Sergiy Stakhovsky Stuns Roger Federer and the Tennis World After Historic Win

Sergiy Stakhovsky earns biggest win of career at Wimbledon.

Sergiy Stakhovsky earns biggest win of career at Wimbledon.

(June 26, 2013) Sergiy Stakhovsky came into his second round match against Roger Federer with a game plan: He was going to turn back the clock on Federer’s career, and pulled off the biggest upset in recent Wimbledon history by defeating the defending champion, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6.

Federer had been in the top four for exactly a decade. The last time he had been No. 5 in the rankings was coincidentally June 26th, 2003, right before he won his first Wimbledon. Since then, Federer has reached 36 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, and the last time he failed to do so was at the French Open in 2004. That 2004 French Open was also the last time Federer lost to a one-handed backhander in a Slam.

Stakhovsky didn’t only turn back the clock on the stats and record book, though. He went back to the 1990’s with his style of play. It was a tremendous performance of serve-and-volley tennis. He attacked the net at every opportunity and it paid dividends.

The most incredible thing, perhaps, about the upset was that Stakhovsky was not pulling off incredible shots to beat Federer. Yes, he hit some highlight-reel volleys that will be watched for a long time. But those aren’t what won him this match. Stakhovsky won by serving consistently and by dominating at the net. Stakhovsky approached the net a whopping 94 times in this match, winning the point on 64% of those. Yes, maybe a dozen or so of those were insane volleys, but it was being there and playing consistently that got him this win.

It was a different type of loss than we are used to seeing from Federer here. Since 2003, Federer has lost to only three people at Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal beat Federer the same way he always does, by getting balls back in play and attacking that backhand with his heavy topspin. Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, though, did it by just beating Federer off the court. They brought attacking games and massive groundstrokes in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and each took Federer out in the quarterfinals.

Stakhovsky didn’t have that strong of a ground game though, and nobody expected another upset. It was apparent in many rallies when his forehand just couldn’t get past Federer’s defense. So he played the perfect game to make up for that. He served-and-volleyed. He attacked the net whenever he could. He played the perfect match on grass and used his grass-court strengths to cover up his other weaknesses superbly.

That, perhaps, is what we should take away from the match. That is what Stakhovsky did that no one else has been able to do for the last 10 years.

Stakhovsky is not as talented as Federer. He is not as good of a tennis player. But he brought a game plan that allowed him to beat Federer and executed it to perfection. He didn’t back down when he got behind. And he didn’t back down when he was in the lead. He brought out huge serves and clutch volleys on big points.

The match itself was entertaining from the start. It was strong grass-court tennis the way it is meant to be played. Stakhovsky said after the match that it’s always a challenge coming in against Federer because it’s like facing two opponents out there—the actual Roger Federer and Federer’s reputation and aura of greatness. Stakhovsky didn’t show it at all, though, holding serve and opening up some break chances.

Stakhovsky’s first real chance came when he had a break point at 5-5 in the first set. He had an open court but instead hit the volley right to Federer, who took the point and held. When Federer won the first set in a tiebreak, it did not seem like Stakhovsky could hold on. But Stakhovsky came back in the second, holding his serve over and over until he could take the second set in a tiebreak.

The third set looked like it was heading to a tiebreak like the first two, but Stakhovsky played a strong defensive game while Federer was a little loose and broke for a 6-5 lead. He held for the set and when he broke early in the fourth, we knew that we might be on the cusp of history here. Federer broke back for 3-3 though and Stakhovsky finally looked nervous. He managed to save set points and bring it to a tiebreak, though, and it looked like it was all-or-nothing. Stakhovsky took a minibreak for 4-2 and had a match point on his racket, serving at 6-4. Federer saved it with a great passing shot but an errant backhand the next point handed Stakhovsky the biggest win of his career.

Is this the end of an era for Roger? It is certainly the end of several historic streaks. But the end of an era? Federer says he plans on playing for many more years. And, since he won this tournament just last year, we’d be foolish to count him out so early.