When it comes to Wimbledon the interest of the British public only tends to get titillated when a home-grown player makes it into the second week before bowing out in typically plucky fashion. This year, tennis fans were choking on their Pimms & Lemonade when the result from Centre Court on Thursday night came through.
Nobody should underestimate just how shocking Rafael Nadal’s second round defeat to Lukas Rosol was at Wimbledon. It’s up there with Buster Douglas’ victory over Mike Tyson in 1990 and Hereford’s upsetting of Newcastle in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup in 1972.
Number two in the world versus number 100. Chalk and cheese. Cream and curdled milk. Rosol winning was a truly astonishing result.
Here are the facts. They're both 26 years old, yet Nadal entered the day with 583 career-wins. Rosol had 19. Nadal had won 50 titles. Rosol had zero. Nadal had won 11 Grand Slam titles including Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010. The Spaniard had reached the final of the previous five Grand Slams and reached the final of Wimbledon in his last five attempts. In Rosol’s five previous visits to SW19 the Czech-number three had lost in the first round of qualifying — he had never even made the main draw. Number two in the world versus number 100. Chalk and cheese. Cream and curdled milk. Rosol winning 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 was a truly astonishing result.
Apart from Rosol’s mother I doubt there is a punter on the planet that would have backed the Brno-born player to win at odds of 29-1. Buster Douglas was 42-1 when he took on Tyson in Tokyo but, in a sport where one punch can prove decisive, those odds always looked generous. This is tennis. Like boxing, it’s a brutal sport, chiefly because the length of each contest, especially at Grand Slam level, where matches are decided in the best of five sets. When Novak Djokovic overcame Rafael Nadal in the final of this year’s Australian Open Final they had been playing for five hours and 53 minutes. Tennis is no longer just a sport of finesse and flamboyance as it often was in the eras of Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg. Tennis is now an attritional, endurance sport. Nadal is the ultimate warrior. You don’t beat him with one lucky punch, a string of lucky shots or a dodgy umpire’s decision. You have to play the game of your life and hope that the Spaniard has an off day. It happened two week’s ago in Halle at Nadal’s first grass court event of the year. He lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-4 so maybe we should have seen the loss to Rosol coming. But the defeat in Halle was seen by many as Nadal, who had just won his seventh French Open title, taking a convenient early exit to return to his home in Majorca for some rest, a spot of fishing and to sit in front of the TV to watch his beloved Spanish football team.
On Sunday, Nadal will again be watching La Roja from the comfort of his home, but not out of choice and that is all down to a remarkable performance by Luka Rosol. Just when tennis was in danger of getting predictable – it has thrown up one of the biggest shocks in its history.
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