belgium, David Goffin, 6-3, 7-6, 7-6.

Sam Querrey and Marin Cilic were on another court, playing for 5 hours, 31 minutes, the second longest match in Wimbledon history. The marathon ended with Cilic prevailing 7-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 17-15 in a duel between two big servers who simply refused to give up. (The longest match, 11 hours, 5 minutes, in the tournament’s history was the famous three-day event two years ago between Nicolas Mahut and Querrey’s pal John Isner.)

Some of the rallies at the end of the Querrey-Cilic match stretched both men’s reservoirs of stamina. On no less than five occasions, Querrey was within touching distance of victory at 30-all on the Croatian’s serve. Cilic was serving behind in that endless fifth set and, as his forehand let him down time and again, he needed to go on digging himself out of trouble with big serves. He did that brilliantly and Querrey never had a chance to push Cilic to match point.

A couple of winners sprung off the Cilic strings; Querrey missed his first serve, netted a forehand and breach was made. When Cilic served for the match, a rally of 25-plus shots developed and one wondered where the energy came from. In the end, it was Querrey who erred with a forehand hit long.

Cilic, coached by the highly respected Australian Bob Brett, who previously looked after Goran Ivanisevic, a spectator here today, was almost speechless afterwards. “It was complete drama,” he said.

Baker doesn’t do drama. He just plays cool, calm and collected tennis, which was difficult on Saturday because of gusty off-and-on winds.

“It was difficult to play a guy like that, but the conditions made it more difficult,” Baker said of facing Paire on the windy day. “Even though I haven’t had experience over the last five or six years being out with injury, I know things aren’t going to go my way the whole match and you have to be able to handle some adversity.”

Baker, so far, seems well capable of handling everything at this competitive level he has never experienced before ... and now the quarterfinal beckons. It won’t be easy though, as his next opponent is Philipp Kohlschreiber, the German who needed just three sets to beat Lukas Rosol, the man who ousted Rafael Nadal in the second round.

Kohlschreiber was brilliant, making no more than five unforced errors during his straight-set victory as Rosol went for everything, hoping that he could replicate his astonishing performance against Nadal. As a result he hit 35 winners to Kohlschreiber’s 34, but it didn’t get the job done. If Kohlschreiber plays at this level again, Baker will find a final eight spot elusive.

Fish came off the court impressed with Goffin, the boyish-looking Belgian, but Fish was never in serious danger of losing the match.

“He’ll be a good player,” Fish said. “He got better and better every set today. But I was able to control the match with my serve.”

As for Roddick, had a forehand that he lined up on set point at the end of the second set not clipped the top of the net, the match against the durable Ferrer might have been different. Roddick was looking to go up two sets to none.

“That was a big, big turning point,” said Roddick who had everyone jumping to conclusions when he blew kisses to the crowd as he walked off Centre Court. For the last time? “I don’t have an answer for you,” he said.

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His friend Fish insisted that Roddick would be back again next year. But, presumably, only time will tell. In the meantime Roddick had given himself a new lease of life these last couple of weeks.

“Honestly, going into Eastbourne (where he won the title), I was just hoping I’d win a match because I hadn’t in so long,” Roddick said. “So you tell me, I win seven straight and have a chance to move on against a guy who is No. 7 in the world and played a good match. … That’s some progress in a short space of time.”

Roddick will next play an ATP event in Atlanta and then he’ll return to Wimbledon for the Olympics. Why does he go on? “I enjoy what I do. I’m proud that I’ve been very dedicated to my craft,” he said.

Roddick spent the rest of the interview talking about others.

“Well, it’s great to see,” he said speaking of Baker’s re-emergence. “I remember Brian. After I came up he was probably the best junior I’d seen. I thought he was going to be able to keep me company for a while. He had the tools. Then you think, ‘Gosh, where is that guy?’ Then you hear he’s coming back ….. after six years. Hell. I can’t imagine that.”

Of his boyhood friend Fish, Roddick was just happy to see him healthy, quite apart from Fish reaching the fourth round. “I was worried about him,” he said. “Not worried about him for his tennis. You can have tennis. I was just worried about him. I didn’t like seeing him in a vulnerable state.”

Andy Murray kept the host nation on the edge of its seats by taking 3 hours, 13 minutes to beat Marcos Baghdatis 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a match crammed with drama. Murray slipped and slithered, hurting his knee which was heavily strapped. He lost two points because a loose ball twice fell out of his pockets.

“It was my fault, it was the shorts,” Murray jokingly said. He was smiling, but he was yelling, too, in sheer relief as he completed his victory under the roof just a few minutes after the cut-off time for play.

Sunday is a rest day and the thought of waiting some 40 hours to resume the Baghdatis match would have been tough for Murray to bear.

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