There was no coin-throwing or flying ant attacks on Day Four of Wimbledon. But on the final day of singles second round action, there was no shortage of debate and notable results.
As briefly as possible (I can finally no longer cope with 3am bedtimes), here are three conversation points from Thursday at SW19.
LOOKING OMINOUS? (Related result: Novak Djokovic  d. Adam Pavlasek 6-2 6-2 6-1.)
It has taken the best part of 12 months, but Djokovic is finally looking comfortable on court again.
Perhaps it is finally dropping down the rankings. His seeding may have him as the second best player in the draw, but the Serb actually sits at no. 4 in the current world rankings. Djokovic professed to feeling released from pressure heading into the fortnight – and perhaps that included the pressure he had put on himself – at every major since the 2016 French Open – to rediscover his phenomenal dominance again.
He may only be two matches in, but things appear to be going swimmingly for Djokovic. A title run in Eastbourne – clinched with victory over Gael Monfils – roped in some confidence and a feel for the lawns last week, and Martin Klizan’s retirement during their first round collision gave him some extra time to ease into the surroundings and atmosphere of Wimbledon. World no. 136 Adam Pavlasek was a great second round draw, and hardly likely to cause any serious problems, but the last 64 is often a danger zone for top seeds at Slams. The fact that Djokovic steamrolled through the encounter – never wavering or crumbling – is massive for his belief and mentality.
And in turn, that could be massive for his physical game.
‘NERVOUS’ – BUT STILL A STRAIGHT SETS WINNER. (Related scoreline: Roger Federer  d. Dusan Lajovic 7-6(0) 6-3 6-2.)
Seven-time champion Federer had no reason to be nervous. He was back home on Centre Court, looking in stellar form, facing the 27-year-old world no. 79 who had never won a main draw match at Wimbledon before this season.
Perhaps the final cobwebs of old nightmares were drifting in his mind. After all, he was never supposed to lose to world no. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky in the 2013 second round, and look what happened there. Also, both of his losses in 2017 have come to players ranked outside the top 100.
That his nerves were only a real issue for one set is good news for Federer. That he was mentally present for the most important moments of that set is even better. And the way he pulled himself together to finish the match convincingly suggests he picked just the right moment to be faced with – and in turn, deal with – some inner opponents.
Another positive for the Swiss star is that he could talk about the sudden nerves so freely. Players like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray or Djokovic could be listening in with deep interest. Indeed, forthcoming opponent Mischa Zverev – who looked to be extremely comfortable before being taken to five sets by Mikhail Kukushkin on Court 14 – greeted the news of the former world no. 1’s wobble with jokey pleasure.
“Good. He’s human,” he said.
But if Federer thought it was a massive issue, he likely would not have mentioned the feelings of insecurity in the first place. The 35-year-old knows how to talk to the press, and could easily have avoided mentioning it without anybody suspecting. But confessing to the minor struggle perhaps shows a confidence and sense of comfort with his surroundings that should keep his opponents wary.
Djokovic is rising, Murray is fit and Nadal is in-form. Nevertheless – for now – Federer remains the favourite for this trophy.
THE STATE OF THE GRASS. (Related results: Sorana Cirstea d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands 4-6 7-6(4) ret’d; Alison Riske d. Kristina Mladenovic  2-6 6-4 6-4.)
Despite two all-time greats being in action on Thursday, it was 32-year-old American Bethanie Mattek-Sands – the wild card contesting her second round singles match against Sorana Cirstea – who dominated the headlines on Day Four. The fall that saw her lying on the ground screaming in agony before being rushed off to hospital via ambulance was the most horrific thing the tournament has witnessed in some time – if not ever.
After no. 12 seed Kristina Mladenovic went down in three sets to Alison Riske on Court 12 later in the day, the Frenchwoman professed to not even be overly disappointed – just “honestly very happy and blessed that I didn’t injure myself that much.” The 23-year-old also commented that both she and Riske wanted to stop after a mere two games of the match due to not feeling safe.
The AELTC released a statement after the match, saying that ‘the Grand Slam Supervisor (Pam Whytcross) and the Assistant Referee (Denise Parnell) both attended Court 18 during the Mladenovic vs Riske match, inspected it, and in their experienced view judged it playable as per normal.’ The statement continued to declare that ‘grass is a natural surface and it is usual for the baselines to start to be showing signs of wear and tear four days into The Championships.’
Mladenovic claimed that the surface was dangerous because the 30 degree heat had dried it out. In previous years, players have complained that the extreme opposite – moisture, mainly from the rain – has also made the surface unplayable. The issues span several conditions.
Unfortunately, this is the way things are always going to be. Nobody wants to witness sickening injuries like the one that befell poor Mattek-Sands on Thursday, and the thought of similar happening to a player is naturally going to make them apprehensive to go after every ball – or even step out on court.
But the possibility of being involved in a crash or going off the radar does not stop people from travelling by plane every day of the week and month and year. The slip-and-slide surface of clay is always going to carry the risk of rolling an ankle or tripping on a baseline – or worse. And even hard-courts will hurt if you trip and fall hard. Everything we do in life carries a degree of risk, and it simply boils down to whether the person in question wishes to take it.
But the safety factor has not been the only grass-court topic discussed this week. Multiple players are reporting that the lawns – which have gradually been decreasing in speed since the glory serve-and-volley days of old – are playing slower than ever this season. In fact, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko went as far as to say the grass was less pacey than the Parisian clay.
If this is the case, then it makes things interesting as we – prematurely – eye the prospect of a Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic semifinal. Twice in the last three years the duo have faced off in the tournament’s final showdown, and both times Djokovic has had the edge. In the only previous time they met at Wimbledon, the Swiss player triumphed in four sets. Without a doubt, the courts continued to slow down after that encounter.
Federer has a slicker, flatter game than his long-time rival. He can rally consistently and pull off every shot in the book, but it is still going to be abundantly helpful to him to play on a surface that aids big serves, precise forehands and low margin backhands. Djokovic, meanwhile, has a game built more around mental fortitude, grit, and both offensive and defensive consistency.
I am not suggesting that – if the duo were to meet – the surface that has brought Federer abundant success would outrightly favour Djokovic.
Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that it would not aid the three-time champion at all in a potential collision.
Thanks for reading! Just want to add that my heart goes out to Bethanie Mattek-Sands after her awful experience on Thursday, and I sincerely hope that she makes a swift recovery.
Do you think grass is the most dangerous surface? Who would win a Wimbledon clash between Federer and Djokovic at this stage? Let me know in the comments!