Wimbledon recap: Donna Vekic’s double fault recovery, tennis under roofs, American losses

Croatia's Donna Vekic celebrates after winning her Wimbledon quarterfinal match against New Zealand's Lulu Sun on Tuesday in London. (Isabel Infantes/Reuters)

Serving for the second set against Lulu Sun, Donna Vekic double faulted five times — the joint-second highest number in a game in Wimbledon history. It was an incredible implosion, or at least it would have been had we not seen these kind of struggles with Vekic before. She went through an excruciating defeat from an advantageous position against Serbian Olga Danilovic at the French Open.

She was trailing by a set to Wimbledon’s fairytale story, a qualifier from outside the world’s top 100. She had lost her previous two Grand Slam quarterfinals. It felt like a case of here we go again.


But Vekic then did something pretty remarkable. She reset, broke Sun in the next game to take the second set and promptly won the first 13 points of the decider to race to a 3-0 lead. In so doing she got more than halfway towards the “golden set,” when you win one without dropping a point. In the end she had to settle for a 6-1 mauling, which worked just fine as the exclamation mark on the first two sets, which went 5-7, 6-4. It’s her first Grand Slam semifinal in 43 attempts.

A big part of the explanation for the turnaround is that Sun collapsed physically, with nothing left in the tank after battling through qualifying and then playing three three-setters in her four main draw matches en route to the quarters. But a big amount of credit also goes to Vekic, who said afterwards that she channelled her fury with herself into something positive.

This really was a momentum change for the ages.

The biggest change in the Carlos Alcaraz who was down in the dumps six months ago may be inside his brain.

Alcaraz has been pretty up front about his lulls in focus, especially when his game used to get away from him. A few wayward forehands and the youngest world No. 1 in the history of the rankings would begin to spiral.

After beating Tommy Paul 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarterfinals Tuesday, Alcaraz talked about how he has come to understand that playing poorly doesn’t mean he has to lose.

“It’s going to be really difficult to play my best tennis every match,” he said. In the first set against Paul, the American dominated in five to eight shot rallies, winning 14 to Alcaraz’s 7. Alcaraz closed that gap in the next set and used his own dominance on shorter points to stay ahead.

“I know that there are going to be some matches that I’m not going to find my best tennis even though I have to try to win it.

“I think that’s what the Big Three did during their career, they are not going to play their best tennis. Even like that, they are going to find their good tennis just to win those matches. That’s what I’m thinking.”

Time on the tour also helps. After more than three years of watching Alcaraz, his opponents know the magic can re-emerge at any moment. One miracle point, like the forehand down the line he hit against Ugo Humbert in the previous round, and he can start running downhill.

“Half of the job when you’re out there is not to let him win one of those crazy points because when he does, he gets on a roll,” said Paul. That’s a bit of a problem because those crazy points only happen when he’s on his heels. Don’t let Alcaraz get in trouble? If that’s the secret, his opponents are basically going to have to reinvent the sport.

Discussing the conditions at this year’s Wimbledon, Vekic’s coach Pam Shriver told The Athletic on Tuesday that in her four decades of coming here she’d never seen such dampness and humidity. Her charge Vekic is able to hit through the court, and if you’re as big a hitter as she is then the dampness can be an advantage, because very few of her rivals can.

But physically, playing in such humidity is tough for everyone.

“Conditions were not easy today because when the roof is closed, it’s very humid,” said Daniil Medvedev after his five-set win over Jannik Sinner.

“Like it’s very… not even humid, but you don’t have much air. So in a way at one point in the match you feel like you lose concentration because it just gets to you, like this humidity, the sound of the rain. You don’t hear any more the sound of your shots. It’s like something is falling on your head constantly, so it’s not easy.”

It looked like the humidity was compounding the dizziness that Sinner spoke of afterwards and forced him off the court for almost 10 minutes in the third set. He played down the importance of the conditions afterwards, but sitting on court, the humidity was striking, and they were clearly very unforgiving conditions.

The seven-time champion Novak Djokovic said on Monday that the constant rain had made this feel like an “indoor” tournament. Not that he’ll be complaining, given he’s arguably the best indoor player of all time.

The randomness of the weather means that tomorrow, the forecast is good, so the second set of quarterfinals will be played outdoors. As and when the roof closes again, it may come down to who adapts best.

Because even from Centre Court to Court 1 there are big differences, as reigning champion Alcaraz explained after playing on the latter for his win over Tommy Paul on Tuesday.

“The grass is different,” he said.

“I feel like there was more sand on Court 1 than Centre Court.

“I had to adapt my game on that. I didn’t feel comfortable at all playing on Court 1 with the conditions on it. I tried to play my best tennis on it … It was difficult to find it.”

It’s down to Taylor Fritz.

Tuesday figured to be bright for American tennis. Emma Navarro was taking on Jasmine Paolini. She was 3-0 against her ahead of their quarterfinal. Tommy Paul was taking on Carlos Alcaraz. He was 2-2.

By early evening both were out of Wimbledon after fairly one-sided matches. Paul got the first set off Alcaraz but his game deteriorated from there.

“I couldn’t find a first serve,” Paul said. “It’s tough to play anybody in the top hundred not serving well on first serves. He was all over my second, it felt like. It wasn’t a fun situation.”

Navarro was nothing like the player who beat Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff on her way to the quarterfinals. She lost 2-6, 1-6.

“(It’s) Tough to feel like I was playing such good tennis for a while there, made a run, then I just faced a really, really tough opponent today that played lights out and didn’t give me anything,” Navarro said. “I didn’t play my best.”

Fritz takes on Lorenzo Musetti of Italy on Wednesday. Fritz leads their head-to-head 2-1.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.