W.3- The Day the Earth Stood Still... and The Radwanska Roared
Oh. My. Gods.
"It's a very black day. It's difficult to say what the explanation is." - Marin Cilic
Well, some of us know.
On the craziest day in the one hundred and twenty seven year history of Wimbledon, and likely at ANY grand slam EVER, Black Wednesday in London saw seven former #1-ranked players fail to advance out of the 2nd Round, and amidst myriad slips, stumbles and falls (either earlier in the tournament or today) four players awarded walkovers to their opponents, while three more retired mid-match (four if you count doubles). Six Top 10 seeds saw their Wimbledons unceremoniously come to a close, one unbelievable record came to an end... and if you close your eyes and listen closely, you can hear a certain alter ego's evil chuckle wafting over the grounds of the All-England Club, as It closes Its eyes and marvels at the immeasurable havoc capable of an invisible hand.
Curse you, Radwanska! Will you not rest until you have bent us all to your malevolent will?
It didn't take long for The Rad's dastardly intentions for Day 3 to become immediately clear. Within the first ninety minutes of play, two walkovers and two retirements had already occurred. And the carnage wouldn't end -- with the loudest crash of them all coming last -- until the final hours of daylight in southwest London. Caught up in the first wave of evil? None other than Victoria Azarenka, who'd steadfastly avoided the tabloid trap that snared Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova before the start of the tournament, only to fall to the ground on Court 1 on Day 1, injuring her knee and bringing into question her viability for the next two weeks. After "good news" from an MRI yesterday, the injury forced her withdrawal from Wimbledon today. Also out? Cilic, Yaroslava Shvedova and Steve Darcis, the male Waffle behind the first blow-by-proxy delivered by The Rad at this slam, the 1st Round upset of two-time champ Rafael Nadal. A fall during the match with Rafa injured his shoulder, precluding his further participation.
"I don't know if it's the courts or the weather. I can't figure it out." - Azarenka
Early on, the finger was on the slippery grass courts of the All-England Club for all the upheaval and injury. The Club even went so far as to issue a statement. It read: "The courts are routinely inspected. There have been no changes in the preparation or the courts and as far as we are aware the grass court surfaces are in excellent condition."
Of course, we all know it wasn't the courts. While slippery, they are but a simple tool employed by The Radwanska as It seeks to instill fear and dread in Its enemies, leaving them helpless husks of human flesh in Its wake, begging for mercy and gasping for air. But The Rad paid no mind to the early buzz. It simply went on Its rampage, lashing out at anything within reach. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired. So did Radek Stepank, and John Isner, too. Former #1's Lleyton Hewitt, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic joined Vika on the sidelines with upset losses. As did ex-#1 Caroline Wozniacki, supposedly a great friend of Aga & Ula Radwanska. The Dane fell and injured her ankle and was swiftly shipped out in straight sets, proving that the anger generated by A-Rad's “pool of death-by-Williams” postion in the same half of the draw as Serena means ANYONE is fair game.
Friendship means nothing to The Rad. Fear, power and bitterness rule the day. But so do long-time grudges. Hence what happened next.
Earlier in the day, '04 champion Maria Sharapova slipped and fell on the grass during a practice session. Likely, The Radwanska snickered at Its clever foreshadowing of what was to come. During the Russian's 2nd Round match with Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito on Court 2, Sharapova fell multiple times, injuring her hips and legs, and once doing a split on the baseline very similar to the one that injured Azarenka two days ago. Maria complained to the chair umpire about the surface being "dangerous," and left the court for medical treatment. But none of it mattered. Her fate had already been sealed in a dark, musty corner of The Radwanska‘s mind.
But maybe Sharapova's biggest foe wasn't the grass court, or even The Rad, though. No, it was the firebrand that was Larcher de Brito, the 20-year old who finally pulled off the "big league" victory on a major stage that her precocious talent seemed to insist could be possible a fear years ago, well before she'd even celebrated her sweet sixteenth birthday (as far back in this space as 2007, when she was winning junior titles and looking like a future star in World Team Tennis events). Sharapova's falls planted seeds of fear in her head (giving The Rad even more power, you'll remember) that manifested themselves with every step she took, noticeably making her tentative in her footwork and shots, and sapping most of the ever-present confidence that has always made no lead safe for an opponent over the years.
Larcher de Brito, saddled with a #131 ranking that has forced her into many qualifying attempts, hadn't won a main draw tour match since July before this week, but she surely looked like a star dying for an opportunity to shine on Day 3. In fact, she reminded me of a 16-year old Jelena Dokic when the Aussie dispatched Martina Hingis in the 1st Round of Wimbledon in 1999. Like the young Dokic, Larcher de Brito is a hard-driving player prone to fist-pumping emotion, and today she showed a seeming immunity to the pressure of the situation her hard shots and aggression had suddenly put her in against one of the best players in the game. As Sharapova's (usually rare) frustration showed on her face as her errors piled up, her opponent refused to bend. Larcher de Brito often jumped on Sharapova's first and second serves, then didn't blink when she had every opportunity to do so late in the 2nd set when the Russian carved out several break point chances that could have led to a 3rd set showdown.
Up 4-3, Larcher de Brito lost an 18-stroke rally that gave Sharapova a break point, but a Sharapova error spared her one point later and LDB held for 5-3. But that wasn't her final test. In fact, there were many. Serving for the match at 5-4, she entered a tenth game tussle with Sharapova that set the Russian back on her heels. She just couldn't make the 20-year old wilt. After saving two match points, Sharapova got to break point as the sound emanating from Court 2 during rallies could have rightly been attributed to the sounds of intense torture tactics taking place in the depths of Radwanska Abbey as much as two fierce competitors unwilling to simply give in to each other. Sharapova saved match point #3, and then #4. After sailing a ball long to give Sharapova another break point, Larcher de Brito smacked the ball into the ground with her racket, showing the only sign of frustration that she'd allow to the outside world during the match. But the Portuguese player calmed herself and saved it, then got to match point #5. After Sharapova netted a forehand, her Wimbledon was over. Larcher de Brito had won 6-3/6-4.
And The Radwanska smiled. But It wasn't finished. Its masterpiece was saved for last.
First, The Rad messed with seven-time champ Roger Federer's mind, as the All-England Club issued the order that he couldn't wear the orange-soled Nike shoes he sported in the 1st Round. Of course, that was merely a distraction. A joke that made The Rad smile to Itself as It prepared to view the best example of Its handywork yet.
Federer won a tie-break to close the 1st set against #116-ranked Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, 0-20 in his career against Top 10 players. The match remained tight throughout, but it wasn't the Swiss man who would find a way to win the big points on this day. Federer lost a 2nd set tie-break, then a 7-5 3rd set. As Stakhovsky's serve failed to crumble, Federer still had a shot to push things to a 5th set, having a set point and volley on his racket to knot the match. But he failed to convert and, once again, The Rad got the last laugh.
Stakhovsky defeated possibly The Greatest of All-Time on his best surface, on his most-favored place of battle, Centre Court, 6-7/7-6/7-5/7-6. The loss ends Federer's record streak of thirty-six straight grand slam quarterfinals, giving him his worst slam result since a 1st Round loss at Roland Garros in 2003. The last time he lost to a player ranked outside the Top 100 was in 2005 (Richard Gasquet), and he's the first defending Gentlemen's champ to lose this early at Wimbledon since Lleyton Hewitt a decade ago.
As the sun set, all anyone could do was stare blankly at the battlefield, littered with victims of the alter ego's wrath, with a look of resignation on their collective face. Who knew the 2012 Wimbledon was just a warm-up for The Rad? And, now, is there anyone NOT named Serena who might be able to save us from what could come next?
But what if Serena's pre-event controversy means that The Radwanska has already poisoned Williams' chances at this slam, too? Wh-What... what if…?
=DAY 3 NOTES=
...hmmm, I guess it wasn't a good day for The Cause, was it? With all the "horrific" happenings that have occurred in just three days of this Wimbledon, I think we need a dash of hope that the end is not necessarily nigh, right? Thankfully, the middle Sunday IS coming up... and even in the darkness that will be on display in this space in four short -- or would it be "long?" -- days, Monday will not arrive without some hope for The Cause having been provided here.
...spared in the calamity of Day 3 was one Petra Kvitova, given the walkover by Shvedova, a potentially dangerous opponent that might have made this day even crazier than it was. Suddenly, Kvitova stands as the most "accomplished" player in the bottom half of the women's draw. Of course, Kvitova's possible new "special friend" Stepanek was injured and retired from HIS match, so one has to wonder if this was a shot across the '11 champion's bow, courtesy of The Rad. If so, what might It have in store for Petra?
I know only this... be afraid.
...hard as it is to believe, there WERE a few matches on Day 3 that didn't have any Radwanskian undertones. For one, the non-Bannerette North American/Atlantic surge continued as both Monica Puig (PUR) and Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) advanced to the 3rd Round. Puig took out Silvia Soler-Espinosa, while Bouchard, whose "Zombie Queen" cred was established in the 1st Round when Galina Voskoboeva served against her for a straight sets victory, was the player who ended AnaIvo's short run.
Two Czech qualifiers -- Eva Birnerova and Petra Cetkovska -- advanced, as "The Other Petra" defeated the stumbling (literally) Wozniacki 6-2/6-2, while Andrea Petkovic's wild card run ended at the hands of Sloane Stephens, who (for once) refused to get involved in any more drama than absolutely necessary as she won 7-6/2-6/8-6. Although, being Current Sloane, Stephens did have to scramble late after failing to serve out the match at 5-3 in the 3rd.
Meanwhile, there IS a former Wimbledon finalist flying way under the radar in the women's draw -- Marion Bartoli. La Trufflette defeated Christina McHale and is now one win away from possibly facing Larcher de Brito in a Round of 16 contest. That would surely be a fiery one, no matter who'd win!
...Speaking of Larcher de Brito, the no-longer-a-teenager who has been on the radar (often for her on-court noise, but also for her exciting brand of tennis) since she was 14, even if Chris Evert admitted today she'd never heard of her. Her upset today of Sharapova gets her -- at maybe the earliest juncture that it's ever been awarded at a slam -- the "It" honors for this Wimbledon. "It (Upstart)" is how it'll be labeled.
So many things are happening at this slam, it's hard to keep up with the awards as the ground constantly shifts. If I hadn't already given the "Crash & Burn" to Nadia Petrova, Sharapova surely could have "won" it for the third time at the last six Wimbledons. Although, really, Petrova's woeful singles performances at ALL the slams this season sort of made her overdue for the dishonorable mention, so I still think that one's legit. After overloading Caro with "Crash & Burn" lumps of coal, I was bound-and-honored to "spread the wealth" this fortnight. As it turned out, C-Woz just missed being a contender again, too!
...now, let's see, the bottom half of the men's draw has #2-seeded Andy Murray and, umm, who else? Well, there are eight unseeded men populating the other fifteen spots, along with a qualifier, five men seeded #20-32 and #15 Nicolas Almagro, the only other player other than the Scot with a chance to live up his seeding.
Ha! Remember when all the upset was about whether Nadal should have been seeded #4?
Even crazier, one of the men's semifinalists will either be named Kubot, Paire, Mannarino, Brown, Almagro, Janowicz, Melzer or Stakhovsky. If not Murray, one of those men will play another named Gulbis, Verdasco, Monaco, de Schepper, Troicki, Youzhny or Robredo for a spot in the final. If anyone picked any one of those combinations before the tournament they should quickly go enter every lottery they can before they cool off.
Seriously, if Murray doesn't at least reach the final now then it will be the biggest choke in the history of this tournament. I bet Jana Novotna never thought THAT was possible.
Radwanska, you devil.
...of course, in the end, we still could end up with the finals we maybe deserve, and many of us may want -- Serena vs. Kvitova, and Djokovic vs. Murray. But, then again, I guess that's subject to change... or the whim of a certain dastardly alter ego dead set on a path of destruction.
...LIKE FROM DAY 3:
-- Dustin Brown's big white hat (to cover his dreads) and Bob Marley t-shirt during his interview on the ESPN set after his win over Hewitt. Speaking of the qualifier Brown, who plays for Germany after once representing Jamaica (and briefly considering playing for Great Britain, as one pair of grandparents are British), how great would it be for him to bring a little excitement to the quarterfinals, or (yikes!) even the semifinals?
Hmmm... a Murray vs. Brown semi? If we get something like that we might just have to send The Rad some candy as a "thank you" gift. Mabye It'll become addicted -- Britain's National Obesity Forum says it's a possibility -- and quickly become lethargic and a little less proactively evil. Hmmm, I wonder if Maria has some extra Sugarpova handy?
...QUESTION FROM DAY 3:
-- so, I'm guessing there are no melons to be found in London or any other city for quite a long distance away, right? Could that be good news? Or does The Rad have Its own select source of produce to practice with?
...WARNING FOR DAY 4:
-- watch your back, Serena. And Novak, too.
...and, finally, ESPN is now running ads for the latest edition of the "30 for 30" documentary series. It's called "Venus vs." and appears to focus on Williams' successful drive to attain prize money equality at the grand slams. It premieres next Tuesday.
*WIMBLEDON "IT" WINNERS*
2006 Li Na, CHN
2007 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2008 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2009 Sabine Lisicki, GER
2010 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2011 Sabine Lisicki, GER
2012 [Alter Ego] "The Radwanska"
2013 [Upstart] Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
*GIRLS/WOMEN'S WIMBLEDON CHAMPS - OPEN ERA*
Martina Hingis (1994 Jr. Champion; 1997 Ladies Champion)
Amelie Mauresmo (1996 Jr. Champion; 2006 Ladies Champion)
[other results of note]
Martina Navratilova (1973 Jr. runner-up; 9-time Ladies Champion)
Hana Mandlikova (1978 Jr. runner-up; 1981 & '86 Ladies runner-up)
Zina Garrison (1981 Jr., Champion; 1990 Ladies runner-up)
Maria Sharapova (2002 Jr. runner-up; 2004 Ladies Champion)
Agnieszka Radwanska (2005 Jr. Champion; 2012 Ladies runner-up)
**LOW-SEEDED WIMBLEDON SEMIFINALISTS - Open Era**
unseeded - Ann Jones, 1968
unseeded - Rosie Casals, 1969
unseeded - Francoise Durr, 1970
unseeded - Judy Dalton, 1971
unseeded - Yvonne Vermaak, 1983
unseeded - Catarina Lindqvist, 1989
unseeded - Gigi Fernandez, 1994
unseeded - Lori McNeil, 1994
unseeded - Meredith McGrath, 1996
unseeded - Anna Kournikova, 1997
unseeded - Natasha Zvereva, 1998
qualifier - Alexandra Stevenson, 1999
unseeded - Mirjana Lucic, 1999
unseeded - Jelena Dokic, 2000
wild card - Zheng Jie, 2008
unseeded - Petra Kvitova, 2010
unseeded - Tsvetana Pironkova, 2010
wild card - Sabine Lisicki, 2011
#23 - Venus Williams, 2007 (W)
#21 - Vera Zvonareva, 2010 (RU)
#18 - Marion Bartoli, 2007 (RU)
#16 - Nathalie Tauziat, 1998 (RU)
#16 - Kathy Rinaldi, 1985
#14 - Venus Williams, 2005 (W)
#13 - Maria Sharapova, 2004 (W)
#12 - Billie Jean King, 1982
#12 - Kimiko Date, 1996
#11 - Bettina Bunge, 1982
#10 - Billie Jean King, 1983
#10 - Gabriela Sabatini, 1986
**FIRST-TIME SLAM CHAMPS AT WIMBLEDON**
1968 Billie Jean King, USA
1978 Martina Navratilova, TCH (CZE)
1994 Conchita Martinez, ESP
1998 Jana Novotna, CZE
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
TOP QUALIFIER: Petra Cetkovska/CZE
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: #11q Mariana Duque-Marino/COL d. An-Sophie Mestach/BEL 6-7/6-3/8-6
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
TOP UNDER-THE-ROOF MATCH: xx
FIRST WINNER: Lesia Tsurenko/UKR (def. Arruabarrena-Vecino/ESP)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Sara Errani/ITA (lost to Puig/1st Rd.)
UPSET QUEENS: Czech Republic
REVELATION LADIES: xx
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Great Britain (1-6 in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins (w/ 2nd): Birnerova/CZE(W), Cetkovska/CZE(W), Duque-Marino/COL, Garcia/FRA, Larcher de Brito/POR(W), Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: 1st Rd. wins (w/ 2nd): Petkovic/GER(L), Riske/USA
LAST BRIT STANDING: Laura Robson/GBR (in 2nd Rd.)
IT ("Upstart"): Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR (def. #3 Sharapova/2nd Rd.)
COMEBACK PLAYER: xx
CRASH & BURN: #13 Nadia Petrova/RUS (1st Rd./Ka.Pliskova; third straight 1st Round slam loss)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: E.Bouchard down 7-5/5-4 w/ Voskoboeva serving in 1st Rd.
DOUBLES STAR xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 3. More tomorrow. I hope.