Wimbledon is known for upsets, but this year has been exceptional one for tumbles. Fresh off his eighth French Open victory, Rafael Nadal lost in the first round to a player ranked 135th. Third seed Maria Sharapova waited until the second round to crash out. And even defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer couldn’t escape the curse, saying ciao at the end of the third day.
Kevin Mitchell is covering Wimbledon for The Guardian and he joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.
BL: Kevin, I understand that you feel that Federer’s departure is the most shocking. Why is that?
KM: I think so because there was some doubt about Nadal’s knee. That wasn’t that much of a shock when you look at it in those terms. So then Roger steps up. He’s been in really good form, coming off a win on grass in Halle in Germany and was playing really well. And then … he got turned over by a server-and-volleyer, Sergei Stakhovsky, who went for his shots and pulled off, I think, the biggest upset in the history of the Championships.
BL: Well, that is what you wrote recently, biggest upset in the history of the Championships. What are some of the other upsets vying for that distinction?
KM: You can only compare, I think, and it’s a great subject for argument of course. [George] Bastl who beat Pete Sampras, that was 2002. That was a major shock because of Sampras’ enormous standing in the game. He’d won seven Wimbledon championships just as Roger had. Bastl was Swiss like Federer, but nowhere of the same standing and was little heard of thereafter. In fact, he’s still playing the game at 38. That’s the one I would compare it to, really. And I don’t know that anyone got their heads around it for several hours afterwards.
BL: I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve never heard of the man who beat Roger Federer this week. He came into Wimbledon ranked 116th in the world, tell me a little bit about Sergiy Stakhovsky.
KM: Well, his father is a professor of oncology in the Ukraine. His mother’s an academic. He’s very well read man, as well. He’s one of those guys gave a terrific press conference, very erudite. He was gobsmacked, as we say here. I don’t know if that expression is current in America. He struggled to get his head around what he had done. He had a game plan to go rush the net. You don’t see that much in tennis anymore. He won so many points serving and volleying just like Pete Sampras used to and Roger just wasn’t ready for it. It’s not that he didn’t know about Stakhovsky’s style and strategy. It’s just he wasn’t quite prepared for the ferocity of it. And it was one of those days players have now and again. I very much doubt he will ever have a day to match it. But on that incredible day, he pulled it out against the best player tennis has ever had.
BL: Roger Federer will turn 32 in August, which seems pretty young to me. But it seems as if we’ve been breathlessly awaiting the twilight of his storied career for years now has it finally arrived?
KM: Well, it looks like it could be near. It’s getting closer. He’s still a great player. And John McEnroe is of the opinion, I’m sure he would still say this, that Roger Federer could win another Grand Slam to go with the 17 he’s already won. But, it’s just really tough. One of the reasons is you’ve got Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray plus, if he’s fit, Rafa Nadal, and they’re younger than Roger by five years or so. I hate to disagree with McEnroe. He knows far more about the game than I will ever do. But I just get the feeling that it’s just not going to happen. It’s really, really tough for him now.