On the opening day of Wimbledon 2013, only one men’s match went the distance—Julien Reister’s three-and-a-half hour, 6-4 in-the-fifth win over. . . Lukas Rosol. But ironically, the seismic news of the day was generated by the man who made Rosol a household name at about this same time last year, Rafael Nadal.
Rosol upset Nadal in the second round, but this year Rafa didn’t even make it that far. As everyone knows by now, Nadal—the No. 5 seed—was bounced out of Wimbledon in straight sets by the 29-year-old, No. 135-ranked Belgian journeyman, Steve Darcis. So let’s take a look at the first day of The Championships in the player’s own words.
No Kneed for Excuses: Refusing to claim injury—Nadal’s chronically hurt left knee seemed to fail him as the match with Darcis wore on—Rafa gave all credit to Darcis for the win, and he was philosophical about the loss:
“Life continues, that’s all. I say before, is not a dramatic thing. That’s the sport. That’s the game at the end. Two weeks ago (at Roland Garros) I was in a fantastic situation, winning a fantastic tournament. Two weeks later I lost here in the first round. That’s the positive and the negative thing about this sport. Is tough losing in the first round. But, as I said before, the tour continues, life continues, and this is a sport of victories. It’s not a sport of losses. Nobody remembers the losses. People remember the victories. And I don’t want to remember that loss.”
Fear of Falling: The big upset on the women’s side of the ledger was Monica Puig’s win over No. 5 seed and former French Open finalist Sara Errani—the same player who was on the losing end of Yaroslava Shvedova’s “golden set” last year. Bemoaning her discomfort at Wimbledon, the Italian clay specialist said:
“It’s very tough for me here. I’m afraid to fell on the floor and make me injury. So it’s fighting yourself, running and running. I cannot move, so that is my problem. Maybe one day I will not be afraid anymore, but it’s difficult.”
Never Toe the Party Line! Lleyton Hewitt had no shortage of advisers, including cream-of-the-crop surgeons and foot specialists, telling him that if he opted for radical surgery on his left toe his career would be finished. But he still figured that after two years of unrelenting pain, the risk of the surgery that ultimately left him with two screws and a metal plate holding his toe immobile was worth it. Today, playing pain free, the 32-year-old former Wimbledon champ and quintessential “Aussie battler”—now the ATP No. 82—upset No. 11 seed Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets.
“Well, nearly everyone (said my career would be over). I think there were two surgeons, the guy who ended up doing it and one other guy. There were probably five, six, seven that I spoke to worldwide. They said if I had it done, ‘you’re done.’ In all my research beforehand, which was very extensive, I never found another athlete that had it done, or had it done, and tried to come back and play any kind of sport. So, yeah, it’s something I’m pretty proud of.”
This Time, You Can’t Call It Gamesmanship: No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka experienced a serious scare (and we don’t yet know how it will affect her going forward) when her knee gave out while she was leading Maria Joao Koehler, 6-1, 1-0. She screamed as her leg gave way under her, fell to the turf, and then used up all three of her medical time-outs in one fell swoop to determine the severity of the injury and mitigate it with strapping. But she soldiered on and managed to hobble to the easy win, 6-1, 6-2. She said later:
“I was so concerned for myself. As I said, it was beyond what can happen on a tennis court (?). . . At that moment, it’s so shocking because you have no ground (under you). You basically just fall. You know, your legs go one way, and there is no balance or nothing. Nothing I could control in that moment, and that’s scary.”
Different Tournament, Same S**t: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seeded No. 6, looked good in his straight-sets win over David Goffin. But when someone suggested that he’s in the most difficult portion of the draw, Tsonga was blasé. He replied:
“Yeah, I mean, it’s tough. It’s maybe a bit tougher for Rafa (PB: not anymore), or for Roger, or maybe for Andy (PB: all of whom are stacked up on the same side), but for me it’s always the same. I have to play one of the best players in quarterfinal anyway. So for me, it’s like usual.”
Got the Pain, Got the Gain: Jamie Hampton bounced back from a good run but a dispiriting loss to Jelena Jankovic in the fourth round of the French Open to win seven matches in Eastbourne before she sputtered in the final against Elena Vesnina on Sunday. The streak helped Hampton cut her ranking by about two-thirds in just a few weeks to No. 25.
That Eastbourne run also incorporated one more match than it would take to win Wimbledon (for a direct acceptance player), where a tired Hampton fell to her resurgent American countrywoman Sloane Stephens. Hampton admitted that she wasn’t accustomed to the work load—or such a demanding schedule:
“I didn’t have too much time to prepare for this tournament. I played in Eastbourne, but came here and the court is a little bit different. Didn’t have too much time to recover. I think it was more important for my body, more than anything, to show that I can play eight matches in a row. Granted, I’m not feeling great right now. Yeah, would I have taken it? I don’t know. You always want to show up for the slams and do well at the slams.”
“One problem is he gets everything back; another problem is that he returns every serve. You have to hit the lines almost to get the serve by him, no matter how fast it is. He makes you play a lot. He likes to play with angles, and it makes it tough on you. You over-hit sometimes and you know you’re going to do it, it’s just how many times.”
Romance, Fine; Marriage, No Way! No, this is not about Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov. Colorful, verbal, dancing fool Andrea Petkovic is still trying to recover from injuries that hit her hard not long after she cracked the WTA Top 10. Today, the world No. 76 won her first round over Pauline Parmentier, and spoke frankly about her “relationship” with grass-court tennis:
“Well, it awkwardly has to do with the head a lot. Normally when I went into the grass season I was already pissed before I hit one ball. This time I was just in this whole mood of gratefulness for my second-chance career. I was just like, Okay, you’re just going to go for the grass and love it and try to start a romance with it. It if it didn’t want you, you’re going to force it to love back. So I’m just enjoying myself really. It’s never going to be my favorite surface, but as I said, I’m working at least on a romance.”
Hardcore: Although Roger Federer had a laugher on Monday—he won in barely an hour over Victor Hanescu, giving up just five games—he delivered one of the great all-time lines when downplayed the ease with which he won and growled,
“I pack my bag for five sets every single time. . .”
Working Girl: Maria Sharapova wouldn’t rise to the bait pitched her way following her tough win over Kristina Mladenovic on Centre Court, declining to fire another shot in her battle of the barbs with Serena Williams. She said,
“You know, honestly, I’ve said everything that I wanted to say about the issue (Serena’s relationship with her coach and alleged paramour, Patrick Mouratoglou). You know, Wimbledon has started. This is my work. This is my job. I’d really appreciate it if we move on.”
Swimming With the Sharks: Following his stunning upset of Nadal, Steve Darcis revealed that his nickname is “Shark”—because he has one tattooed on his shoulder. A fascinated reporter asked Darcis if he’s ever gotten into water with sharks, to which he replied:
“When I was young I did a lot of—I don’t know how you say in English—work on the sharks. So I know a lot from them. But I never swim with them, in the cage.”
Not until today, at any rate. . . and he lived to tell the tale.