It was meant to be the Grand Slam quarterfinal that tennis had never before witnessed: Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, a matchup of two sporting greats who had 30 meetings between them, including seven in major finals. But at the end of the first Wednesday at the two-week event, neither Federer nor Nadal could advance into the third round of Wimbledon, marking the first time in history that both crashed out so early in a major both were competing in.
For Federer, the list of it’s-been-so-long-since was, well, a long one: more than a decade since his last early-round defeat at a major; almost nine years since he didn’t make the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam; and some eight years since losing to a player outside the top 100 at any event, as he did Wednesday on Centre Court against Sergiy Stakhovsky, a little-known Ukrainian journeyman.
Earlier in the day, it was fellow tennis royal Maria Sharapova who was hit off the court by a player ranked more than 100 places below her. Her conqueror was a diminutive but noisy 20-year-old from Portugal named Michelle Larcher De Brito, previously best known in tennis for her relentless grunting.
Another famed grunter, No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka, also waved farewell to the pristine lawns of Wimbledon without swinging a racket on Wednesday, victim to a knee injury sustained Monday in a horrifying fall during her first round match.
Honestly, Wimbledon, what the hell is going on?
Wednesday, indeed, was one of the most bizarre days in the history of tennis. Federer, Nadal, Sharapova, and Azarenka are all out (Nadal lost Monday), as are former world No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic. It was a day for falls: Wozniacki hurt her ankle when she tumbled to the ground, and hours later Sharapova needed attention for a hurt hip as she hit the dirt.
All in all, the number of injuries causing withdrawals or retirements—matches a player pulls out of because he or she can’t continue—was a record, with seven in total. Azarenka, big-serving American John Isner, No. 10 seed Marin Cilic, and four more were hurt, making Wednesday the most famous day in tennis history, at least for players’ inability to start or continue matches.
“I never, ever, envisioned a day like this, ever, in tennis history at a Grand Slam,” wrote 18-time major champion Chris Evert on Twitter. “I am still in a daze.”
Tennis journalists were at a loss for hyperbolic phrases to describe a day that far surpassed anything they had dreamed—or had nightmares—about. They turned to the hashtag for help, with #Wimbleweird, #BlackWednesday, and #Carnage all making the rounds. All were apt.
But if a slew of stars are gone, who remains at the tournament of tournaments in tennis?
Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, to name two. The top seeds are also the world’s top-ranked players, and Serena is carrying her 2012 Wimbledon title with her still, along with a career-best 32-match winning streak into round three, a run that dates back to March.
“It’s something I don’t think about at all,” Williams said after her win on Tuesday. “I just go out and try to win every match.”
There are youngsters aplenty, as well. Nineteen-year-old Laura Robson is a tabloid darling in Britain and beat world No. 10 Maria Kirilenko in the first round, and a young American named Madison Keys, 18, has a game as big as they come to try and make a run at SW19.
One player, however, whom all British fans will have their eye on as the tournament turns toward its later stages through the weekend is Andy Murray. The world No. 2 was a Wimbledon finalist a year ago and the Olympic gold medalist—right here on the lawns of the All England Club.
Who was Murray due to meet in the semifinals? Federer or Nadal. Wimbledon might get its first home-grown champion in 76 years, after all. And why not? #Wimbleweird could turn to #Wimblewon for the British.