Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Stars falling left and right at Wimbledon

By Jeff

What in the world is going on at the All England Club this week?

Two days after watching Rafael Nadal get upset in the first round to the No. 135 player in the world, perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game, Roger Federer, fell to Sergiy Stakhovsky, the No. 118 player in the world, in the second round.

It was Federer's earliest exit at a Grand Slam in 10 years, and only the third time he has ever lost at Wimbledon after losing the first set. Seeing that there was no indication Federer was hurt, and grass is his strongest service, this was a bigger surprise than Nadal's early exit.

The fall of Federer has been speculated for a few years. But each time that talk has come up, Federer has made a run at a Grand Slam and shown he is still one of the world's best. This time is different.

Despite all the talk before, Federer had still made it to 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals. That's 9 years of being one of the last eight players in every Grand Slam, no matter the continent or the surface. Now he is out in the second round of the tournament he has won more than any other man in the world.

Federer never looked like the best player in the world during the 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6 loss. Like Nadal, he was missing easy shots that we're not accustomed to seeing Federer miss. He had several break opportunities in the third set and missed short forehands that usually result in winners for the Swiss.

The whole match gave me flashbacks to the end of Pete Sampras' career. Sampras would coast through matches and show little effort when returning. With the best serve in the game, Sampras knew it was unlikely anyone would break him. He was content going into a tiebreaker or just waiting until late in the set to break his opponent's serve. The strategy worked for a long time, but late in his career, Sampras found himself getting broken more often and therefore, losing more often.

That's how Federer looked today. Every time Stakhovsky was serving, Federer looked like he was half asleep. Maybe it was the fact the All England Club wouldn't let Federer wear his sweet orange-bottomed kicks, but I think it was age finally catching up to Federer.

But wait, there's more! The women's side lost the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.

First, No. 2 Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of a knee injury she sustained in the first round. Then, No. 3 Maria Sharapova lost in straight sets to Michelle Larcher De Brito.

Azarenka was one of seven players who either withdrew or retired on today. It's the most matches decides by injuries in a single day in the tournament's history. 

ESPN and the All England Club have to be pissed that three of their biggest stars and draws are out in the first week. Casual fans are not going to recognize most of the names left in the draw. If you love tennis and you love upsets, though, the next 11 days are going to be incredible TV.

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