THERE have been Grand Nationals with fewer fallers than we witnessed at Wimbledon yesterday. Whole rugby tours with a lesser number of injuries. Andy Murray didn’t slip up in his second-round match against Yen-Hsun Lu, winning 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 in a relentlessly professional display.
But, by the time the Scot had completed his straight-sets win on Court One, several of the biggest names left in the tournament had tumbled out.
And the biggest casualty of all was to come later as defending champion Roger Federer – a potential semi-final opponent for Murray – was stunned in the evening by Sergiy Stakhovsky.
The Ukrainian ended Federer’s remarkable run of reaching 36 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals or better with a 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, 7-6 (7-5) victory in exactly three hours. It rocked Wimbledon to its core on a day that already seemed surreal after seven players withdrew or retired injured and Russia’s women’s third seed, Maria Sharapova, also stumbled to defeat.
The last time Federer, who has won a record 17 grand slam titles, including seven gilded Challenge Cups, failed to reach at least the last eight was in the 2004 French Open. But, on day three of the championships, an opponent ranked a lowly 116th in the world launched outrageous winners left, right and centre to bring Federer to his knees and condemn the Swiss to his earliest Wimbledon exit since a first-round loss in 2002.
Before play began yesterday, there were whispers that one or two players were struggling with injuries from the first round. They included No 2 seed Victoria Azarenka and Steve Darcis, conqueror of Rafael Nadal. In both cases the rumours were well-founded.
By beating the Spanish former champion, Darcis had become a potential semi-final opponent for Murray and another possible adversary soon joined the now-famous Belgian on the sidelines, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He had been scheduled to meet the Scot in the quarter-finals but retired from his match against Ernests Gulbis of Latvia. Suddenly, the path in Murray’s half of the draw has become a maze and the Scot is now 6-4 second favourite for the title behind Novak Djokovic.
Radek Stepanek, John Isner, Marin Cilic and Yaroslava Shvedova also pulled out. All victims, apparently, of the British weather. Not that there was anything extreme about yesterday, another overcast day with the odd burst of sunshine. But the unusually long winter, with a lack of sunshine has supposedly left Wimbledon’s courts more slippery than usual. Grass is always a more hazardous surface than clay or hardcourts but even after just one full round of play here the lawns have usually dried out. Climate change, it appears, has an impact on every walk of life.
All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis last night said there is “no reason to think” the court surface at Wimbledon was to blame for seven injured players withdrawing from singles events on day three – taking the overall tally to ten, already three shy of the 2008 record for the whole Wimbledon fortnight.
He said: “There has been a high number of withdrawals at The Championships and we sympathise with all the players affected. The withdrawals have occurred for a variety of reasons, but there has been some suggestion that the court surface is to blame.
“We have no reason to think this is the case. Indeed, many players have complimented us on the very good condition of the courts. The court preparation has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years and it is well known that grass surfaces tend to be more lush at the start of an event. The factual evidence, which is independently checked, is that the courts are almost identical to last year, as dry and firm as they should be, and we expect them to continue to play to their usual high quality.”
Fortunately, Murray, who was prone to the odd painful slip earlier in his career, looked particularly surefooted yesterday, both physically and metaphorically. Lu, the 29-year-old from Taipei who defeated the world No 2 at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, had no answer to his opponent’s accuracy and power.
The Scot completed his win in just over two hours, and now goes through to a third-round meeting with Tommy Robredo. The Spaniard beat France’s Nicolas Mahut just minutes before the No 2 seed sealed his own place in the last 32.
After Federer’s exit, Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic summed up the day of incredible drama, telling BBC Radio 5 live: “I’ve never remembered a day like this at Wimbledon before.”
THIRD DAY FALLERS
Jo Wilfried-Tsonga (retired)
Roger Federer (lost)
Steve Darcis (withdrew)
John Isner (retired)
Marin Cilic (withdrew)
Radek Stepanek (retired)
Lleyton Hewitt (lost)
Victoria Azerenka (withdrew)
Maria Sharapova (lost)
Caroline Wozniacki (lost)
Ana Ivanovic (lost)
Yaroslava Shvedova (withdrew)