Odd Men In, Not Out
June 27, 2010 -- Yen-Hsun Lu, Daniel Brands, and Paul-Henri Mathieu aren't commonly referred to as threats at a major tournament. Lu and Brands probably don't ring the tennis bell for even polished aficionados of the sport, unless they have been watching their progress through the men's singles draw this year at The Wimbledon Championships.
There are no mistakes, though, since any draw is a dynamic entity with its own expansion obscured by time, and the serendipitous nature of the future. Except maybe for the course of Germany's Daniel Brands.
On Friday, the German mounted a mighty battle against the #31 seed Victor Hanescu of Romania. Brands lost the first two set in tiebreakers, but capitalized on his assets in the third tiebreak, effectively adding to the turmoil bubbling inside the Romanian.
Apparently Hanescu had been heckled since the match began by a group of unfriendly fans -- anti fans, if you will. What they said hasn't been revealed; however, they got under Hanescu's skin enough to make him spit and spew obscenities in their direction.
Brands won the fourth set, which tied the match and splashed more fuel on Victor's embers. In the fifth he foot faulted, doubled faulted repeatedly and retired at 0/3, handing the match to the young German.
"'There were people in the crowd that had been insulting me since the beginning of the match,'" Hanescu told the ATP. "'I lost my control briefly in the fifth set. I should never have done that, but I am human and I made a mistake.'"
The official record states that Hanescu retired with a leg muscle injury. However, for his unsportsmanlike conduct Grand Slam supervisors and Championships' Referee Andrew Jarrett levied a $7,500 fine and another $7,500 fine for not using "'best efforts'" at the end of the match, as reported by the Associated Press.
Wimbledon officials went on to say that his behavior could have carried a life-time ban from the grounds of The All England Club, but Jarrett put an end to speculation, saying "'No further comment will be made by the Referee or the Chair Umpire,'" as reported in the Mail Online, England's virtual version of The Daily Mail.
Daniel Brands, meanwhile, sits pretty as he awaits Tomas Berdych, the #12 seed. Brands began his campaign through the draw when he ousted Russian Igor Andreev, a former top twenty player, and Nikolay Davydenko -- the Championships' #7 seed -- in straight sets.
Not a bad way for a 22-year-old to begin, especially since this is his first Wimbledon Championships.
Brands has no ATP Tour titles and is ranked #92 in the world. At six-foot-five and a lean 203 pounds, his serve is his biggest weapon -- thus the three tiebreak sets to start his match with Hanescu. Brands took Wimbledon's #10 seed, and Frenchman, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, to five sets last month at The French Open. Given the plethora of five-set thrillers this year at SW19, Brands preparation seems fortunate.
Berdych and Brands have never played at either an ATP World Tour event, a Grand Slam, or in a Davis Cup main draw. However, they do have similarities. Both are the same height and same weight; and, their birthdays are two days apart. Brands was born July 7 and Berdych on July 9. Berdych, though, is two years older -- he will be 30 just three days beyond the close of the black iron gates to the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Yen-Hsun Lu, the third outlier, is the first man from Chinese Taipei to reach the round of sixteen. He has entered Wimbledon six times and advanced to the second round in 2004 and 2005, but never to the second week. He is well known around the locker rooms as a 'tricky player,' as once characterized by James Blake after defeating Lu at the now defunct Indianapolis Tennis Championships.
Lu had the honor in 2009 to open Federer's run for the title on the newly roofed Centre Court at Wimbledon. Lu went up a break early, but Federer quickly changed Lu's momentum and defeated him in three sets.
Three-time finalist Andy Roddick will be the next man to match up with Lu on Monday. Roddick is 3-0 against Lu. Be ready for that stat to read 4-0. Roddick has played well, so far, and would like nothing better than to have to chance to defeat Roger Federer in the semifinal.
Paul-Henri Mathieu turned pro in 1999 and was named Newcomer of the Year in 2002. He is the junior titleholder of the 2000 Roland Garros.
Mathieu earned his berth in the round of sixteen by, most recently, defeating Thiemo De Bakker in four sets -- three of them tiebreakers. DeBakker's claim to fame came a round before when he sent the exhausted John Isner home to Tampa.
However, Mathieu put this quarter of the draw in motion when he defeated #13 seed Mikhail Youzhny in the second round on the now glorified Court 18, the site of the demise of countryman Nicolas Mahut to American John Isner. Perhaps the grass on Court 18 had a special place in its roots that helped Mathieu come from two sets down and go on to victory, vindicating the loss of Mahut. His win ended an eight-match losing streak against top-20 players.
But more probable was Mathieu's hopes of avenging his five-set loss at the hands of Youzhny during the World Group Final with Russian on home soil in France back in 2002 -- the year Mathieu debuted at Davis Cup, after an injured Arnaud Clement was forced to the bench.
Up two sets in the deciding rubber, Mathieu powerful ground game kept the Russian at bay until he altered his strategy by taking away Mathieu's rhythm. In the fifth set, Youzhny broke serve and went on to win the Cup for the Russians 3-2.
According to the Davis Cup website, "'This is the only time in the history of the competition that a two-set deficit has been turned around in the a live fifth rubber in a Final.'" This was Russia's first Davis Cup triumph, making Mathieu's retribution against Youzhny quite sweet.
Mathieu next faces #2 seed Rafael Nadal, who on Saturday played a pesky Phillipp Petzschner, Nadal's second five-set match of the fortnight.
Nadal called the trainer three times, receiving treatment for his right knee and right quadriceps. Petzschner asserted in his interview that Nadal "was running exactly the same before and after the [last] timeout, adding that it was a clever timeout because it broke his rhythm."
"I never call the physio when I don't have nothing, not one time in my career," Nadal emphasized to reporters yesterday. "If I call the physio, it was because it was bothering me a lot, the knee, no?"
If Nadal is known for one thing in his career it's his love of competition. He got so bored on his time off court, after his loss to Soderling at Roland Garros in 2009, that he accepted an invitation from Columbian music star Shakira to produce a lusty "Gypsy" video that went viral in April.
Rumors quickly surfaced that the pair had gone beyond a business relationship. However, both are settled romantically. Shakira is engaged to Antonio de la Rua, the son of Argentina's former president. And, Nadal continues to date his high-school sweetheart Maria Francisco Perello.
No romantic interference is expected to influence the mental toughness of Nadal when he meets Mathieu tomorrow. The Frenchman's power game dominated Youzhny and could trouble Nadal if rallies are extended over the course of the match, especially with whispers of right knee problems for the Spaniard. But don't count on Nadal coming up lame.
France and Spain will meet in the World Group quarterfinals in Clermont-Ferrand, France, starting July 9th, five days after the close of Wimbledon. These two countries have contested for Davis Cup glory six times, with Spain leading 5-1. France last defeated its neighbor to the south in 1923, which injects the match with another competitive angle.
All prior match victories or losses, innuendoes about romantic associations, and upcoming Davis Cup drama will be put aside when all sixteen players make their way to the grounds of Wimbledon tomorrow. English hopes will weigh heavily on the shoulders of Andy Murray. Sam Querrey and Andy Roddick will fight for an American presence. Jurgen Melzer will go all-out against six-time champion Roger Federer. And, Lleyton Hewitt will bump up against Serbian Novak Djokovic, whose soccer team lost to Australia in The World Cup. And, unfortunately, as it happens in some draws, two friends will face off: Frenchmen Julien Benneteau (#32 seed) and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (#10 seed).
They all have tough assignments. Only eight will rise to the surface and have the chance for more glory at the 124th Wimbledon Championships.