LONDON – As tumultuous a day as professional tennis has produced in its nearly half-century history ended in the most unforeseeable, unexplainable way of all: A second-round loss by Roger Federer at the All England Club.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion and 17-time Grand Slam champ shuffled off Centre Court with dusk approaching on the fortnight’s first Wednesday, his head bowed, his streak of reaching at least the quarterfinals at a record 36 consecutive major tournaments snapped by a man ranked 116th.
His remarkable 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) defeat against Sergiy Stakhovsky marked Federer’s earliest Grand Slam exit in a decade. He lost in the first round of the French Open on May 26, 2003, back before he owned a single trophy from any of the sport’s most important sites.
“This is a setback, a disappointment, whatever you want to call it,” said Federer, the defending champion. “Got to get over this one. Some haven’t hurt this much, that’s for sure.”
He had plenty of company on a wild, wild Wednesday brimming with surprising results, a slew of injuries – and all manner of sliding and tumbling on the revered grass courts, prompting questions about whether something made them more slippery.
Seven players left because of withdrawals or mid-match retirements, believed to be the most in a single day at a Grand Slam tournament in the 45-year Open era.
Among that group: second-seeded Victoria Azarenka; sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; 18th-seeded John Isner, who will forever be remembered for winning a 70-68 fifth set in the longest match ever; and Steve Darcis, the man who stunned 12-time major champion Rafael Nadal on Monday.
“Very black day,” summed up 10th-seeded Marin Cilic, who said a bad left knee forced him to pull out of his match.
The third-seeded Federer simply was unable to derail Stakhovsky’s serve-and-volley style, breaking the 27-year-old Ukrainian only once.
Federer was one of seven players who have been ranked No. 1 to depart the tournament in a span of about 81/2 hours. The others: Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, who lost 6-3, 6-4 to 131st-ranked Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal; Caroline Wozniacki; Ana Ivanovic; Jelena Jankovic; Azarenka; and Lleyton Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002.
All told, five players who have combined to win 26 Grand Slam titles headed home, along with another three who have been the runner-up at a major tournament.
“Today has been bizarre,” said 17th-seeded Sloane Stephens of the U.S., who stuck around by winning her match against Germany’s Andrea Petkovic 8-6 in the third set. “I don’t know what’s going on.”