Eastbourne Tennis day four: Contrasting fortunes for Brits ... last 16 takes shape
Late on Tuesday evening, the last two British singles hopes at the Viking International had mixed fortunes. Liam Broady claimed a superb victory over higher-ranked Frances Tiafoe, but for Heather Watson there was only heroic failure.
Dusk was gathering, and the Town Hall clock was winding up to strike eight, when Broady clinched his straight-sets win, with a stylish and nerveless performance. His dubious reward was an appointment with second seed Alex De Minaur – but a loyal Centre Court crowd will be willing Liam to further success.
By contrast, immediately before Broady’s win, the Centre Court cheered, gasped and groaned as Heather Watson saw defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Heather led 4-1 and 30-0 in the deciding final set against Iga Swiatek, one of the new Wunderkind generation who are moving remorselessly – and excitingly – to centre stage on the Centre Courts around the women’s tour.
Swiatek, never flamboyant but always frighteningly accurate – and virtually error-free – levered her way back into the match to leave Heather distraught and bewildered, after watching her lead sliced away from 4-1 to 4-6.
Watson plays whole-hearted, determined tennis and throughout the contest, the Centre Court loved her like a favourite daughter. For one who wears her heart on her sleeve, Heather could at least claim the most striking outfit of the week so far – a glorious rainbot palette of a tennis dress, designed, I suspect, by the legendary Beth Mattek-Sands, whose creations grace the tennis world and who is herself back at the Devonshire Park this week, playing doubles.
There will certainly be pictures out there, but if you missed Heather’s outfit, let us say it was a tennis tribute to those striking colourful striped on the side wall of the Towner. Now, there’s a thought: if Heather had only played against a background like that, Siatek would have been dazzled and bemused…
The Watson-Swiatek showdown was certainly the best tennis of the day, but we had enjoyed an absolute feast. Other high points included a splendid performance by Camila Giorgi, whose week keeps getting better and better – this time taking out a Grande Dame of Devonshire, two-times champion Karolina Pliskova.
Honourable mention, too, for an achingly close duel that saw Hariet Dart, agile and creative and brave, just edged out by the superior strike power and speed of shot of Elena Rybakina. It’s a fascinating sport, tennis, and one in which you can play really well – even to your absolute limit – and still lose.
EIGHT FOR THE QUARTERS
Last week we rashly offered you the Herald’s predicted eight quarter-finalists:
Sabalenka, Gauff, Pliskova, Pavlyuchenkova, Jabeur (replacing Konta), Ostapenko, Rybakina, Swiatek.
Of those eight ladies, six have progressed to the Round of 16. We have lost Karolina Pliskova, edged out by an inspired Camila Giorgi. And when Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasia Palyuchenkova were drawn against each other, something had to give. Happily for weak spellers, it was the eleven-syllable Russian who gave way, and not the mere seven-syllable Latvian.
Now – with a cautionary note that we don’t necessarily approve of sports betting – let’s tweak the game slightly to allow for the pairings in Wednesday’s Last Sixteen. Gentle readers, by the time you catch up with these predictions, most of the matches may well be over – but we promise that the Herald has not cheated! In fact, I wrote my selections and gave them to the Sports Editor in a sealed envelope...)
Aryna Sabalenka versus Alison Riske: Aryna will have too much fire-power for the charming and popular American.
Shelby Rogers versus Camila Giorgi: Lucky Loser Shelby will be less fortunate against the neat, in-form Italian.
Bianca Andreescu versus Anett Kontaveit: a tricky one, this. Canadian youngster Bianca is hugely talented, but recently under-performing, while Anett’s composure and all-round skills give her a great chance.
Victorija Golubic versus Belinda Bencic: Golubic has played admirably to come through the qualifiers, but Bencic
Elena Rybakina versus Elina Svitolina: the tall and powerful Rybakina was not flawless in squeezing past Harriet Dart, but she is in better recent form than Svitolina and will take it the distance. Svitolina in three sets.
Coco Gauff versus Anastasia Sevastova: the latter is a lucky loser but will need all the luck she can get. Gauff recovered from a 0-6 in Tuesday’s first round to defeat Elise Mertens, and she will take this match in her loping stride.
Jelena Ostapenko versus Ons Jabeur: Ostapenko has far too much ability to be a mere wild card, but Jabeur is in fearsome form and
Daria Kasatkina versus Iga Swiatek: Kasatkina is a neat and talented all-round player but Swiatek showed her brilliance in her winning comeback against Watson. The Polish girl was close to flawless, and is on course for the title.
And so we pass the mid-point. Four fine days to go - in terms of both tennis and, fingers crossed, of British weather...