Wimbledon: Serena Ill, Rafa and Sharapova Out—Chaos Reigns on Tumultuous Tuesday

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By Bill Simons and Lucia Hoffman

Last year, it was Wacky Wednesday, when Federer and Sharapova were knocked out of the tournament early, and Azarenka, Tsonga, and Isner and more went fell prey to injuries.

And like the IsnerMahut marathon, everybody knew nothing would ever top that. Exactly!

But, then again, maybe we need to rethink this. After all, Tracy Austin said Serena Williams‘ woozy appearance on Court 1 was the craziest 15 minutes she’d ever seen on court. Plus, a pair of icons, Maria Sharapova and Rafa Nadal—arguably two of the prime favorites to win the tourney—were rudely bumped out in upsets that astounded.

So, the heck with Wacky Wednesday, welcome to Tumultuous Tuesday.

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It was all there, the whole Sharapova package we know so well.

Sugarpova, whoops we mean Sharapova, was out there on Centre Court, so tall, and perched pretty on those eternal legs. Her game face, such a fierce marble mask, was tucked sternly under that obligatory white visor. And, lest we forget, she brought with her a shriek that will wake ’em up in Manchester and those blistering flat groundies, which have punished wannabes for a decade.

Needless to say, whether it’s Donald Trump at Centre Court in 2004, or Vladimir Putin at the 2014 Olympics, Maria attracts VIPs. And today at Wimbledon, as Billie Jean King looked on from the Royal Box, it was presumed that Ms. Sharapova would continue her coronation waltz en route to becoming the Queen of Wimbledon.

After all, most of the top contenders—Li Na, Agnieszka Radwanska, and especially her nemesis-in-chief Serena Williams (who has owned her for years)—had already collected their paychecks. Maria was now the prohibitive favorite to score a magical win.

And what a win it would be. She would triumph an exact decade after her “Star is Born” coming-out victory here in 2004. She would achieve one of the hardest things in tennis, the English Channel Double—winning the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back and she and her boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov might even score the first “Love Double” here since Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert in 1974.

Plus, Sharapova was playing Angelique Kerber, whom she had beaten in four of their five meetings. The German had a propensity to flame out in the fourth round of majors.

But today, it was the 26-year old lefty who shone bright. Kerber broke early in the first set, only to have Maria break back to force a tiebreak. Sharapova then led early in the breaker, but soon suffered uncharacteristic errors and dropped it.

Of course, that’s been Sharapova’s modus operandi this summer: lose the first set set and come roaring back. It’s her own kind of “rope a dope” trick. She was 11-0 in three-setters in 2014, and as she fought her way to the French title, she famously downed poor Sam Stosur, giant killer Garbine Muguruza and tomorrow’s champion Genie Bouchard after losing the first set to each of them in Paris. Amazingly, though, she hadn’t won a three-set match at Wimbledon for ten years.

Something had to give, but presumably it would be the smaller, lower-ranked and less-celebrated Kerber, who is burdened by a weak second serve. Sharapova began to pound. “That’s the kind of punishment Kerber’s second serve deserves,” noted the BBC. Looking severe, the tall Russian started to unload some severely-angled backhands to win the second set and set up her wicked finishing kick.

But it never fully arrived.

Kerber, using her left-handed athleticism to run Maria ragged, broke early and sprinted to a decisive 4-1 lead in the decider.

Let the famous ferocious Sharapova counter-attack begin. The Russian played with an almost imperious intent. Her groundies were laser beams that sped near the lines. Yet Kerber defended heroically, unblinking amidst the onslaught, especially on two key break points, when Maria misfired on forehands. A Kerber forehand down the line brought her to 5-2.

For all her will, all her competitive fire, Maria just couldn’t break down the steady, fleet veteran, who at one point struck a dipping, lefty topspin forehand which was downright Nadalian. “The sands of time,” said the BBC, “are running out for Sharapova.”

Still, if nothing else, Sharapova battles. The heavyweight landed some last desperate blows. She saved a match point with a courageous forehand deep in the court. One could hear a pin drop. There was a regrouping, and then Kerber collected match points like tourists collect post cards. But at every turn Maria prevailed, the tension explosive. Kerber suffered backhand errors. Sharapova hit winners off both wings, until at last, fending off a seventh match point, even the great clutch fighter fell, when she stroked a backhand long to suffer a 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4 loss.

An elated Kerber leaped to the skies, while Sharapova’s shoulders slumped. The road to victory, which seemed so straightforward, had hit a German snag. For Maria, there would be no tenth anniversary win; no back-to-back Grand Slams, and no “Love Double” with her main squeeze.

The main takeaway for Maria, always an unblinking professional, was this: “You’re only as good as your last tournament. So I have to get back on the horse and work hard … and keep doing it.”

But she and Kerber had given everyone a scintillating battle. “This match,” said the BBC, “is why sports is the best reality TV show. No scripts here folks.”

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There has long been a script for Serena Williams. Fierce, powerful, and unsmiling—the best player of our era—she’s an intimidating force to behold as soon as she steps on court.

But not on Tumultuous Tuesday.

Even before the first point of her doubles match, something was weird, off, and strange. The game’s most imposing physical force was weakened, woozy and dizzy. During the warmup she couldn’t even pick up balls.

Looking pale and depleted, she soon slumped on the sideline, sister Venus by her side, and inexplicably sobbed. What in the world was happening? One official after another came by. The trainer administe aid.

Clearly, Serena was hurting. But inexplicably, the British crowd (supposedly so fair, so sporting) promptly showed their antipathy for the loud, in-your-face and intense African-American, who many felt —with her five titles—had won too many times. Cruelly, they began to slow clap, as if to demand “Let’s get this going.” Then, if that weren’t enough, they started a wave, that festive group indulgence, which flew in the face of a sick athlete dealing with a health issue.

Serena’s mom Oracene stood dumbfounded. One sensed that within she raged with a not so quiet anger. This was not Britain’s greatest sporting moment.

Then, for some reason, after a 15-minute delay, the Williams sisters’ match against Kristina Barrois and Stefanie Voegele finally began.

The sisters lost the first two games, and then Serena tried to serve.

The most feared server in the history of women’s tennis hit four double faults.

Say it isn’t so. The Mighty Casey had struck out. Mercifully, the match then ended. Later, it was revealed that Williams suffered a viral infection. Still, the match was bizarre, one, of many in the Williams portfolio. Yet it was only the middle offering of Tumultuous Tuesday…

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It’s a story that could only emerge on a day like Tumultuous Tuesday: Rafael Nadal was knocked out of Wimbledon by teenager Nick Kyrgios, 7-6(7), 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-3.

How weird and dramatic was this upset? Let us note the ways—with a bit of match commentary thrown in for good measure.

• The mother of unheralded Wimbledon wildcard Kyrgios didn’t think her son was good enough to beat Nadal.

• The 144th-ranked 19-year-old Kyrgios was looking to become the first player ranked outside the top 100 to defeat a No. 1 player at a Grand Slam since No. 193 Andrei Olhovskiy beat Jim Courier at the 1992 Wimbledon.

• In the aftermath of the upset, John McEnroe said Kyrgios could win Wimbledon.

• Nadal is in a serious Wimbledon and grass-court slump. He struggled in all three of his previous matches here and hasn’t gone deep into the tourney since 2011. If Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon, Nadal will lose his No. 1 ranking.

• Kyrgios and the San Francisco 49ers Collin Kaepernick appear to be separated at birth. Both are fleet, tall (6′ 4″), olive-skinned, spindly athletes with live-wire arms who arrived, unheralded on the scene and quickly produced fearless performances. Just ask the Chicago Bears. Plus, the strapping on Kyrgios’ arm is suggestive of Kaepernick’s tatoos.

• In the second round of this tournament, Kyrgios saved nine match points against the veteran Richard Gasquet. At one point it seemed he had lost, but a Hawk-Eye overrule on a second serve kept him in the match, and he eventually won. The fun-loving Aussie later said that if he wins Wimbledon he will give some of his prize winnings to the company responsible for Hawk-Eye.

• Again and again after his loss to Kyrgios, Nadal noted that the teenage upstart played with freedom, with nothing to lose and with no pressure. It was crazy, not normal, contended Rafa. Kyrgios agreed, saying he had “a pillow” to fall back on.

* A tough fighter, Kyrgios could be viewed as Australia’s anti-Tomic—the opposite of Bernard Tomic, who has openly admitted to tanking, and whose career is adrift.

* A light-hearted lad, before the match Kyrgios joked that between Nadal and himself, they had 14 Slams. As for his upcoming match against the ace factory known as Milos Raonic, Kyrgios said, “There is going to be a lot of walking from side to side.”

• Kyrgios hit a brazen ‘tweener shot from the baseline for an outright winner against the stunned Nadal. And then he raised his arms in shameless triumph, no intimidation here.

• The fact that Kyrgios’ parents migrated from Greece brings to mind another tall, big-serving guy of Greek origin who did okay at the All-England Club: Pete Sampras.

• When IT asked Kyrgios to tell the press something about himself we don’t already know, he explained that he traveled with his XBOX and then explained, “Geez, I’m sure some of you have 19-year old kids. I’m exactly the same.” He called the spontaneous dance he did after winning “The Juicy Wiggle.”

• Krygios told IT that doing his press conference was more difficult than beating Nadal.

• After he lost three weeks ago in the first round of a challenger, Kyrgios was thinking of flying home to Australia.

• After Wimbledon, Kyrgios is splitting from his Tennis Australia coach, Simon Rea.

* Krygios’ Wimbledon triumphs allowed him to easily attain his goal of amassing 25,000 Twitter followers.

• The BBC said Kyrgios “shows attitude and swagger. He’s the brightest thing in tennis. Having someone this bright, this young, and with this attitude is a great story.”

• With his relentless onslaught of aces (37 in total) and power forehands, Kyrgios put Nadal on the defensive, and even made him look ordinary. Though the teenager suffered a mid-match dip in play, he rebounded brilliantly.

In contrast, the Spaniard often struggled to hold serve, and was never able to overwhelm the Aussie to make him feel the pressure of being a wild card rookie. In clutch moments, Nadal struggled, while Kyrgios was a total natural, and by the the end Rafa had little spring left in his step.

• The BBC announced that the Aussie “gate-crashed the elite, with a fantastic, nerveless display … We’re witnessing the blossoming of a talent like few others.” Nadal countered any hyperbole, saying that shouted out  that Kyrgios would become a top-ten player. But McEnroe insisted: “We have been waiting for a long time, saying ‘Who is going to be the next guy?’ He’s the next guy. The last great breakout teen I saw was Boris Becker [in 1985].”

• According to Tracy Austin, “We’re kind of seeing a changing of the guard on both the men’s and the woman’s side.”

• Asked what’s next for him, Nadal said, “For me, beach.” For us, it’s comparison time—time to compare the twists and turns of last year’s Wacky Wednesday and this year’s zany, inexplicable and completely compelling Tumultuous Tuesday.