Injuries, Slippage and Magic at Wimbledon


In the end, the bodies  -- many of the biggest names in the game -- were strewn all over the too slick lawns at SW 19.

Through the third day, Wimbledon 2013 has been about injuries, upsets by journeymen (and women) and conditions that have left more than a few players sprawled on the famous courts.  The combination claimed seven former world No. 1s on Wednesday and left the All England Club and ESPN with gaping holes over the balance of their fortnight schedules.

Yes, it’s a good thing to have an underdog or two come through a few rounds of the draw, to see the game welcome new faces to its biggest stage.  But current No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and No. 3 Maria Sharapova (both have held the top spot now occupied by the now even more overwhelming favorite and defending queen, Serena Williams), are gone on the ladies’ side.

On Wednesday, Sergiy Stakhovsky, who had never beaten a top 10 player, was in his own words “magic,” serving and volleying his way past the 2012 title holder and seven-time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer. The Swiss Maestro, who holds the men’s Grand Slam record with 17 titles, joined Rafa Nadal in being upset by player with a  triple-digit ranking. So much for the controversial seeding that was supposed to have paired the old rivals in the quarters.

For his part, Steve Darcis, who conquered Nadal in straights on the tourney’s opening day, hurt a shoulder on a dive during their match that didn’t allow him to take the court on Wednesday.

Darcis wasn’t alone. Top-seeded American John Isner retired after just two games with a knee injury;  Vika, who after surviving her first round match, couldn’t overcome a bum knee and had to issue a walkover; Radek Stepanek retired with a left hamstring problem; No 10 Marin Cilic withdrew with a left knee issue; and Yaroslava Shvedova did the same with an hampered wing.

No. 6 Jo Wilifried Tsonga injured a knee in the third set and trailing by one, didn’t make it to the fourth, versus Ernests Gulbis.

Former distaff No. 1 players, Anna Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki, who twisted her ankle on the slick grass, were also dispatched on Wednesday. Sharapova landed on her pretty posterior several times and was dropped by Portugal's Michelle Larcher De Brito, who hadn’t won a WTA match all year, in straights on what the Russian deemed  the“dangerous” Court 2.

And for his part, Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, who was World No. 1 when he donned the 2002 Wimbledon crown, fell to the dreadlocks and stylish game of Jamaican/German Dustin Brown.

But at the end of the day, the buzz was largely about Federer – the shocking loss ending his remarkable skein of reaching at least the quarterfinals of a major 36 consecutive times. With the defeat, the specter of the R words, relevance and retirement, engulfed the soon-to-be 32-year-old Swiss, who dismissed the notion saying he had many more years to play. We'll see.

In the meantime, his unexpected absence from this tourney also presumably leaves Rolex -- the fortnight’s official timekeeper, with creative centered around Centre Court and in large measure one of its favorite sons, Federer -- with a lot of spots to run on ESPN and ESPN2, spouting such exalted copy as “the whip of the Maestro” and “it just doesn’t tell time, it tells history.”

A win by Andy Murray ending the British men’s singles drought at Wimbledon, dating back to Fred Perry in 1936, would certainly be historic and the 2013 tournament’s signature tale. How Federer and Nadal --  his exit may have hinged in part on his again balky knees that caused him to miss seven months on tour following his upset at the racquet of Lukas Rosol in the second-round of Wimbledon 2012  -- rewrite their own histories going forward also will be a big part of the lore of the current fortnight.

Roger and Rafa dominated the game for much of the past decade, until the recent on-court proclamations by Novak Djokovic lifted him to tennis' throne. Can they turn the clock back, to remain near the top of the circuit for a couple of more years? Their past achievements and pedigrees suggest that they will find a way.  But as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote a long time ago. “Time waits for no one, no favours has He.” Indeed, Time owns a serve that has never been returned – even by the sport’s legends.