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Second week of Wimbledon to provide gut check for remaining Americans

June 30, 2012 06:47 PM
Serena Williams shook hands with China's Zheng Jie, advancing to the Wimbledon Round of 16 on the strength of a record 23 aces.
Mardy Fish came to London looking for a measure of respect, along with a deep run into the Wimbledon draw.
Brian Baker, a qualifier at Wimbledon, remains one of the biggest surprises of the summer in reaching the second week.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- On a blustery Saturday, no American player was blown off the court, yet only three survived to Wimbledon’s prestigious second week. While Sam Querrey lost the second-longest singles match in Wimbledon history in his 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(3), 17-15 defeat to Croatia’s Marin Cilic, four-time champion Serena Williams rained down a Wimbledon record 23 aces in her 6-7, 6-2, 9-7 victory over an inspired Zheng Jie of China.
"I definitely felt like it was a gut check," Serena said. "I've always been really strong mentally. That's not going anywhere."
Serena was joined by two American males in the fourth round, both who are on the comeback trail: 10th seeded 10-Mardy Fish, who is just back after a heart procedure and who defeated Belgium’s David Goffin 6-3, 7-6(6), 7-6(6), and the remarkable Brian Baker, the 27-year-old qualifier who was off the tour for nearly six years due to a multitude of injuries and who took a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over France's Benoit Paire.
Unfortunately, three-time Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick couldn’t up his level when he needed it most and went down 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-3 to the very competent Spaniard, David Ferrer. The 29-year-old Roddick, who had won the tournament in Eastbourne last week, wouldn’t say whether he will return to Wimbledon next year but he has said in the past that, if healthy, he would like to play for at least a couple of more seasons.
Williams put on a serving clinic against the former Wimbledon semifinalist and was never broken in the 2-1/2 hour match. In spite of the serving dominance, Zheng, who loves to bend low on the grass and sling hard shots, gave the favored American all she could handle until she knocked off a backhand volley on her third match point to win the contest.
Williams had lost her opening round match for the first time in 47 Grand Slams last month at Roland Garros to Virginie Razzano and came into the All England Club determined not to let go of tight matches - and at least on Saturday, she was ultra-tough when it mattered most.
"I think that's with any loss, you have to get that feeling back and regain that," Williams said. "It's not easy, especially when you're doing so well, to lose and then to try to come back. It’s all mental. I'm just trying to do the best that I can do."
While Williams vanquished one tough foe in Zheng, she'll have to go up against another one in Roland Garros semifinalist Yaroslava Shvedova, who put together a "golden set" against French Open runner-up Sara Errani by winning 24 consecutive points in the first set of her 6-0, 6-4 victory. It would take a near miracle for her to pull it off against Williams - yet after her Paris implosion, Serena knows she has to focus point by point. 
"Hopefully I'll be able to win a point in the set," Williams said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. "That will be my first goal, and then I'll go from there."
After his victory where he took over the net and competently managed the court against the colorful Goffin, the 30-year-old Fish spoke of periods in his career when he was off the tour and a forgotten man. As he says, the sport is unforgiving and the circuit moves quickly ahead without injured players. In fact, Fish grew irritated at home in Los Angeles watching the French Open upon hearing a television commentator say that John Inser was the highest ranked American when he, Fish, still held that spot.
"James [Blake] was No. 4 in the world not too long ago, and playing great tennis just a couple years ago," said Fish. "Then the ranking drops, and you’re on the side courts and it's not fun. It used to bother me a lot more.  I'm pretty comfortable with what I have achieved in the past couple of years, but you have an injury, and someone like [Sam] Querrey comes to mind. He came into this tournament.  If he wasn't in the top 20, he was outside the top 25.  He has an elbow surgery that puts him out of his best time of the year. All of a sudden he's ranked 100 and people forget about him. 
"It just takes time, and so guys can handle it different ways.  I haven't handled it well in the past. But that's just the way that it goes."
Fish has quickly made himself a very relevant player again, but has difficult contest ahead against fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whom he has never beaten. But he was happy to get a day off on Wimbledon's middle Sunday where he could relax with his wife, Stacey, and maybe take in the Euro Cup final.
As for Baker, much of his family is here in Lodnon, including his dad Steve who was able to take time off of work and hop a plane across the ocean. Yet his entourage didn’t expect him to reach the second week, so they have had to change their reservations. After seeing Brian put together another clean powerful performance, they may want to change their tickets into open-ended ones for next week. Baker is consistently dictating and has been super-steady off the ground. He won't be the favorite when he goes into his Round 16 match against the 27th seeded German Philip Kohlschreiber, but it would be a foolish thought to think he could not sneak through there. 
Heading into middle Sunday, the man who entered 2012 ranked No. 458 is sure to have a few "pinch me" moments.
"It's been unreal," Baker said. "When I'm on the court I know I definitely have nerves. Closing out the match you definitely know what's on the table. I missed a few shots at the end that I probably wouldn't miss if it was the quarters of a Challenger and not trying to get to the round of 16 at Wimbledon.  It is crazy kind of what's going on.  
"But I'm still trying to stay focused on the task at hand and not get too wrapped around because once you do that, I think it's tough to be able to play your best tennis once you're happy that you've been there."
Just two years after one of his best friends and doubles partner, John Isner, set a Wimbledon record in 11 hour, five-minute match against Nicolas Mahut, Querrey battled gamely for five and half hours but couldn’t penetrate Cilic's service games often enough. Given that last year at this time he was at home recovering from elbow surgery, he was proud of his effort.
"We're not even close to what [John] did," Querrey said. "I'm calm. I'm feeling good. This is a great tournament for me. I feel that match could have gone either way In the [U.S.] Open this summer I feel like I'm going to do really well. I feel like I'm going to be back up into the top 20 pretty soon." 


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