June 29, 2021

A Curse on the Big Courts

It's been two years since we last saw play at Wimbledon, and it seems like the goblins that lurk in the shadows of Wimbledon took it upon themselves to dole out punishments for that absense. In the first 48 hours of this year's event, we've already seen plenty of favorites get quite literally tripped up on the grass, some squeaking by the seat of their pants, and others not so lucky at all.

The big shocker, of course, came late today when seven-time champion Serena Williams was forced to retire in the seventh game of her first round match. She was playing well to start, but on a Centre Court that had already caused more slips and slides than we'd ever seen, she seemed to twist her knee while up an early break and never recovered. Though she returned from a medical time out, she was in tears trying to serve out her game and could barely move to the ball when returning. Within minutes she was at the net, ceding the win to world #100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Serena's exit means more than just another seed out of the Championships. While she may have only be seeded sixth, she was widely considered a favorite for the title. She had, after all, made at least the final here on her last four appearances, and with 98 match wins here, more than any woman other than Martina Navratilova, it seems clear she would add at least a little bit to her total. But instead she notched only her second first round loss at a Major and her first Slam retirement since 1998. And, of course, her four year pursuit of that record 24th Big Title will continue at least a few more months. Did she just lose her best chance to get it? Well, it's probably too soon to say that, but you know chances are getting ever more remote these days.

As are the chances of Roger Federer, who survived his own set of trolls one match earlier on Centre Court. The eight-time champion was not playing his best against Adrian Mannarino in his opening round, getting out-served in the second and third set and finding himself in a deep hole early. But the Frenchman, who had only taken one set off the legend in their previous six meetings, also lost his footing deep in the fourth. He watched a couple balls whiz past him before retiring himself after losing the set, allowing Roger to book his ticket for the eighteenth straight time.

But the fact that he was tested suggests it's going to be a long road for the GOAT 🐐 contender to make it back to the final. Like Serena, he had good odds to win this title, but at a month away from 40, the window of opportunity to pick up Major #21 is closing quick. After a career where he saw thankfully few injuries for so long, he took more than a year off after losing in Australia in 2020 and hasn't been quite the force he traditionally was since his return. Hopefully, though, he'll be able to shake off the demons that plagued him in round one and make use of the opportunity that was given him.

Of course, for every favorite that was challenged, we have an underdog who got an opportunity. One-time U.S. Open champ Sloane Stephens, who's been mounting a nice comeback this summer, stunned two-time titleholder Petra Kvitova in straight sets on Monday. Andy Murray, playing at his first Wimbledon since 2017, shook off a seven-game losing streak in the third set to get the win over 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. And Frances Tiafoe dealt a massive blow to French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets, his first win over a top five player ever.

But there's a lot of play left to go at Wimbledon, and there's no telling who the gremlins will go after next. But hopefully they've got the worst out of their system, and we'll be in store for only good surprises from now on.

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