A Clearing at Wimbledon

June 26, 2013 -- Wimbledon has been anything but tranquil. The serene atmosphere and breathtaking beauty were marred first by bickering between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, and today by the exits of seven players due to injury. But nothing equaled the loss of Roger Federer early this evening in round two of his favorite Slam.

For the first time since 2003, the 7-time champion will not equal or break his 36-consecutive quarterfinal match record at a Major. He will not play in week two. He will not win his 8th Wimbledon title on his tenth anniversary of his initial Wimbledon title.

Talk will move from shock, to disappointment, to sadness, and finally to the inevitable doubt of Federer's ability to play his brand of dominant top-tier tennis. He will be 32 in August. 

It was at the deft hands of Sergio Stakhovsky that the mighty Federer fell. The slightly built Ukrainian deserves heaps of congratulations, too. He turned back the clock, playing a strict serve-and-volley strategy that worked beautifully from set one through the tiebreak in set four. He won 67(5) 76(5) 75 76(5). 

"I'm in disbelief," Stakhovsky told the BBC. "I playing my best but almost not enough to beat Roger Federer." Match statistics prove him correct.

Roger did not wait for his friend at the net (both are on the ATP Player Council). He did not sign autographs as he passed the lower levels of Centre Court. With his head down, he waved and ducked in the building that houses the gentlemen's locker room … a refuge from what probably is the second biggest blow to his long career, the first coming at Wimbledon in 2008 when Rafael Nadal, on his third attempt, wrested the title from Federer's hands under darkening skies in five hard-fought sets. 

Robert Federer, Roger's father, stood proudly in the player's box after his son had vanished, applauding Stakhovsky. With a modest smile, perhaps father Federer sensed an awakening. At least we know where Roger gets a portion of his class. 

"Right now this is a setback," Federer said at his press conference. "Good to leave court quicker and not have to go through trophy ceremony. That's one nice thing about today. Other than that, disappointed."

Stakhovsky had never scored a win over a top-ten player in 20 attempts. That he chose Centre Court at Wimbledon to show the world his flawless style was definitely more fluke than theatre, although he sticks to this game plan regularly. But to have executed it against one of the greatest grass court players of all time was miraculous. Stakhovsky called it, 'magic.'

"Every point I played well," he told the BBC. "I couldn't play any better."

All Stakhovsky wanted to do was stay close to Federer, during the match. In the fourth set the No. 116-ranked Ukrainian wobbled and lost a break of serve. But Federer's stray backhand down-the-line shot on match point sealed the victory. 

"Very disappointing that I was not able to find a way to win. I had chances," Roger said as tweeted the Shanghai Rolex Masters.

The news of Federer's loss put a sour dollop of whipped cream on the day. Although his departure was top news, other seeds fell until only three former Wimbledon champions remained in the draws: Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, and Petra Kvitova. 

Third-seeded Maria Sharapova was upset by Qualifier Michelle Larcher de Britto, who is ranked No. 131. The scoreline was 63 64. Sharapova fell 4 times near the baseline. She yelled at Chair-umpire Alison Lang, "This court is dangerous." This is Sharapova's earliest exit since 2009 when she also lost in round two. Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, her first Major, by defeating Serena Williams. 

Caroline Wozniacki, No. 9 seed, lost to another qualifier Petra Cetkovska, 62 62. Caroline fell in the backcourt, too. 

Former Wimbledon Gentlemen's champ, Lleyton Hewitt, lost to Qualifier Dustin Brown, 64 64 67(3) 62. Brown, easily recognized by his dredlocks, served-and-volleyed his way to his most important win. As he left court he covered his eyes with a towel. Tears had begun to flow as he waved to fans in thanks for their support. Brown in ranked No. 189.

Serbians Jelena Jankovic and Anna Ivanovic, both former number ones, were added to the list of early casualties. Jankovic lost to an up-coming compatriot, Vesna Dolonc. This is her fourth Wimbledon. She never passed the first round in three previous appearances, and is ranked No. 97. Nineteen-year-old Canadian, Eugenie Bouchard, toppled Ivanovic in only her second appearance at a Slam.

Yaroslava Shvedova also withdrew with a right shoulder injury.

On the men's side, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga retired with a knee injury against Ernests Gulbis. John Isner, the last American standing, came down wrong on his left leg after playing two games; he left. Marin Cilic withdrew with a knee problem. And, Radek Stepanek called it a day against Jerzey Janowicz in the second set.

Rafael Nadal's slayer, Steve Darcis, withdrew, too, with a shoulder injury that started to hurt in the first set on Monday. "So much pain, I couldn't sleep," Darcis told the press. 

Darcis' announcement came on the heels of Victoria Azarenka's statement. The No. 3 seed tumbled on the slick grass Monday in her opening round match. "We tried to do everything possible, but it was just a very significant fall. To recover in two days that seem impossible." 

Azarenka later blamed The All England Club for the poor court conditions. It responded by saying, "We have no reason to believe this is the case."

Serena Williams coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, tweeted, "I don't think the quality of the grass is responsible for the injuries, but more the fact that players are not used to play on the grass."

With two weeks between Roland Garros and Wimbledon the notion that players 'are not used to play on grass' seems a touch distasteful. Yet, he could be right. Two weeks to transition from red clay to grass is a blink of an eye. In 2016, the two Slams will be spaced three weeks apart, which seems like too little too late but a start. 

The draining of the draw, multiple injuries and withdrawals, and the slippery-court controversy have made this Wimbledon a standout. Perhaps for the wrong reasons, but nonetheless a standout. On the bottom half of the men's and women's singles draws over half the seeds have gone. And, it's day three of the tournament. 

Venerable tennis icon, Nick Bollettieri summed the day's incidents perfectly when he tweeted, "This is the craziest day of tennis I have ever seen. And I have been doing this for sixty years."

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013