June 28, 2012

The Days That Shook the Earth: Part II

It wouldn't be a Slam if the upsets didn't come early and often, but it sure seems like more favorites than usual are booking quick trips home*. Or maybe it's just that the magnitude of the upsets so far this week is so huge, it just feels that way. Whatever the case, the first couple days of action at Wimbledon have left us a lot to talk about. And this time it goes right to the top.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that Caroline Wozniacki didn't make it out of her first round match. Facing off against Eastbourne champion Tamira Paszek, she wasn't exactly dealt an easy draw. But the women's bracket was affected much more deeply than that.

Na Li hasn't defended a lot of ranking points recently, and though she made a valiant effort to prove she's still relevant on clay, she didn't have the same luck on grass. After a solid first-round win over Ksenia Pervak, she ran into Sorana Cirstea, a fellow dirt specialist albeit one who might've proven herself a slightly better all-surface player. The young Romanian, who made her breakthrough a few years back in Paris, has been on the comeback trail all season and her win over the eleventh seed helped her match her best-ever performance at the All England Club. With a third round meeting against Maria Kirilenko, a woman she's beaten more times than she's lost to, she might just be able to last at least a few days longer.

Defending U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur had already improved on her first round exit from last year, but the three-time doubles finalist at the All England Club continues to struggle when she's by herself on these courts. After quickly dismissing Carla Suarez Navarro in her opener, the Netherlands' Arantxa Rus proved to be too much for the Aussie. The Dutchwoman, a winner over Kim Clijsters at last year's French, added one more top-ten player's pelt to her stash Wednesday. In a match fraught with service breaks, Rus was able to serve out the third set on her second attempt, earning herself a third-round date with eminently beatable Shaui Peng. For the twenty-one year old, putting together her best year at the Majors, it's a great opportunity to really make a run to the elite.

And while all these exits where shocking to an extent, they were nothing compared to what came next. Marion Bartoli has had some of her biggest successes on grass -- she made the final in 2007 and beat Serena Williams here last year. She may not have capitalized on a huge lead over eventual Eastbourne champion Tamira Paszek last week, but as the ninth seed in London she nevertheless should have been a favorite to make the second week. But she might have fallen into a time warp earlier today when Mirjana Lucic, a semifinalist in 1999 and a qualifier this year, took her out in straight sets. The thirty-year old Croat has now pulled off two wins at a Major for the first time in over a decade, and though she will face a tough lawn-court player in Roberta Vinci next, she's proven she shouldn't be counted out just yet.

But of course the biggest shock was saved for the last match to finish Thursday. Two-time champion and three-time runner-up Rafael Nadal hasn't lost before a final here since 2005. Long thought of as a clay-court specialist, he's really been just as comfortable here. But his uneasiness was apparent today when he found himself down two sets to one to world #100 Lukas Rosol in his second round -- that after eking out the win in a long first-set tiebreak. He'd been in this position before -- he'd gotten down two rounds in a row in 2010 to Robin Haase and Phillipp Petzschner, but eventually won the crown that year -- but something was different this time. Just after Nadal evened the score around nine at night, refs paused play to close the fabled Centre Court roof and turn on the lights. When the match resumed momentum shifted back to the Czech and after a quick fifth set, it was the huge underdog left standing as winner. He'll meet a tricky Philipp Kohlschreiber next -- incidentally, the man who knocked Rafa out at Halle -- but it will certainly be an easier match than what he went through today. And for a man who's only won three matches total at a Slam, he may never have had such an opportunity.

So with all the craziness we've seen the last few days, I feel I have to add one thing to my list of things that have to happen at Wimbledon: someone -- if not everyone -- needs to follow through! We don't even have to look as far ahead as the next Slam, or even the next tournament. Just win one more match! Don't let all the effort put into these upsets exhaust every ounce energy for the next round! It'll clearly be easier for some of these players than others, but their performances so far show that each is capable of great things.

If they can keep the magic going just a few days more, it could change the landscape at the All England Club for a long time.

* Do I say that at some point in every Major?

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