That was about my reaction when the last matches still going on were announced suspended due to darkness, near 4PM this afternoon. The day has been a whirlwind such as only the first few days of a Grand Slam can bring. Although somehow, with four retirements (only on the men’s side, one more on the women’s side) and two major upsets, not to mention that no less than seven men’s matches went to the limit of five sets (five were completed, two will be completed tomorrow), it seems like the day was far more eventful than usual.
Yes, quite an eventful day!
Two top 10 players were shown the exit today at the All-England Club, and although one of the upsets was more shocking than the other, they both remain huge upsets.
The first of these upsets happened when Colombian lefty Alejandro Falla defeated 11-seeded John Isner, the 10th player in the world rankings, in five sets, 6-4 6-7(7) 3-6 7-6(7) 7-5. Let’s make it 3 for 3 for Isner, as he played at least one five-setter in each of the Grand Slams this season. In the four he played, he lost three of them (in Australia against Feliciano López in the third round and the memorable second-rounder of Roland Garros against Paul-Henri Mathieu).
This time, it was maybe the lack of opportunism of the World no 10 that cost him the match, partly. The other part of it was the great play of his opponent, as Alejandro Falla can, at times, be very dangerous. Contrary of his 2010 first round encounter with Roger Federer, this time, Falla kept his cool in order to pull the upset. For the anecdote, it’s the second U.S. top 10 that Falla upsets in a Grand Slam this year, after he defeated Mardy Fish in four sets in Melbourne.
After the match, Isner was pretty hard on himself for not taking his chances when he had them:
“I felt like I could have or should have won it in the fourth set, and that hurt me quite a lot.
You know, obviously when you’re so close to winning a match in four, that it’s going to five, I just mentally ‑‑ I don’t know. I just got even more clouded and more frustrated out there.”
Objectively, for sure, this is the kind of match that Isner cannot lose. However, reducing it only to that would be taking credit off Falla, who did hang in the match and fought until the end in order to pull the upset.
The second of today’s major upsets came from the always unpredictable Ernests Gulbis, who played absolutely unbelievable tennis, the kind of game that made us think, when he first came onto the professional tennis stage, that he would be top 10 some day. Firing 30 aces and hitting 32 more winners (winners combine clean winners and aces, for a total of 62), the feisty Latvian got the better of World no 7 (and sixth seed) Tomas Berdych in three tiebreak sets.
What amazed the most in this win was not only the way Gulbis outplayed Berdych for most of the match, but the fact that he kept his cool for the whole encounter. No such thing as his usual choking, no lapses of concentration, nothing. Just plain talent, patience, and incredible hitting.
No, Gulbis did not steal his 7-6(5) 7-6(4) 7-6(4) win and even Berdych recognized after the match that he had, simply, been outplayed by his rival.
If Falla doesn’t yet know the identity of his rival, as the match between Paolo Lorenzi and Nicolas Mahut was suspended just before the start of the fifth set (something the Frenchman is likely familiar with), we know that Gulbis will play qualifier Jerzy Janowicz in the second round.
There were 32 men’s singles matches played today, and four of them ended with the retirement of one of the players.
Just like last week in the first round of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Potito Starace retired, this time down 2-6 0-2 to qualifier Ryan Sweeting. Starace has been suffering from recurrent back issues for many weeks now.
Sergiy Stakhovsky was also forced to retire due to a recurring injury, to the ribs in his case, down 1-6 0-1 to Radek Stepanek. The new member of the ATP Player Council apologised to the fans on Twitter:
I am sorry for what happened today…I thought that I can give a try today..but the rib from queens is still there((
— Sergiy Stakhovsky (@Stako_tennis) June 25, 2012
and then got into a little spat with former Player Council member Yves Allegro when the Swiss remarked on the lack of respect of the players coming into such a tournament with lingering injuries:
Paul-Henri Mathieu retired down 3-6 4-5 to Gilles Simon when he sustained a groin injury early in the second set. He tried to play on but couldn’t and had to call it quits. Another tile that falls on Mathieu’s head, he who missed all of last season due to a knee surgery.
Finally, Filippo Volandri retired down 0-6 1-6 0-1 to Jérémy Chardy. We do not know the reason for his retirement.
Of course, there are legitimate questions that we can ask ourselves regarding the first two cases, whether they thought they would be fit to play or knew they wouldn’t be able to complete their first round matches or not, or whether, like in Stakhovsky’s case, the zero-pointer they would have gotten had they simply pulled-out of the tournament was enough of an incentive to bring them to play. Only they know the answer.
Another question that pops to my mind is whether or not the condensed calendar this season will increase the number of players who will end up retiring from injuries, be they sustained during the match in which they retire (from strain and fatigue of the muscles) or in a previous match or tournament. I guess we’ll see, but four retirements in the first day of a tournament is quite a lot.