By Jane Voigt
Remember last year’s wacky Wednesday at Wimbledon? Seven players skidded out the iron gates that day. One was Roger Federer. He lost to Sergiy Stakhovsky, a slightly built Ukrainian ranked outside the top 100. Federer had not exited a major that early in 10 years.
Sergiy did it again, today. Not to the likes of the Roger Federer. This day, Ernest Gulbis (No. 12 seed) felt the sting of Sergiy’s serve-and-volley game. The match was over in three sets, 64 63 76(5).
After his 2013 magical moment, as Stakhovsky termed his win, he spent some five hours traveling the press maze. Everyone wanted time with the guy who upset the 7-time Wimbledon champion. Sergiy did his due diligence, enjoying the time in the spotlight. However, the light went out in the next round. He lost to Jurgen Melzer, a lefty from Austria.
This year, Stakhovsky told the press he’s smarter. “I learned from my mistakes from last year … what I did wrong. Hopefully [it] will be better.”
That’s the short version. The long version, like the big question for this family man ranked No. 90 in the world is … why Wimbledon. What overtakes him at The Championships that evokes brilliant grass-court tennis?
“The surface is fast,” Stakhovsky told the press, reported Wimbledon. “It’s no bounce. It’s speedy. It’s exactly what I need. So pretty much I have the chance of finishing that volley if I have it.”
Yet there’s something else.
Federer has always professed his love for this Grand Slam. He won as a junior. And here is where he won his first-ever slam. Federer’s game was, and may still be, suited to fast grass as described by Stakhovsky. However, Stakhovsky has a pretty dismal record since turning pro in 2003.
He’s never made it past the 3rd round of any major. His highest ranking was in September, 2010, at 31. Since then … all downhill. He has four ATP titles to his resume, one on grass and the others on indoor hard courts, which can be fast. On the up side, he’s won 72% of points on his first serve and a medium-well-done 47% of points on his second serve.
His record for 2014 can be painted in shades of gray, losing in qualifications, in the first and second rounds of Masters 1000 events and early on in Challenger Tournaments. Yet, he reached the semifinals in Sydney this January, an ATP 250 level tournament, losing to Bernard Tomic.
So, here’s some conjecture. Stakhovsky loves old-time tennis and no where is that style more suited than The Championships. He feels the grass, the slice. He comes in as much as he can, and keeps opponent’s from finding their rhythm. This is how he beat Federer and Gulbis.
Gulbis, we should note, played poorly. He couldn’t find his first serve, which is essential on grass. His backhand, which is normally one of the top three in the world, failed. He had something like 14 unforced errors off that side. And, he didn’t move his feet.
Although only three days have passed in the fortnight, the back of the courts are getting chewed up. Bad bounces are cropping up. Off to the sides, the grass remains slippery. Gulbis couldn’t keep his game straight. He was out of his element, quite lost. He will survive. He now knows the Stakhovsky effect.
This win was Sergiy’s second top-20 win. Federer was his only top ten win. If the Ukrainian’s idol, Patrick Rafter, could see him now he’d be proud, which is what drives Sergiy … the style of his game. Outdated, yes. Risky, yes. Nice to watch, most definitely.
It’s also smart. Gulbis represented the heavy baseline bashers today. As Stakhovsky pressed and his comfort level rose, the end of the story was inevitable for Gulbis. No cards up his sleeves.
Stakhovsky thinks Wimbledon is a special place. It’s the site of his biggest headlines, first Federer and now Gulbis. As he said last year, when asked what he’d tell his grandchildren about Wimbledon, he laughed and said, I’d tell them “I kicked the butt of Roger Federer.”
Mr. Stakhovsky is set to play Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. He came through a tough 5-set battle against Marinko Matosevic today. If Sergiy wins that round and continues into week two, Tomas Berdych (No. 6) will probably be waiting. It always gets tougher. However with his constant, offense serve-and-volley game, any challenger will have to adjust.
Highlights from around The Grounds
- David Ferrer (No. 7) lost in five sets to young Russian, Andrey Kuznetsov, ranked No. 114 in the world. The loss snaps Ferrer’s streak of 10-consecutive appearances in slam quarterfinals.
- Alexandr Dolgopolov served up 42 aces and one double fault in his win over Benjamin Becker, 67(4) 76(6) 63 64. That’s 10.5 games won just on serves.
- Venus Williams (No. 30) scored her 73rd match win at Wimbledon, defeating Kurumi Nara, 76(4) 61.
- Britain’s Jamie Delgado, 37, played in his 32nd consecutive Wimbledon today. He’s entered in men’s doubles and paired with Gilles Muller.