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Is Wimbledon's Wednesday mayhem the first sign of tennis transition?

Vineet Ramakrishnan |

Updated: June 27, 2013, 1:29 PM IST
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Is Wimbledon's Wednesday mayhem the first sign of tennis transition?
Wednesday might not have been a bizarre day in tennis as John McEnroe reckons, but it could be signs of an era in its dawn and shades of another taking shape.

Legends are made here runs the promo of the Wimbledon 2013 with Pete Sampras and a teary-eyed Roger Federer lifting the silver gilt cup. This edition of The Championships has so far made legend-killers. Without a glint of exaggeration names like Roger Federer - a seven-time champion at the All England Club - and Rafael Nadal - a record eight-time Roland Garros winner - are legends of the game and to see these dominating figures bow out in the first round and second round respectively, is shocking.

Yes, Nadal was ousted in Round 2 last year by an unheralded Czech and Federer, with just one title in this year and no Grand slam final appearance so far is on a downward spiral. But the shock value remains the same. Day 3 at Wimbledon though dished out shock after shock with top-seeds wiped out by qualifiers and teenagers.

Many withdrew with injury before the match or mid-way into the match. The causality list included third seed Maria Sharapova, second seed Victoria Azarenka, sixth seed Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, tenth seed Marin Cilic among others. Azarenka asked the organisers to take a look at the court. "It would be great if the club or somebody who takes care of the court would examine or try to find an issue so that wouldn't happen," said the second-seeded Belarusian.

Azarenka failed to recover from her knee injury which she sustained during her first round match and Sharapova slipped five times in her second round match. Former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki too had troubles finding her foot. So is the court to be blamed for the upsets? German legend Boris Becker thinks otherwise and says the courts are slippery early on and has been for over 100 years.

Interestingly, this is the first edition of the tournament since the retirement of long-time head groundsman Eddie Seaward but a Wimbledon spokesman insisted there was nothing different about the courts this year.

Croat Cilic described Wednesday's mayhem as a "very black day" and that even prompted The All England Club Chief Executive Richard Lewis to release a statement: "The court preparation has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years and it is well known that grass surfaces tend to be more lush at the start of an event. The factual evidence, which is independently checked, is that the courts are almost identical to last year, as dry and firm as they should be, and we expect them to continue to play to their usual high quality."

Also, taking a closer look at the causalities, only Azarenka and Guido Pella seem have paid for the falls they had. Firebrand Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito too faced similar problems as was the case with her opponent, Sharapova and prevailed. Cilic, Redak Stephnak, John Isner and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga nursed previous injuries while Nadal conquer Steve Darcis shoulder was sore after his first round match. The 12th seed Ana Ivanovic played erratic tennis against the highly rated Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard.

So what does this crazy day hint at? I reckon transition in tennis. It was at the 2001 Wimbledon that specialist Pete Sampras lost to a 19-year-old Federer in the fourth round and the following year another Swiss, George Bastl knocked out Pistol Pete in the second round in 2002. The aura of invincibility surrounding Federer was long over and disappointments for him and his fans are getting very frequent.

Nadal's Roland Garros campaign was phenomenal after his long injury lay-off and he mauled his way to eighth consecutive final and six titles prior to the French Open. But against Darcis, the Spaniard failed to assess the grass court and was visibility uncomfortable tackling the pace and low bounce of the All England club court. His knee must have been hurting as well. The famed Big Four now seems to be fading away with Novak Djokovic looking solid at the top and Andy Murray in a position where the Serb was three years back. With Nadal, Tsonga and Federer out of his draw Murray should make it to the finals a second time in a row and if he is able to win, that would assert him as a worthy competitor for the Super Serb.

Players like Tomas Berdych (2010 finalist) and Juan Martin del Potro too are on an ascendency with names like Ernest Gulbis, Jerzy Janowicz and Stainlas Warwinka making their presence felt in the recent times.

In the womens' draw, Serena Williams dominance with 16 Grand Slam titles is unmatched and she is certain of a 17th without Sharapova, Azarenka and Kirilenko in the draw. Last year runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska is a grafter on the court and her style of play suits grass but the power game of Williams would be hard to compete against. The 8th seed Petra Kvitova, a winner here in 2011 can match the American veteran power to power. Young guns Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, pipped to take the baton from Williams, still remain in the competition and players like Bouchard and Laura Robson look promising enough in the years to come.

Wednesday's mayhem might not be a bizarre day in tennis as John McEnore reckons, but could be signs of an era in its dawn and shades of another taking shape.

First Published: June 27, 2013, 1:29 PM IST
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