The women's side of the bracket pared itself down to two players at the All England Club on Thursday, leaving just the men's side to rampage through its semifinals clashes 24 hours later.
Fifteenth-seeded Marion Bartoli continued her brilliant run through the tournament on Thursday and will be joined by No. 23 seed Sabine Lisicki. They both have taken advantage of fortuitous breaks to become the underdog stories of the entire event.
It's a fate the male underdogs, eighth-seeded Juan Martín del Potro and 24th-seeded Jerzy Janowicz, hope to share when they face off against top-seeded Novak Djokovic and second-seeded Andy Murray, respectively. The world's two best players come in having looked deserving of those monikers, running through the field, seemingly topping their own feats of excellence with each passing match.
Considering the level of carnage among top players, it's a wonder that Murray and Djokovic have made it this far. Both sides of the bracket saw mass exoduses of top players, leaving some to wonder whether the intrigue had been completely sucked dry from the All England Club.
On the women's draw, four of the top five seeds were ousted before the quarterfinals. And the only top-five player remaining out of that pentagon—fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska—saw her journey end on Thursday.
Heck, phenom Sloan Stephens' run to the quarterfinals was arguably the most impressive feat of the entire tournament.
And, again, she was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Things have gone better on the men's side, but only somewhat. Only six of the top 16 seeds made it to that final-16 draw, with only half of the top six seeds advancing to the quarterfinals.
While that still may seem top heavy, keep in mind how overrun with top talent the men's tennis world is. Rafael Nadal didn't even make it out of the first round, while Roger Federer had one win before getting bounced.
Can Nadal and Murray avoid the same fate? Here is a complete breakdown of Friday afternoon's duo of matches.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 8 Juan Martin Del Potro
You can't make things look much easier than Djokovic has thus far at Wimbledon. The world's top-ranked player has breezed through his matches, winning each in the minimum number of required sets.
Even when faced off against tough opponents, Djokovic has had no problem flexing his near-robotic excellence. Against seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych and 13th-seeded Tommy Haas, Djokovic faced only two tiebreakers and won the remaining sets in fine fashion, breaking his opponent with a series of excellent returns.
Arguably the tour's best player on the baseline, Djokovic has been just that at the All England Club. Only David Ferrer has had more success on first-service returns than Djokovic, who has won an impressive 129 times on an opponent's first attempt. The 26-year-old Serb has also been brilliant on second-service points, though he's "only" sixth in the tournament in those returns.
Those stats will be an especially salient factor against the upset-minded Del Potro. Whizzing his way through the likes of Ferrer in the quarterfinals, Del Potro has been as impressive if not more so than Djokovic thus far—especially with his serve. Delpo is seventh in aces for the tournament, with 54, sending sizzling points that usually come in around 130 miles per hour.
He's won on 69 percent of his first-serve points, creating an interesting juxtaposition with Djokovic's excellence on returns.
There's no one questioning that Del Potro has what it takes to pull off an upset here. Delpo eviscerated Djokovic during their only grass-court matchup last year, which has to give him some hope. But with Djoker playing the way he has in this tournament, it's hard to see anyone taking him down.
Djokovic's second-service game has been phenomenal. He's won on 98-of-163 second-serve opportunities thus far, second behind John Isner for the tournament. It's worth noting here that Isner played two matches. Djokovic is on the precipice of his sixth.
Well, let's just go ahead and assume seventh. Look for Djokovic to move on to the final.
Score Prediction: Novak Djokovic def. Juan Martin Del Potro, 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4, 6-2
No. 2 Andy Murray vs. No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz
For his first four matches at Wimbledon, Andy Murray's journey looked much like that of his top-ranked counterpart. He did not drop a set, saw only one tiebreak opportunity and looked as though he had no remnants of the back injury that kept him out at Roland Garros. It looked almost pre-ordained that Djokovic and Murray would see each other in the final, that everyone else was playing for his participation ribbon and a pat on the head from his parents on the minivan ride back home.
And then Fernando Verdasco happened.
The unseeded Spanish underdog took the first two sets from Murray, as the crowd at the All England Club looked on with a level of horror usually reserved for a movie theater. It's been many long, arduous decades since Fred Perry won at Wimbledon in 1936. To see Murray go out against someone so unheralded would have only continued the prevailing curse theories.
But Murray, as he's wont to do, persevered. He came back with a dominant third-set victory at 6-1, took the third almost as easily at 6-4 and survived a bit of a scare to complete the comeback in the fifth.
Former tennis great Andy Roddick commended Murray's battling nature after the match:
If Jerzy Janowicz's first five matches are any indication, Murray will likely be in for another battle. The owner of the most misspelled name in the entire event, Janowicz has made a surprising and impressive run through a relatively depleted field. In facing just one seeded opponent, Janowicz has faced the minimum sets in four of his five matches—the exception being a five-set thrill ride against tour veteran Jurgen Melzer.
Much like Del Potro, Janowicz has subsisted on dominance on his first serve. The 22-year-old from Poland has a jaw-dropping 94 aces thus far at Wimbledon, the most of any player. Who is second place, you ask? Ivan Dodig. He had 63 through four matches.
Janowicz has won a whopping 84 percent of his first-serve opportunities, a performance so dominant that it almost takes you back to the two-return rally days of Pete Sampras. While Janowicz has always been a very good server, this level of dominance is impressive enough to make some worried about Murray's chances.
It's an understandable trepidation—until you look at Janowicz's competition. There's no question that his run has been admirable and that his play has been impressive.
There's also no question that he's had a relative walk in the park thus far, compared to what he'll see against Murray.
The Scotsman is only a step below Djokovic as a returner—if that. An initial adjustment period may cause another back-against-the-wall moment, but these two are on different talent stratospheres.
Score Prediction: Andy Murray def. Jerzy Janowicz, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4
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