The usual suspects ... again
So much for the unpredictable nature of the Olympics at Wimbledon.
Even with the best-of-three format and the surface being grass, look who will show up in the semifinals: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.
No names, eh?
The fourth men's spot was up for grabs with Rafael Nadal's withdrawal, and Juan Martin del Potro, hardly a minnow, has taken advantage. The surprise of the eight is Maria Kirilenko, yet Kirilenko was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last month.
Here are 10 takeaways from the action at the All England Club on Thursday, when Djokovic topped Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the sequel to their French Open classic.
1. Nole does enough: Playing singles and doubles at the same tournament can take its toll. Tsonga discovered that this week.
Instead of going home and preparing for his heavyweight tussle against Djokovic, however, he had to stick around and play doubles. He didn't finish until late -- and spent two more hours on court.
Djokovic advanced 6-1, 7-5 -- not a classic -- and credit Tsonga for even making the second set close. When the set began, Tsonga bobbed up and down, trying to get his legs moving, seemingly signaling he was dead on his feet. He bounced a ball off his shoe.
In a passage later in the set, he was content to hit drop shots on every point.
Had Djokovic been in top form, he would have won the second 6-2 or 6-3, yet he labored to the finish line.
Simply based on their performances this week, Murray is the favorite against Djokovic in the semifinals.
2. Federer edges Isner: Small margins can make the biggest difference in a match featuring John Isner. It happened at the end of the first set between Isner and Federer.
With Isner trying to fend off a break point at 4-4, he uncorked a typically thunderous serve. Federer commendably got a racket to it, sending a floated ball short. He made Isner hit the extra shot, and Isner duly struck a forehand long with the court at his disposal. Ouch.
In the next game it was Federer under pressure. At 30-40, he hit a first serve down the middle. It was well inside Isner's strike zone on the forehand, but he couldn't clear the net. Seconds later, the set was done.
The tussle ended on a Federer net-cord return winner, but overall he was the better player. No repeat of Isner's win in the Davis Cup.
3. No stopping Serena: Even with how well Williams was serving -- and playing -- her past matches with buddy Caroline Wozniacki suggested Thursday's affair might be close.
Wozniacki took Williams to three sets on the "Smurf" clay of Madrid in the spring and only weeks earlier beat her in straight sets in Williams' traditional stronghold of Miami.
Williams, though, appears to be on a mission of the gold-medal variety and pummeled the Dane 6-0, 6-3.
When Williams, seeking a first singles medal of any color at the Olympics, led 6-0, 1-0, she had claimed her past 17 games overall, going back to her third-round thumping of Vera Zvonareva.
Her ace count, six, was down, but Williams didn't face a break point and handled the windy conditions perfectly.
Given Williams' serve is firing and Azarenka struggled to hold serve against Angelique Kerber, Azarenka's prospects are grim in their semifinal.
The Russian, like Clijsters, is playing in her first Olympics (and this will be Clijsters' last) and had her lone bad patch in the middle of the second set, when she squandered a break advantage.
What a way to break again for 6-5, mind you. That 11th game was highlighted by a rocket Sharapova forehand return and instinctive backhand pass that barely got over the net.
Sharapova will be the heavy favorite against her childhood friend Kirilenko in the final four.
For Clijsters, who will retire after the U.S. Open, upsetting Sharapova after all her inactivity was never going to happen.
5. Luck runs out for Kerber: When Kerber beat Lisicki at Wimbledon, a successful challenge in the third set turned the match around.
It looked like another successful challenge could help Kerber upset top-seed Azarenka on Thursday.
Down 4-2 in the first set and staring at a break point, there was no call on an Azarenka shot deep on the baseline.
Kerber went to Hawk-Eye and was proved right. She eventually held, so it was 4-3 to Azarenka instead of 5-2.
But on this occasion -- after saving two match points with net-cord forehand winners -- Kerber succumbed 6-4, 7-5 with the roof closed. (It was open for the rest of the matches on Centre Court.)
Her progress in the past year has been phenomenal, and Kerber's ability to mix it up from the baseline is impressive.
She is at ease going down the line or cross court with the forehand and backhand, which isn't easy. Murray, for instance, still barely hits forehands down the line.
However, if Kerber is to keep moving upward and contend for a Grand Slam, the serve must improve. Being a lefty, she'd like to use it more to her advantage. Azarenka broke six times.
6. The Murray march continues: If the match was on clay, Nicolas Almagro would fancy his chances against Murray.
On grass, and with a bum shoulder, he had virtually no hope against the world No. 4. The 6-4, 6-1 rout was over in 59 minutes on Court 1, much to the delight of the always-classy-looking Prince William and wife Kate Middleton.
Proclaiming that Murray was outstanding against an injured opponent wouldn't be accurate, yet he served brilliantly, hitting 15 aces and offering a first-serve percentage of 81.
We all knew the match was over after Almagro took a lengthy medical timeout at the end of the first set, but the second set didn't lack entertainment.
Almagro routinely jawed at his Spanish box and struck the face of his racket with a fist, while Murray hit a winner from around the net post (his winner was only inches off the ground) and unusually flubbed a volley with Almagro out of position.
7. The forgotten quarterfinal: Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champ from the Czech Republic, was shooed onto Court 2 for her quarterfinal against Kirilenko -- the only quarterfinal not on either Centre Court or Court 1. She was almost anonymous.
She won't get on Centre on Friday, since she was upset by Kirilenko 7-6 (3), 6-3. More disappointment for Kvitova.
Kirilenko was stingy, making a single unforced error, although her winner count was only 10. She was content to keep it clean and get some help from Kvitova, which inevitably arrived. Kvitova's 23 winners were offset by 21 unforced errors.
Kvitova, incidentally, led Kirilenko 6-0, 1-0 in Melbourne in January before the latter retired and drubbed Kirilenko in last year's Fed Cup final.
8. Juan-ting more: Here's something for del Potro to feed off as he prepares for his semifinal against Federer: The last time he beat the Swiss, it was in none other than London, at the World Tour finals, three years ago.
Del Potro also led Federer by two sets at the French Open two months ago, prior to a knee injury and Federer's improved play turned things around.
Not so good? This is grass, and del Potro hasn't topped any of the "big four," not including a retirement, in a while. He's 0-for-his-last: six versus Federer, three versus Nadal, four versus Djokovic and two versus Murray.
He almost let it slip against Japan's Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals, initially unable to serve it out at 5-3 in the second set.
9. Bryans edge Israelis: Federer isn't the only double-digit Grand Slam winner chasing a first gold medal. Ditto for the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike.
The momentum-changer? The Bryans saving three straight set points serving at 5-6 in the first. The extended second-set tiebreak, and match, concluded on an Erlich double fault.
10. Sister act sizzles: An all-American final in women's doubles is a possibility, too.
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