BACKSPIN REPOST: "The Day the Earth Stood Still...and The Radwanska Roared" (2013)
Lurking in the dark corners of the All-England Club, waiting to strike with the utmost force, The Radwanska consumed Wimbledon in 2013. The ongoing battle claimed far too many innocent victims to count over the fortnight, including the likes of former SW19 champions Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams both before and after the carnage reached its peak. With the battle secretly raging well after the dust had seemingly settled on the lawns, even the Pole for which the malevolent entity was named was included as the final entry on Its list of unfortunate victims.
Evil makes no exceptions.
It was three days into Wimbledon in 2013, on June 26, exactly two years ago today, that The Rad decisively struck at the heart of London SW19 and "The Radwanskian Massacre" entered the Backspin lexicon for as long as we all draw breath.
Thus, Backspin once again commemorates the seven former #1-ranked players who fell on that day. May their sacrifice not be forgotten, nor go for naught. Long live The Cause. Today, yesterday and forever.
"The Day the Earth Stood Still...and The Radwanska Roared" - originally posted on June 26, 2013
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…?
All for now.