LONDON -- The carnage of this Wimbledon and its ensuing tectonic narrative shifting is not to be underestimated. For the first time since 1926, neither the men's nor women's defending champion reached the quarterfinals. Rafael Nadal is gone. So too, for the first time since the 2004 Australian Open, Roger Federer isn't part of a Grand Slam quarterfinal. There's a guy ranked 130th who has a chance to go to the semifinals.
Yet, the top half of the draw, which was supposed to produce the upsets -- Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro received tough draws -- played out exactly to form, all top seeds advancing. The quarterfinals are Wednesday and here is a look at the remaining eight:
David Ferrer (4) vs. Juan Martin del Potro (8)
Part of the reason upsets were expected in this section was because of the uncertainty of del Potro's health -- he has been fighting wrist injuries this year -- but mostly the stubbornness of the collecting tennis punditry that, all evidence to the contrary, continues to underestimate Ferrer, the tireless one who is now in his seventh consecutive quarterfinal.
Ferrer has done nothing more here than what he did last year, which is reach the quarters. There are two constants about Ferrer, which unfortunately create opposing poles: He may not be able to compete with Federer, Nadal or Novak Djokovic, but he doesn't lose very often to anyone else.
Ferrer is not underestimated as much as he is dismissed. It is a dismissal not exactly born out of malice but more from his own predictability of punishing the field before crashing, face-first, into the ceiling of his abilities exposed by the superior talents above him in Federer (0-14 lifetime), Nadal (5-26), and Djokovic (5-10, but lost four straight).
Andy Murray is also above him, but against Ferrer, not quite in the same class, for it should be remembered that Ferrer eliminated Murray from the 2012 French Open, and at Wimbledon, where Murray would make the final, it was Ferrer who in the second set was a single point away from taking a two sets to none lead. It should also be remembered that Ferrer, in the Miami Masters final against Murray, held a match point and fatally stopped the point in the third-set tiebreak to make an ill-fated, unsuccessful challenge that strengthened Murray and cost Ferrer a title.
Expect Ferrer to be his usual, terrifying self against del Potro, who is carrying a knee injury and is 2-6 lifetime against Ferrer, including being destroyed here 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 last year in the fourth round.
Del Potro at 6-foot-6 isn't a typical big man who is trying to end points in the first three shots, but neither is he particularly fond of engaging in the punishing style of Ferrer. Del Potro's best chance of winning is to beat Ferrer, who is fighting an ankle injury of his own, with angle and pace on the forehand. The serve alone, as Ivan Dodig found out in the fourth round, won't do it.
The Murray-Ferrer conversation might as well be moot, for they could only meet in the final. Barring an upset of Djokovic by Berdych, Ferrer would have to beat Djokovic in the semifinals, which is a steep mountain to climb considering how well Djokovic is playing and the fact that it's a bad matchup for Ferrer, who suffered a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 destruction in the semifinals of the Australian Open at the hands of Djokovic.
Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Tomas Berdych (6)
One of the most frightening thoughts for tennis players around the globe is this: What if Djokovic's 2011 level of play became his norm?
Djokovic is playing avenging tennis at Wimbledon, as if to correct his (for him) uninspired showing here last year against Federer in the semifinals. He hasn't dropped a set and despite a few minor difficulties, is playing better than anyone in the tournament.
Still, here's another truth about Djokovic: For all of his dominant play, his seeming stranglehold on the world No. 1 ranking, for the appearance that he is, at his best, the top player in the tennis, Djokovic has won exactly one major -- the 2013 Australian Open -- since his epic victory over Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open. Nadal has won two (the 2012 and 2013 French Opens), Murray one (2012 US Open) and Federer one (2012 Wimbledon). Djokovic also did not medal at the London Olympics, losing to the eventual gold-winning Murray.
Dominance without hardware is unsatisfying, and might explain why Djokovic is playing so dangerously: He feels he has something to prove.
Meanwhile, there is Tomas Berdych, all 6-foot-5 of him, possessor of the massive serve and forehand, periodic fragile nerves -- is now the time he escapes the nickname "the tin man?" -- and sometimes wooden movements, waiting to have a breakout tournament. He has the talent to do so.
He was a finalist here in 2010, beating Djokovic and Federer before losing to Nadal.
That was a different Djokovic then, but this is, somewhat frustratingly, the same Berdych now. After losing to Berdych at Wimbledon, Djokovic had beaten him 11 straight times until Rome, when Berdych somehow came back from a 6-2, 5-2 deficit to win in three. If ever something odd could happen, it would be in this tournament, but Berdych needs the match of his life to make it happen. Perhaps he should tell himself he's playing Federer.
Andy Murray (2) vs. Fernando Verdasco
The silent narrative thread that is shaping up despite the obvious carnage to the draws is that the two best, most consistent players in the world the past two 18 months or so will likely meet up in the final. If that happens, Djokovic and Murray will meet for the third time in the past four majors. Murray has been to the final of the past three majors he has participated in, Djokovic in eight of the past 11 major finals.
Can Fernando Verdasco, 2-8 lifetime against Murray (though they've never played on grass) ruin the day for the U.K.?
Verdasco is 6-1 on grass but the highest-ranked player he has played was in Eastbourne, where he beat Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round. Verdasco has looked sharp but he hasn't beaten a top-10 player since shocking Nadal on the wretched blue clay of Madrid back in 2012 and has beaten only one top-20 player this year, and it was the lumbering Milos Raonic on clay in the second round at Madrid (red-clay restored) back in May.
It isn't likely, but Verdasco is a solid veteran who has been to the quarterfinals of a major before. The left-hander looked his best in taking apart the brash Ernests Gulbis, but Murray is in a different class altogether.
Along with Djokovic, Murray is playing the best tennis of the tournament as well, finding a way to get through the tough moments -- in their fourth-round match, Mikhail Youzhny was serving for the second set at 5-4 and Murray broke before winning in straight sets -- with toughness and focus.
Murray can see the finish line to the final, but there is one matchup that could give the tournament a final twist.
One Pole had never reached a Wimbledon quarterfinal since the tournament began in 1877, so, naturally, two would make it during this crazy tournament.
Kubot is the Cinderella in a tournament full of them. He is ranked 130th in the world and, thanks to Steve Darcis, didn't have to play Nadal in the second round, and, thanks to Darcis' shoulder, didn't have to play in the second round at all. His match with his countryman, the 24th-seeded Janowicz, will represent the highest seed he has faced. Still, here is a chance for an unsung player, grinding on the challenger circuit, trying to climb the rankings five points at a time, to have a career moment.
Janowicz, a rising star, is on a different career trajectory. He made his breakthrough at the Paris Masters last year, shocking Murray on his way to the final before losing to Ferrer.
Janowicz looks like the future of tennis, the basketball player with a huge serve. At 6-8, he ripped a 140 mph serve to go with 30 aces in beating Nicolas Almagro, and unlike Ivo Karlovic and John Isner, Janowicz is a limber athlete for someone of his extreme height.
He is brash and flamboyant both on and off the court; his combination of rocket serve and drop shots flusters his opponents. Ferrer figured it out and made him pay for going to the trickery too often, but Janowicz is a major talent, and with no disrespect to Kubot, a Janowicz-Murray semifinal might be the best match on the card. Now, they have to make it happen.