This semifinal is historic for very different reasons than would have been expected before the tournament.
This Wimbledon began as one of the most unpredictable tournaments in recent tennis history. The “Big Four” were once again favorites. However, the two previous Majors were captured by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two players thought to be on a decline the past couple of years. The other two “Big Four” members, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, have failed to play their best tennis this season. Other potential winners were last year’s finalist Milos Raonic and three-time grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka. Even given the deep field, it was near impossible to predict this semifinal.
It Has Been a While Since There Has Been a Similar Semifinal
With three of the members of the “Big Four” advancing to the quarterfinals, it seemed as though tennis fans were about to be treated to a mostly-“Big Four” semifinal. Few expected three of the four to fall in the same round to players with nowhere near the accolades of them. At least two of the “Big Four” have appeared in the semifinal round of Wimbledon each year since 2005, making these losses historic. Even more odd is that the streak is not necessarily ending because of age, as the oldest member of the group, Roger Federer at 35, is the only one still remaining.
The unlikely field continues to extend past the “Big Four.” At Wimbledon, this is the first time in 10 years that only two of the semifinalists are seeded in the Top 10. In addition, this is the first tournament since 1998 where only one of the Top 5 seeds reached the semifinals. These feats are incredible, especially considering how easily the top players lost. Any match can be lost by an injury, bad match-up of playing styles, or simply having an opponent playing the match of their life.
A Rare Major Semifinals With Only One Big Name
Tomas Berdych is a former Wimbledon finalist, but has not played his best tennis this season. He advanced past the 3rd round just once in the seven biggest tournaments of the year (two Majors and five Masters 1000s). Berdych has put together an impressive run here, beating Top 10 player Dominic Thiem in the Round of 16. However, Thiem’s worst surface is grass, and Berdych had a stroke of luck when Djokovic retired due to injury in the second set of their quarterfinal match. Marin Cilic is the only player remaining besides Federer with a Major title, having won the 2014 US Open. This is his first ever Wimbledon semifinal, and only fourth career Major semifinal. Similar to Berdych, he has struggled this season, losing in the second round of four of the year’s seven largest tournaments.
Finally, the biggest underdog of everyone is the American Sam Querrey. Querrey has had an incredible run in London, defeating Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and World #1 Murray in thrilling 5 set matches. Querrey showed a glimpse of this success at last year’s Wimbledon, beating then-World #1 Djokovic on his way to the quarterfinal. That was Querrey’s first ever Major quarterfinal, and before then had only reached the Round of 16 twice over ten seasons. In addition, he has only reached the quarterfinals of a Masters one time since 2012. Querrey has shown promise this year, winning Acapulco and defeating four Top 20 players in the process. Regardless, the World #28 is making a surprising appearance on the world stage that few could have foreseen.
Although the Field Lacks Big Names, It Contains the Biggest of Them All
Federer completely changes the outlook of the field. Few can dispute that he is the greatest man to ever hold a racket, vying for his record 19th Major title. Even given his accolades, his appearance here is almost as unlikely as the other three. 2016 saw the first season since 2000 that he did not win a tournament. Much of that was due to a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of the season. Federer was only able to step on the court for seven tournaments in 2016 before the injury. He showed flashes of brilliance when he did play, but was not able to capture any titles and only reached one final. Many thought he was either done with tennis, or would never come near the level he had played at for so many years.
This is all not to take away from the other three semifinalists. Cilic is a Major winner who has consistently played good tennis recently. Berdych has had a great career and is considered one of the best to never win a grand slam. Querrey has nine career titles and is playing some of his best tennis ever. All three of them have beaten top players to make it to this point and deserve to be there. However, this semifinal group lacks the big names and top ranked players that has been commonplace for years. Wimbledon may lose casual viewers due to this, but these players who haven’t often been on the biggest stage will be sure to battle and make the most of the opportunity.