Upsets leave Wimbledon fans in need of a program
There's a 42-year-old who played Steffi Graf in the semifinals in the `90s. Name: Kimiko Date-Krumm.
There's the reigning Wimbledon champion - in juniors - who was supposed to be playing in a far corner of the All England Club and ended up on Centre Court. Name: Eugenie Bouchard.
There's the man who didn't get the memo: That serve-and-volley players, even on the grass at Wimbledon, can't post significant victories anymore in pro tennis. Name: Sergiy Stakhovsky.
There's an unassuming Spaniard who was actually ranked higher than Rafael Nadal but comes and goes with barely a whiff of notice. Name: David Ferrer.
Haven't heard of them? No worries. They'll be hard to avoid over the next week at Wimbledon, where so many of the players who show up at Centre Court and on the TV in your living room - Rafa, Roger, Maria - have already packed up and gone home.
''I have to say it's worst for Wimbledon, for history, because many big stars are out of the tournament,'' said sixth-seeded Li Na of China, whose 2011 French Open title makes her as good a candidate as anyone left at Wimbledon to push Serena Williams next week.
Wednesday was a wild one at the All England Club. Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova got booted. No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 10 Marin Cilic and four others either quit during their match or didn't even take the court because of injuries.
Those departures, combined with Rafael Nadal's ouster on the first day, cleared so many big names out of the All England Club that a 1 vs. 2 matchup in the final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic feels inevitable. On the women's side, Williams was the prohibitive favorite before the tournament began. By Thursday morning, her odds at the London sports books dropped from 4-11 to 1-4.
But there were four rounds to play and around 100 players to eliminate between the start of Thursday's play and the finals next weekend, meaning there were plenty of new faces to take note of between the present and what seems like the inevitable.
A good thing? Depends on who's asked.
''For this to happen once in a while, it brings a little different flavor,'' said the famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who certainly sees no harm in an underdog having his day now and then. ''But if it happened all the time, then TVs and sponsors would not pay for it.''
Thursday's Centre Court schedule illustrated the problem. Without Nadal available, and with Williams taking her turn on Court 1, the featured players in the first two matches on the show court were fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radawanska and eighth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro. Radawanska's is a name known only in tennis circles; she did, however, make the final at Wimbledon last year. Del Potro's claim to fame? He's the only player left in the men's draw to win a Grand Slam trophy who isn't named Djokovic or Murray. ''Del Po,'' as they call him, won the U.S. Open in 2009.
''In this surface, all the players are difficult,'' said del Potro, who won his second-round match on the grass in straight sets Thursday. ''If you have a good serve, you are focused in the special moments of the match, you can beat all the players.''
Federer would second that. On Wednesday, with light fading on Centre Court, he took a time machine back to the `80s, facing an unabashed serve-and-volleyer in Stakhovsky, the 116th-ranked Ukrainian. It's the kind of tennis that used to win championships here - see, ''McEnroe, John'' - but as the game has changed, the effectiveness of the quick rush to the net has waned.
Before his upset against Federer, Stakhovsky was best known as the guy who brought his cellphone onto the court at the French Open and snapped a picture of a ball mark to protest a bad line call. Now, he has an even better defining moment.
''You're playing the guy and then you're playing his legend, which is following him because he won it seven times,'' Stakhovsky said. ''When you're beating one, you still have the other one who is pressing you. You're saying, Am I about to beat him? Is it possible?''
Next, the question is: Can he beat Jurgen Melzer? That's the third-round matchup set for Friday in a now-Federerless section of the draw.
''We see some new faces and it's good for the sport,'' said Djokovic, who won his match Thursday in straight sets.
Speaking of time machines ... Williams' next opponent is Date-Krumm, 42, who is the oldest woman to make the third round of Wimbledon in the open era. Her deepest run at Wimbledon came in 1996 when she faced Graf in the semifinals. On a rain-delayed day, they took to the court late and split sets, but the sunlight started running out.
''I could see the ball, but Steffi didn't want to play,'' Date-Krumm said. ''The supervisor came and said it was too dark and we needed to come back the next day.''
How did that story end? Well, Graf went on to win the last of her seven Wimbledon titles that weekend.
This time around, Date-Krumm faces a different, albeit every-bit-as-intimidating opponent in Williams, who advanced through her second-round match in straight sets Thursday.
''I just need to try my best,'' Date-Krumm said. ''I hope I can stay more than one hour, maybe an hour and a half.''
With both Azarenka and Sharapova gone from the bottom half of the draw, the lowest-seeded player left is No. 8 Petra Kvitova, who won Wimbledon in 2011. Bouchard, the 19-year-old Canadian, is also on that side of the draw and has a Wimbledon trophy to her credit, as well. She took the junior's championship last year.
On Wednesday, she was warming up, getting ready to play a former No. 1, Ana Ivanovic, on Court 12, capacity 1,089. But when Azarenka announced she was withdrawing, tournament officials moved the Bouchard-Ivanovic match to Centre Court, capacity 15,000, where one of the fans was sitting in the royal box: the Duke of Kent.
''It was just really cool being in front of those people,'' Bouchard said.
No stranger to those kinds of matches is Ferrer. Yet he's almost always left out of all this talk about who might do what. He's the No. 4 seed, who surpassed Nadal in the rankings even after losing to him in the French Open final.
A career grinder, who's at his best on clay, the 31-year-old Ferrer has 20 career titles and first cracked the top 10 in 2006. Once, however, he was denied onto the grounds of the U.S. Open because he didn't have his credential and the folks guarding the gate at Flushing Meadows didn't recognize him.
He is seeded to meet Djokovic in the semifinals, where he would be a heavy underdog. Then again, more than one of those has come through this week.
''Nobody says one word about that guy,'' Bollettieri said, referring to Ferrer. ''But that's the thing this year. Who knows what the hell's going to happen? You really have no idea.''