Wimbledon Rewind: How the Mighty Have Fallen (And Who Might Reap the Rewards)
A wild Wednesday swept through the All England Club. We glance back through the avalanche of upsets that rendered some sections of both draws almost unrecognizable as a major.
Roger rolled: 36 straight quarterfinals at majors. Seven Wimbledon titles in the last ten years. None of his legendary opponent’s credentials mattered to the 116th-ranked Sergei Stakhovsky, who became the lowest-ranked man to defeat Roger Federer in a decade. His moment of truth came in the fourth-set tiebreak, as crucial for the underdog as it was for the favorite considering the momentum that Stakhovsky had built by winning the second and third sets. Federer had started to reassert himself late in the fourth, and he surely would have secured the fifth set if he had reached it.
Unlike Alejandro Falla in 2010, and Julien Benneteau in 2012, Stakhovsky made sure that the Swiss did not survive the crossroads. A barrage of unreturnable serves early in the tiebreak, a clutch backhand down the line, and a sequence of magnificent lunging volleys brought him to match point on his serve. Sure enough, Federer saved it with a pinpoint passing shot. But Stakhovsky kept his composure through what felt like an interminable rally with the champion serving at 5-6 in the tiebreak. Finally, a Federer backhand floated aimlessly wide as time seemed to stand still on Centre Court, where things like these never happen.
Maria mastered: Off the WTA radar for years, former prodigy Michelle Larcher de Brito had gained most of her publicity from distinctively elongated yodels. She entered the main draw as a qualifier, though, which meant that she had accumulated more grass matches than her heralded opponent. Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova has stumbled early in the draw there more often than not in recent years. Slipping and skidding around the site of her first major breakthrough, she never found her rhythm or range from the baseline in a loss that recalled previous Wimbledon setbacks to Alla Kudryavtseva and Gisela Dulko.
The finish did not come easily for de Brito, as it never does against Sharapova. The girl who long has struggled with her serve deserves full credit for standing firm through deuce after deuce as five match points slipped past until the sixth proved the charm.
Vika victimized: Injuring her leg during her first-round victory, world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka never reached her scheduled Centre Court rendezvous with Flavia Pennetta on Wednesday. Azarenka withdrew from Wimbledon while blasting the All England Club for creating unsafe playing conditions. She now needs only a retirement or walkover at Roland Garros to complete a career injury Slam, and she will hand the No. 2 ranking back to Sharapova after the tournament.
Jo-Wilfried jolted: Also on the retirement list in a day filled with injuries, world No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga handed Ernests Gulbis a ticket to the third round after losing two of the first three sets. A semifinalist at Roland Garros and at Queen’s Club, Tsonga had seemed one of the tournament’s leading dark horses at the outset. But Gulbis, the most dangerous unseeded man in the draw, eyes an open route to a quarterfinal against Andy Murray.
Caro curbed: An Eastbourne semifinal aside, Caroline Wozniacki has struggled without respite since reaching the Indian Wells final in March. Another early loss thus comes as no great surprise for someone who lost in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Wozniacki secured just four games from Petra Cetkovska, not the first upset that the Czech has notched on grass.
Tall men toppled: Their opponents had nothing to do with it, but the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic and American No. 2 John Isner added themselves to the exodus of retirements. While Isner did not harbor real hopes for a deep run, Cilic reached the final at Queen’s Club barely a week ago and had reached the second week of Wimbledon last year. Of the top-16 seeds in the bottom half of the men’s draw, only Murray and Nicolas Almagro remain.
Serbs swiped: More comfortable on slower surfaces, former No. 1s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic departed in straight sets on Wednesday. Ivanovic’s loss came at the hands of rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, who may rival Laura Robson (or Larcher de Brito?) for the breakout story of the women’s tournament. The proudly patriotic Jankovic may take some comfort in the fact that her misfortune came at the hands of a fellow Serb. Her conqueror, Vesna Dolonc, is the only Serb left in the women’s draw.
Hewitt halted: The 2002 champion soared to a straight-sets victory over the 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, only to tumble back to earth against flashy Jamaican-turned-German journeyman Dustin Brown. Lleyton Hewitt’s defeat leaves Novak Djokovic as the only former champion and only No. 1 in the Wimbledon men’s draw.
And more…: The seeded casualties did not stop there. Fernando Verdasco bounced No. 31 Julien Benneteau in straight sets, No. 22 Sorana Cirstea lost two tiebreaks to Camila Giorgi, and No. 27 Lucie Safarova let a one-set lead get away against another Italian in Karin Knapp. Nadal’s nemesis, Steve Darcis, also withdrew from Wimbledon with a shoulder injury.
Hanging on tight: In the women’s match of the day, No. 17 Sloane Stephens narrowly kept her tournament alive against Andrea Petkovic by surviving an 8-6 third set. Stephens will have a real chance to reach her second semifinal in three 2013 majors with both top-eight seeds gone from her quarter. Also extended to a third set were No. 19 Carla Suarez Navarro and No. 25 Ekaterina Makarova, the latter of whom overcame rising Spanish star Garbine Muguruza. Meanwhile, men’s 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny needed five sets to survive Canadian youngster Vasek Pospisil as hardly anyone escaped at least a nibble from the upset bug.
Rising above the rubble: But a few contenders did. Extending his winning streak to seven, second seed Andy Murray notched another routine victory as he becomes the overwhelming favorite to reach a second straight Wimbledon final. Murray’s pre-final draw might pit him against a succession of Tommy Robredo, Youzhny, Gulbis, and Benoit Paire or Jerzy Janowicz—hardly a murderer’s row, although the Gulbis matchup might intrigue.
In the wake of a difficult first-round victory, 2011 champion Petra Kvitova caught a break today when Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew. Kvitova becomes the only top-eight seed to reach the third round in the bottom half of the women’s draw. She could face a compelling test from Makarova on Friday, but her most significant competition might come from Stephens or Marion Bartoli in the semifinals. Struggling mightily for most of the spring amid coaching turmoil, 2007 finalist Bartoli has picked an ideal time to find some form again. She ousted Christina McHale in straight sets today and has become the highest-ranked woman remaining in her quarter.