Wimbledon day 8: Will Rybakina break cycle? Did we see the most chaotic match-up?

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Welcome to the Wimbledon briefing, where The Athletic will explain the stories behind the stories on each day of the tournament.

On day eight of Wimbledon 2024, Elena Rybakina stepped up to her new billing, the ATP made a germy decision, and there was chaos on Court One.

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Is Elena Rybakina setting herself up for another Saturday on Centre Court?

Elena Rybakina is one of three players left in the women’s field who has won a Grand Slam title before. It was Wimbledon, two years ago. She’s the only one left who has triumphed at the All England Club.

Rybakina plays with a big serve and with flat power that keeps her ball low. The Wimbledon grass is her happy place.

More frighteningly, she said her tension eases as the tournament goes on.

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Rybakina eased to the title in 2022 (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

“I was less nervous, of course, than at the beginning of the tournament,” she said after her 6-3, 3-0 win over Anna Kalinskaya, who retired with an injury. “I think every tournament you start, it’s like first rounds are very tough, you are more nervous than other matches.”



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However, Rybakina’s path to Saturday will go through at least one Grand Slam winner, if she gets past a very dangerous Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who loves the Wimbledon grass almost as much as Rybakina does. She’s made the semifinals two years in a row.

Then, Rybakina would get the winner of Jelena Ostapenko vs Barbora Krejcikova.

Krejcikova won the French Open in 2021 but has never shown a great zeal for grass. Ostapenko, a free swinger who won the French Open in 2017 when she was 19, has been blitzing opponents for eight days. She has yet to lose more than three games in any of her eight sets.

Then again, Rybakina’s biggest opponent may be her own health, which has been touch-and-go for a year. It’s forced her to pull out of multiple tournaments with a series of viral flareups, damaging her hopes of deep runs at several tournaments.

If she can keep that in check, it’s hard not to consider her the favorite, but as she said on Monday, “it’s still far to go to the final.”

 Matt Futterman

Is Yulia Putintseva vs Jelena Ostapenko the most chaotic match-up in tennis?

Yulia Putintseva and Jelena Ostapenko are two of the most combustible, entertaining characters on the WTA Tour, so the prospect of them facing one another delighted tennis fans.

In truth, the match wasn’t competitive enough to truly catch fire, Ostapenko winning 6-2, 6-3 to reach her second Wimbledon quarterfinal, but there were still plenty of very enjoyable moments.

The highlight came towards the very end when Ostapenko, known for her strange challenges and distrust of electronic line calling, was up match point. She suggested that a shot of Putintseva’s was out.

Hawk-Eye revealed the ball was in.

This far in.

Screenshot 2024 07 08 at 17.36.52

Earlier on in the match, when Putintseva challenged a call, Ostapenko looked at the umpire like she couldn’t believe it. Gesturing with her hands wide, she was almost pleading with the umpire to disallow the challenge because it was so wrong.

She was right, in this instance.

Another memorable moment came early in the second set when Putintseva attempted an underarm serve that toiled towards the bottom of the net. Ostapenko barely even moved.

Before the match, there had been a lot of anticipation about what the handshake at the end of the match would be like. Some of their previous ones have been very high on the frosty scale. In the end, it was cordial enough, as Ostapenko moved on to a quarterfinal against fellow former French Open champion Krejcikova.

 Charlie Eccleshare

Is Taylor Fritz going to bring his grass pedigree to the big time?

Did everyone forget about Taylor Fritz ahead of this tournament?

More importantly, do we too often discount the data point of winning a tournament on grass the week before Wimbledon?

It’s a weird week, with most of the top players choosing to rest or play in exhibitions around London rather than subjecting themselves to competitions with actual stakes. For the second year in a row, however, an American who won a tournament on grass the week before Wimbledon has made it into the quarterfinals.

Last year it was Chris Eubanks winning in Mallorca. This year it was Fritz winning in Eastbourne.

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Fritz’s comeback set up a quarterfinal with Lorenzo Musetti (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

If you did underestimate Fritz’s prospects, he has made it clear that it was a dumb thing to do.

“Obviously if you win the tournament the week before Wimbledon, then you’re going to come into the tournament feeling pretty good, have confidence, and be a threat,” Fritz said after coming back to beat Alexander Zverev in five sets. “All players know how big of a deal confidence is. It makes a world of difference, so anytime you play someone that’s been winning, I don’t think it’s ever a surprise if they’re playing well.”

Fritz has played well on grass before this. He’s won Eastbourne twice before and he should have made the Wimbledon semifinals two years ago when he lost a fifth-set tiebreak against an ailing Rafael Nadal, who tore a stomach muscle early in their match and could not play the semifinal that followed.

Some are still hesitant to back him, including Zverev, who essentially said Fritz won a poorly played match because of his own bad knee. The German has form on this one: after losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2018, he said: “I don’t think he played that well. I think the match was absolutely pathetic on all levels.”

“There wasn’t really physicality,” Zverev said today. “I was on one leg today.

“So, yeah, credit to him that he came back, but it wasn’t a great tennis match.”

 Matt Futterman

Sniffle of the day

The ATP have decided to reintroduce the practice of ball kids handing players sweaty towels at the end of points.

It was jettisoned during the Covid-19 pandemic, in favour of dedicated towel boxes for each player, to minimise the risk of transmitting viruses.

Now, it’s coming back and must be accommodated — even if, strictly speaking, it’s only something players need to have the ability to request.

No one wants to pick up a tennis player’s sweaty towel hundreds of times over in the space of a few hours, so why? The reason is another rule, newly introduced rather than coming back, which starts a shot clock at 25 seconds at the end of every point. It used to start when umpires had called the score, but now it’s earlier, and the players don’t like it. They don’t like it because it means they don’t have time to walk over to their towel in its box, grab some tennis balls, chuck one away, do something superstitious that they have embedded into their serve routine, and play. So now they can save time by having a ball kid give them a germy piece of cloth.

Get it?

James Hansen

Wimbledon men’s draw 2024

Wimbledon women’s draw 2024

Tell us what you noticed on the eighth day…

(Top photo of Elena Rybakina: Julian Finney/Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton for The Athletic)

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