The grass court resembled a slippery slope throughout a wild Wednesday of upsets, but Sergiy Stakhovsky stormed the net with the calm confidence of a man sprinting downhill to reach his destination.
On a topsy-turvy day where seven former world No. 1s fell victim to injury or upset, the 116th-ranked Ukrainian produced the most seismic shocker of all, stunning seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5), in the second round.
The reigning champion's record streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals came to an end as Federer suffered his first Grand Slam second-round loss. The 27-year-old Stakhovsky carried an ignominious streak onto Centre Court—he was 0-20 lifetime against Top 10 opponents with just two career Wimbledon wins to his credit. None of that mattered much to the lanky serve-and-volleyer, who showed no traces of tension. Stakhovsky mixed up his game beautifully, produced his best tennis on pivotal points, struck 72 winners, saved seven of eight break points, and delivered a masterclass of attacking tennis in outplaying the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Stakhovsky pushed Federer to deuce in five of his first 10 service games, but bungled a drop shot attempt in the first point of the first-set breaker—a rare miscue in the front court—and Federer made the mini-break stand up, slamming an ace out wide to take the set.
Federer was 91-2 on grass when winning the opening set, but he paid the price for missed opportunities as Stakhovsky erased two break points with stinging serves to hold for a 6-5 second-set lead. The forehand is Federer's signature shot, but it failed him on a couple of crucial points. He shanked a forehand off the frame at 5-all in the tiebreaker and Stakhovsky took immediate advantage, blocking a forehand volley winner to snatch the second set.
The third-seeded Swiss had two break points in the second game of the third set to take charge, but missed a a pair of forehands as Stakhovsky held for 1-1. Serving at 5-all, Federer sailed another forehand beyond the baseline to face double break point. He saved the first with an ace, but Stakhovsky hammered a deep return and Federer shanked a backhand reply to drop serve as his many fans groaned at his predicament. Stakhovsky played boldly, showing exquisite touch on angled and drop volleys, and continued his forward thinking by digging out a slick half-volley for set point, then stabbing a forehand volley winner to seize the third set.
Federer, who typically doesn't give up much ground when returning, struggled picking up Stakhovsky's serve and wasn't willing to adjust his return positioning on the ad side. The backhand chip return Federer has used so effectively to torment baseliners played into Stakhovsky's attacking style: He won 64 percent of his second serve points and 64 percent of his trips to the net (61 of 96).
Stakhovsky broke for a 2-1 fourth-set lead before Federer rifled a backhand pass to earn his first—and only—break of the match at the two hour, 34-minute mark to forge a 3-all tie. Stakhovsky, who hurled himself around the court chasing the ball, fought off a set point with a pair of slick volleys and held to force a tiebreaker. A backhand winner down the line gave him the mini-break and a 3-1 lead. Federer saved the first match point with a forehand pass, but missed the mark with a backhand on the 13th shot of the ensuing rally, suffering his earliest Grand Slam exit since falling to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round of the 2004 Roland Garros.
When it was over, Stakhovsky stood in the center of court and acknowledged the shower of applause by tipping an imaginary cap to the roaring crowd. Asked to explain the upset, Stakhovsky smiled and replied, "Magic."
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