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Rafael Nadal Fights off Grigor Dimitrov; Roger Federer up Next

Rafael Nadal sets up quarterfinal meeting with Roger Federer.

MASON, Ohio — Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov had only met twice before Thursday evening’s three set showdown. In their first meeting, Dimitrov was a newcomer on tour, just 18 years of age. He played a great match and even took the second set against Nadal, but the then-world No. 1 was just too much for the young Bulgarian.

The pair met again this year in Monte Carlo. Nadal was playing very good tennis on his favorite surface that tournament, but their match took a similar trajectory as the first one. Dimitrov played an incredible match and took the second set against the Spaniard. Once again, however, Nadal proved too much in the third and took the match, keeping his dream for a ninth consecutive Monte Carlo title alive (Nadal would lose to Djokovic in the final).

Dimitrov got off to a slow start in Thursday’s match, hitting a few too many errors and not playing at his peak. He was still playing well, actually, but anything less than peak play just won’t cut it against someone of Nadal’s level.

Dimitrov actually played a very smart match and his shotmaking skills were on full display. He wasn’t blasting very many winners past Nadal, but he was staying toe-to-toe with Nadal in baseline rallies and not letting him hit winners either. He had a very strong backhand slice, daring Nadal to try and hit forehands off of deep balls that were low to the ground. Nadal’s ability to hit good forehands from uncomfortable positions that Dimitrov created was the difference in this match. If Nadal’s forehand had been just a tiny bit weaker, this match would have very quickly gone the way of the young Bulgarian.

As it was, Dimitrov raised his level when down a break in the second set and managed to break back. Then, after having unsuccessful set points in Nadal’s 4-5 service game, Dimitrov took his second break point in the 5-6 game to even the match.

Nadal stepped his game back up in the third set and Dimitrov faltered just a little, which was all it took. Nadal took the third set 6-2 with two breaks to move on to face Federer in the quarterfinals.

Nadal noted the similarity between Federer’s and Dimitrov’s games, something that has been a talking point for a few years. He said that “the style is very similar. Yeah, the game is similar, but for the moment, what we can compare is the style than the level of tennis. Dimitrov can play at a very, very high level, and I’m sure he will have a great chance to be in the top positions if he keep improving.”

This matchup is interesting though. For all that their styles are similar, Nadal has dominated Federer over the years by attacking Federer’s backhand with his heavy balls. Eventually, Federer’s backhand breaks down and Nadal can win matches attacking that wing. Dimitrov’s bachkand never broke down, though, and Nadal didn’t attack it as much. Dimitrov and Federer are not the same person, obviously, but Federer can probably learn from Dimitrov/Nadal matches, just like Nadal can make adjustments against Dimitrov based on his past history with Federer.

Speaking of Federer, Nadal is excited to be facing him again. He commented on their historic rivalry.

“Always [to] play against Roger is a special feeling. We have a great history behind us in our confrontations, so it’s not another quarterfinals. It’s a special one because you’re playing against a very special player. Our matches were very special always.”

In this one, though, expect Roger’s backhand to see a lot of heavy balls.

John Isner Lone American Standing; Serena Williams Survives Scare in Cincinnati

John Isner lone American standing

MASON, Ohio — American men’s tennis is in a bit of a slump, to say the least. This is the first week in the 40-year history of the ATP rankings that no American man has been in the top 20, with John Isner ranked the highest at No. 22. It seems that American men are setting new lows often these days, and it is a trend that they surely would love to stop.

This tournament is no different than the rest of the past few years in this sense. The 56-man draw in Cincinnati started with eight Americans. Four of them won their first-round matches; after the second round, Isner is the lone man standing.

Isner was a bright point today, though, winning a tough matchup against No. 8 seed Richard Gasquet with relative ease. The first set was tight throughout, with neither man able to make headway on the other’s serve. Isner fell behind by a mini-break early in the tiebreak, but he managed to regain it and take the set on a Gasquet double fault. Isner broke Gasquet in each of the Frenchman’s first two service games in the second set and cruised from there.

Cincinnati has not been nearly as hot and humid this week as it usually is, and those conditions suited Isner well.

The No. 1 American said, “I absolutely love this weather. When it’s really hot and really humid, that’s when I struggle. So this is very welcoming for me. I hope this keeps up. It was perfect out there.”

He will have a tough match in the next round against Milos Raonic, last week’s Rogers Cup runner-up, and more weather like this will help him. Expect lots of easy holds and tiebreaks in that match.

But John Isner cannot carry the American flag alone. Others need to step up. And, as Mardy Fish said on Monday, we all miss Andy Roddick.

Serena Survives Early Scare

It looked like another early exit might be in the cards for Serena in Cincinnati. She rarely does well at this tournament. After today, Serena has a career record of just 5-3 in Cincinnati since this tournament became a Premier Five event.

She played very poorly in the first set, and Eugenie Bouchard did well to take advantage. Serena said about one shot that “I thought I’d never hit a shot like that professionally. I have maybe in practice with my eyes closed.” She tightened her game up in the final two sets, taking them with relative ease.

A Roof is Coming to New York

A big headline from the day was that the USTA announced plans to build two new courts and to put a roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium. No clear timetable was given for when the roof will be built, but it will not be any time soon.

Player reactions to the news were mixed. Defending US Open women’s champion Serena Williams and John Isner were both quite pleased with the announcement. Serena said “It’s good to know that they’re going to go for it.” Isner said that the tournament needs it because “over a two-week period in the summer… chances are it’s going to rain at least a little bit.”

Defending US Open men’s champion Andy Murray was not as enthusiastic. He conceded that “for certain reasons it’s great,” but he also said that “I don’t particularly like going from indoors to outdoors to indoors.” Murray felt that rain delays used to be part of the majors, but “now that’s kind of going away gradually.” He also said that “if it did rain for three, four days straight, which is possible, then it would become a bit unfair for some of the guys [not playing on a court with a roof].”

18-year-old Mackenzie McDonald Makes an Impression at Cincinnati Masters

Mackenzie McDonald (By Christopher Levy for Tennis Grandstand)

MASON, Ohio – American teenager Mackenzie McDonald has made history this week by being the youngest unranked teen to qualify for a Masters event. But he may not be here to stay for long.

Eighteen-year-old McDonald has played just six official ITF or ATP tennis matches in his life. He lost to Alex Kuznetzov in the first round of a futures tournament when he was 14. He won one qualifying match at the Sacramento Challenger last year but failed to qualify for the main draw. And, before this past weekend, he had never earned an ATP ranking point in his life.

He wanted to play the Kalamazoo junior tournament last week because the winner gets a wild card into the US Open, but he lost in the first round. However, he was granted an opportunity by way of a qualifying wild card for Cincinnati. He took full advantage of it and won two straight matches, coming back from a set down in each.

McDonald will now debut in the top 800 next week. He does not plan on taking his chance and playing professional tennis full time. He wants to go to UCLA and play tennis there. From what I saw when I watched him today, he needs the time. College tennis is a great place to build skills and gain experience so that players can compete when they graduate. More important for McDonald, though, it will give him a chance to grow into his skills.

McDonald really impressed me in his match today, even if the final scoreline was very one-sided. He was not overawed by the occasion, even though the 500+ fans in Grandstand Stadium were probably the biggest crowd he has ever played in front of. His groundstrokes were solid off both wings and his movement was impeccable, which allowed him to stay with Goffin in a lot of rallies.

McDonald’s problem is that he just does not have enough power. He had no way to finish points against Goffin. Many of his first erves were under 100 mph and far too many couldn’t even reach 90. He did a great job of moving Goffin around the court and hitting towards the corners; he just couldn’t hit the ball hard enough to end the points. He realized this and started utilizing the serve-and-volley in the second set, with a decent amount of success. He gave up a little towards the end, but his ability to compete and adapt was more than impressive, especially for someone with his very limited experience.

McDonald realized this and, when asked what he needs to do to be able to compete with players like Goffin, he said, “I think a lot of it has to do with physical. I think I can get a lot stronger; I can gain a lot more weight.” McDonald is very right and it is a good portent for his future that he knows what he needs to do to get better.

Since McDonald needs to retain his amateur status because he wants to play college tennis, NCAA rules prohibit him from taking his prize money at this tournament. However, because he is not actually in college yet, McDonald can keep up to $10,000 in prize money annually. A first-round loss in Cincinnati is worth $10,830

McDonald said he has been given a Wild Card into the US Open qualifiers and that he will play there. It’s another great chance for him to gain experience and some points. But, unless he wants to forego playing at UCLA, he cannot collect any more prize money. College tennis is exactly what a player like Mackenzie McDonald needs. He has all the tools; he just needs a few years to sharpen them and to grow into a stronger tennis player. He shouldn’t try jumping too high too soon. If he takes his time, develops his strength, and works on his game even more, he can be very dangerous on tour in a few years’ time.

Americans Mardy Fish and Brian Baker on the Comeback Trails at Cincinnati

Mardy Fish (By Christopher Levy for Tennis Grandstand)

MASON, Ohio — Two Americans who could have easily been top players by now, if not for their numerous injuries and health issues, continued on their newest comeback trails in Cincinnati on Monday.

Mardy Fish, a former top 10 player who has been sidelined for mcuh of the last 16 months with a heart issue, was up against Philipp Kohlschreiber on Center Court. At the same time, Brian Baker—a top junior who has missed the vast majority of his ten-year career with numerous injuries—played his first tour-level match since he tore his meniscus at the Australian Open.

Prior to today, Fish had only played a total of seven matches on the year. His heart issues have extended his time away from the tennis court, and it has taken a toll. But given this is his third tournament in just the last four weeks, it hopefully means he is finding a way to stay healthy and is able to play.

Of course, playing so few matches spread out over such a long period of time has meant that Fish really can’t find any rhythm on court.

This was clearly evidenced against a dangerous opponent like Kohlschreiber. Fish certainly had his moments of top-level play. He hit the ball crisply and cleanly and did well when he approached the net, especially during the middle of the first set. Fish was clearly very rusty early but worked himself into a rhythm on both his serve and his groundstrokes. He couldn’t sustain it, though, and eventually fell to Kohlschreiber in straight sets.

This match definitely has positives for Fish to take away from it. He played well for stretches of time and had his moments where he was clearly superior to Kohlschreiber, who is a consistent top 30 player in his own right, on court.  If he can sustain his health and get more match play he might be able to find his form again.

Fish, though, was not so optimistic in his post-match interview.

It would be too strong to say he was despondent, but there was definitely a strong sense of disappointment about him. He spoke very candidly about his health and what he has been doing to ensure he can avoid the sort of physical and emotional stresses that his heart issue has caused in the past.

Fish spoke about how difficult this health issue is, knowing that he has no control over it.  Admitting to being so scared after the US Open last summer, he didn’t leave his house for 3 months. He even spoke honestly about seeking psychiatric help “on a week-to-week basis” to overcome the mental hurdles.

He was, however, happy with his play last week, calling Washington “a good step in the right direction” but felt that his play today was “a step backwards for sure in the singles, no doubt about that”. He did admit that Kohlschreiber was a difficult opponent even for top players in his own right, but Fish’s overall mood after the loss seemed quite negative.

Brian Baker, on the other hand, felt quite positive after a good win over Denis Istomin. He said that he wasn’t playing his best and that Istomin didn’t quite hit the ball as well as he could either, but Baker said that he thought he managed his service games very well, aside from one with two double-faults, and that allowed him to gain momentum and lead to opportunities on Istomin’s service games.

Baker mentioned that he could have come back in Atlanta and still got a protected ranking but that his knee wasn’t quite healthy yet. Now, though, he says the knee is completely fine. He wore a sleeve on it during the match, but said that he didn’t need it. He wore it last week in Aptos to keep it warm in the 60-degree weather there and just kept it on here because it felt good wearing it

Baker might have once relished his position as a comeback story but is definitely tired of it now. “I don’t like being the comeback kid every time” he said, “but it’s kind of been forced on me.” He did say, however, that “it’s great to be back out there for sure, that’s number one.” He also thought playing the Challenger in Aptos last week prepared him well to head back on tour. Of course it will take a few matches before he gets back in full form, but hopefully for him this comeback is the last one he has to make.

Nicolas Mahut Attempts to Rewrite History with Already-Memorable 2013 Season

Nicolas Mahut wins first title

Nicolas Mahut will probably be remembered for one thing and one thing only.

After all, he has been on tour for 15 years and has been inside the top 50 for a whole 6 months. He has been a top 300 player for about 12 years running, but top 300 players don’t usually make the annals of tennis history. No, Nicolas Mahut’s career, as it stands now, has one memorable moment.

Let’s be honest, losing the longest match in tennis history is not something you want to be remembered by.

Sure, Mahut reached the finals of Queens and Newport back in 2007. And a Queen’s Club final is nothing to scoff at. But both of those pale in comparison to his marathon match against John Isner.

However, in 2013, at the age of 31, Mahut is trying to rewrite his tennis memoirs.

An injury-riddled and poor 8 months stretch at the end of 2012 and the beginning of this year saw Mahut’s ranking drop outside the top 200 for the first time since February of 2010. Fortunately for him, though, it was still high enough to get him into qualifying at Hertogenbosch and into Wimbledon before the entry deadline. Whether it’s because of his big serve or his ability to get to balls very close to the ground, Mahut is strongest on grass.

Nicolas Mahut wins first titleMahut proved that quite well when he qualified for Hertogenbosch, beating Lukasz Kubot (a strong grass player in his own right) along the way. Then Mahut went on to win the tournament without dropping a set, upsetting Stanislas Wawrinka in the final.

Mahut couldn’t carry his momentum past Tommy Robredo in Wimbledon, losing to the Spaniard in straight sets in the second round. Mahut flew through the draw in Newport though (which he needed a Wild Card to get into), once again reaching the final without dropping a set. He lost the first set of an exciting final to Lleyton Hewitt, and took full advantage to come back and win the match after Hewitt couldn’t serve it out at 5-4 in the second set.

Now Mahut is riding the best 2 months of his career into the summer hard court season. He has won 14 out of his last 15 tour-level matches, including 3 qualifying rounds at Hertogenbosch. He is currently getting adjusted to the hard courts as the second seed in the Granby Challenger, where he won his first-round match in 3 sets.

Now Mahut has a chance to have a real season to be remembered by. He has two ATP tour-level titles already this year and his ranking is high enough to get him directly into the US Open. Whatever he does for the rest of the year, Mahut now has something to tell his grandkids about other than losing the longest match in tennis history. And who knows? Maybe he can ride this momentum even further and pick his ranking up even higher, achieving even more to cap off his career.

Why I Am Not Yet Sold on Jerzy Janowicz

Jerzy Janowicz

Jerzy Janowicz(July 11, 2013) Jerzy Janowicz just played the best tournament of his career. He reached the semifinals of Wimbledon, the best result of his career. He reached a career-high ranking of World No. 17. He has a massive serve, good ground game, and already moves well enough to be a top player. The whole tennis world is expecting great things from Janowicz in the near future.

But I’m not ready to expect much from him just yet.

Am I being unfair? Am I being ridiculous? After all, the entire tennis world just saw him take Wimbledon by storm. We saw him produce tennis on a high level. Why wouldn’t I expect us to see it on a consistent basis?

The answer lies in that very question. Janowicz has developed the game to be a great player. He has the talent to be a great player? So why is he only now breaking in to the top 20?

Yes, every player has to start from somewhere. Every player gets better and better until he can reach the top of the game. But Janowicz has had this talent and ability for more than just two weeks. He played this well in reaching the final of the Masters tournament in Paris last November. So why was Janowicz not able to reach a single semifinal in the 7 months between those two tournaments?

I will be fair. Janowicz also played very well in the Masters tournament in Rome, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet before falling to Roger Federer. Even that doesn’t change the point I am trying to make.

Janowicz is a top 20 player right now, but he has done that by playing great tennis for three weeks out of the past year. He currently has 2,154 ATP ranking points. A combined 1,345 of those came from Paris and Wimbledon. He would not even be in the top 50 without those. If you ignore Rome as well he would fall out of the top 100 at the end of this week.

So what is my point? Paris, Rome, and Wimbledon did happen. You can’t just ignore them. But the fact is that they say something. Janowicz made himself from a fringe top 100 player into a top 20 player in 4 weeks. But if Janowicz is going to reach the top 10 or top 5, or even No. 1 someday like people are expecting of him, he will have to compete at his best level for more than 4 weeks out of the year.

He has shown us that he has that level. He has shown us that he can sustain it for most of a tournament. But he is going to have to do it for a much larger chunk of the season. Otherwise, where he is now may very well be the highest he can get.

Juan Martin Del Potro Looks to Further Improve on his Best Wimbledon Ever

Juan Martin del Potro in Wimbledon semifinals png

Juan Martin del Potro in Wimbledon semifinals png

(July 3, 2013) For years now, I have dismissed Juan Martin Del Potro on grass. And it wasn’t without reason. He is very tall and has long legs, and the low bounce on grass makes it difficult for him to get down to hit balls comfortably. His movement on the surface has never been great. Most of all, though, even when he played his best tennis, the results just weren’t there on the green stuff.

I should have started paying attention last summer, when a great run at the London Olympics took Del Potro to the a victory over Novak Djokovic and the Bronze Medal. I should have noticed in the earlier rounds of this tournament, when his level of play was higher than it has ever been on grass.

Well, I finally noticed when he hit David Ferrer off the court.

This is the Juan Martin Del Potro that a terrible wrist injury has deprived us from seeing for 4 years. Sure, he’s shown flashes of his old self the past 2-3 seasons or so. But there has been no consistency at that level and no reason for us to think that he could sustain it again.

Del Potro is moving very well around the grass courts, getting to balls with enough time, and just absolutely hitting the stuffing out of them. Del Potro has shown us a level of grit and determination this tournament that we haven’t seen from him since the US Open final in 2009.

2013 has not been a great year so far for Del Potro but he is really beginning to heat up now. The American hard courts are by far his best surface and he is primed for a great summer as long as he is healthy. He has looked lethal on the grass so far this year and there is really no reason that his grass season has to end this match.

Of course, his opponent might have something to say about that. Novak Djokovic is on a mission to win his second Wimbledon and he doesn’t want to let the last player to beat him on grass stop him now. Djokovic has been monstrous on defense all tournament and those elastic defensive skills will be tested against Del Potro’s power.

Djokovic is clearly the best player in the game right now. That being said, he has not been as dominant this year as in the past few and is nowhere near the untouchable level that he was back in the spring of 2011. He has no real weaknesses, but another talented player playing his best game for 2 or more hours can definitely beat him.

Obviously, even though there is never any shame in losing to the best player in the world, this match would be disappointing for Del Potro if he loses. He has played through nasty spills and terrible knee pain and it would be sad for him to lose. But this has been the best Wimbledon of his young career so far and it is a tremendous step moving forward to try and once again find the levels that won him a Slam already in his career. The Tower of Tandil is standing tall—and he will go as far in this tournament as his body lets him.

Can Tomas Berdych Upset the Immovable Object that is Novak Djokovic?

Tomas Berdych

Tomas+Berdych+Wimbledon+Tennis+Championships+DksPskhJNqBx

(July 1, 2013) For all the mayhem that this Wimbledon brought, we have chalked in the quarterfinals for the top half of the draw, and the most-hyped match will definitely be the one involving the World No. 1.

Novak Djokovic leads the career head-to-head against Tomas Berdych 13-2. Berdych, however, won the last time they met, taking 3 sets to upset Djokovic in Rome. Berdych also won the only time they met at Wimbledon, in the 2010 semifinals. That, of course, was the match following Berdych’s historic upset of Roger Federer.

Both Djokovic and Berdych have been playing some very good tennis all tournament. Bernard Tomic managed to throw Berdych off his game in their fourt-round match, but Berdych was just too solid and too good overall, even if he hit some bad errors. Djokovic’s level of defense has been superb and he has moved from defense to offense beautifully. He has been moving on the grass here like he’s playing on clay and doing it successfully.

This match for Berdych could honestly feel similar to that 2010 match against Federer. This will all be about trying to hit the ball past Djokovic’s defense. Djokovic will get balls back into play and try to counterattack. If Berdych is to be successful here, he needs to hit big and easily shake it off when Djokovic wins insane defensive points—something that definitely will happen. Berdych will be tempted to try and wrong-foot Djokovic when possible if he doesn’t have a bit shot available, but watching Djokovic this tournament it just doesn’t look like that will work.

Djokovic, on the other hand, just needs to play his solid game for an entire match. Berdych will win points by hitting the ball past him. He needs to ignore those and insert himself in enough points to rattle the big Czech. He needs to win those points and just always make Berdych hit the extra shot.

This should be an exciting match because the two players have such very different strengths and will each be trying to dictate throughout the match. Both players will need to concentrate on their own games and ignore their opponents. This match will be all about who can sustain momentum. Berdych has the ability to win and lose chunks of points very quickly, either by slapping winners or spraying errors.

This match will not completely rest on Berdych’s racket. Djokovic has the ability to dictate rallies as well and keep Berych from hitting his huge groundstrokes. Still, if Berdych can keep momentum and hit the ball cleanly throughout the match he will have his chances. Berdych will get to dictate more than Djokovic will. If he wants to win, he will have to stay consistent and go for his winners. Most of all, though, he can’t let Djokovic’s defense or his own nerves get to him.

Can Anyone Stop Andy Murray From Reaching the Wimbledon Final?

Who Can Stop Andy Murray

(June 28, 2013) Andy Murray came out firing in his third-round match and Tommy Robredo didn’t know what hit him. Robredo played very strong tennis for much of the match and even hit some incredible shots. But at the end of the day, he stood no chance against Murray and lost 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.

And now, Murray is primed for a clear path to the finals against Novak Djokovic, as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have all been taken out already. But if this tournament has taught us anything, it’s that we should never take anything for granted about the top seed winning the match.

That being said, Murray has looked nearly unbeatable this tournament. His defense and depth of shot have been incredible. His movement has been crisp and his shot selection has been almost perfect. When Murray plays at this level it takes an incredible performance to stop him.

So who could Murray meet along the way that could derail his path to the final? For starters, he could meet a resurgent Viktor Troicki in the next round. Troicki’s level of play fell for much of last year, but he is playing well again and looks very comfortable on the grass. He is 0-5 in his career against Murray, but did win the first two sets in a match at Roland Garros two years ago. Of course, he has to get by Mikhail Youzhny first.

No quarterfinal opponent should pose any problems for Murray on grass, unless Ernests Gulbis decides to play out of his mind tennis for the rest of this tournament. Even then, though, Murray should be able to handle almost whatever Gulbis throws at him.

The only place that we can really see trouble for Murray is in the semifinals. Jerzy Janowicz has backed up his final at the Paris Masters last year with a great season and he is only getting better. The big Pole has been playing great tennis this tournament, bombing down huge serves and supplementing that with a lethal ground game.

Janowicz clearly has the talent and the style to trouble Murray’s game. His serve is big, accurate, and well-placed enough to nullify Murray’s amazing return game. Janowicz can also hit with—and hit through—Murray from the baseline, something that few players in the world today can do. Murray is still the better player, there is no doubt about that. But if someone is going to stop the Scot from reaching the final, Janowicz is your best bet.

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

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.

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