Who is Lukas Rosol? That’s a question that might have been asked when you saw Nadal’s draw for the 2012 Championships, and it was a question that definitely was asked if you turned on the TV halfway through tonight’s second-round match. Here’s what we know about him: He’s 26 years old, he’s ranked 100th in the world, and he’s the man who just produced three sets of nerveless brilliance to blast Rafael Nadal right out of Wimbledon, 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Rosol had never won an ATP or Grand Slam match on grass before this year, when he reached the third round at Queen’s Club. How he transformed himself to the man who left Nadal stunned on Day 4 owed something to the lackluster play of his opponent, but even more to his own fearlessness. Nadal did not start well today, although he served two aces in his opening service game, presaging a match in which his serve was the only aspect of his game which consistently worked.
Serving at 2-2, Rosol put a couple of groundstrokes wide and was broken; so far, so predictable. Nadal played a terrible game to be broken back for 3-3; less predictable. But when, after Nadal had been pushed hard on serve, Rosol murdered a short forehand into the net and the first-set tiebreak ended 11-9 in Nadal’s favor, it looked like things were playing out as expected.
It was the last time this match would feel predictable. Nadal opened the second set by tripping as he lunged awkwardly at the ball and went on to be broken at love. Erasing Nadal’s attempt to break straight back with an ace, Rosol visibly grew in confidence as his big serves and searing forehands elicited nothing more intimidating than short sliced backhands and soft, mistimed forehands from the two-time champion.
Not only did Rosol have the temerity to take the second set, sealing it with his 10th ace, but with Nadal serving at 1-1 in the third, Rosol landed three massive returns of serve to earn three break points. After Nadal badly mistimed another forehand into the net to be broken, the world No. 2 began complaining furiously to the umpire about something Rosol was doing, demanding to know if Jake Garner thought it was ‘fair’ (it may have been Rosol’s return stance which earned his ire, or perhaps a noise the Czech was making as part of his breathing).
A few games later, Nadal actually deliberately brushed past his opponent, nudging Rosol with his elbow as the lower-ranked player stood back to let him pass. Clearly rattled, Nadal started to play better, imposing his big forehand for the first time in the match. It did not matter; Rosol served out the third set, and after two hours and 13 minutes, Nadal was two sets to one down.
Nadal bounced back as Rosol started to miss and played a great defensive lob, then a succession of big forehands to get the break for 4-2. Brilliant defense and timing saw him break again for the fourth set, 6-2, only to have his momentum stopped dead in its tracks by the announcement that the roof would have to close to allow play to continue under the lights.
After a break of 42 minutes, the fifth set resumed. Rosol came out firing and earned a break point, converting when Nadal, at net, pushed the ball back to him instead of into the open court. From there, the question was simple: could Rosol hold? Nadal protected his own serve valiantly, but it accomplished nothing as Rosol—a man who had beaten only one Top 10 opponent in his life—nervelessly slammed aces down the T, or unplayable serve-groundstroke combinations, about which even Nadal could do nothing.
At 5-4, on the brink of the biggest win of his life and one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon’s recent history, Rosol took the court and served three aces and a forehand winner to close the match out to love. Nadal was out, having suffered his earliest upset in a Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2005, and Lukas Rosol officially became the man that no one saw coming.