It’s like a spirit of mischief has sprinkled pixie dust into the electrolyte drinks of the players at Wimbledon. Things have been topsy-turvy almost from the start; as tennis writer Hannah Wilks said on Twitter, “When Gulbis beat Berdych, we should have known this Wimbledon would be mad.” Other upsets followed, the most shocking, of course, being Nadal’s ouster by Rosol on only Day 4. But the next day, a powerful, dialed-in Julien Benneteau came within a hair’s breadth of doing the same thing to Federer. It’s almost as if the gods blinked for a split second and their fore-ordained upset was held off by the mighty will of Roger Federer.
It feels like something crazy is happening over in London. On the women’s side there have also been some startling upsets. Venus losing in round one wasn’t a total surprise given her medical condition, but was heartbreaking nonetheless. Sam Stosur went down meekly to Aranxa Rus in the second round, but tennis savants say she isn’t good on grass. Much more shockingly, Li Na, a compelling and convincing player who won the French Open in 2011, was also out in the second round.
Commentators looking for causes have been speculating on the effect of the closed roof on Centre Court. In both roller-coaster matches involving Federer and Nadal, the roof has been a factor, its being closed making conditions dryer (I believe) and the ball bounces a little higher – could that be it? But the roof was open for most of the Nadal-Rosol match – it was closed between the fourth and fifth sets. The delay interrupted a resurge by Nadal; it could have also discombobulated Rosol but, er, it didn’t. (He came out incredibly pumped, as John McEnroe kept saying, and went on to finish an explosive, no-holds-barred dismantling of the Spaniard that sent shock waves throughout the tennis and even non-tennis world.)
You can search for a pattern in vain. You can’t say it’s the young rising up over the old – Rosol, who beat Nadal, is 26 to Nadal’s 24, and Friday’s brutal five-setter pitted two 30-year-olds against each other – Federer and Benneteau. You can’t say it’s the monster servers against the serve-and-volleyers since no one serves and volleys anymore, according to pundits.
It seems to be some kind of antic hay, to borrow a phrase from Aldous Huxley who took it from Spenser. An intriguing cosmic disorder appears to be in play over a normally extremely predictable event. Things are tip-tilted and backward-going – another surprise yesterday was low-key Sam Querrey beating ferocious Milos Raonic. Marion Bartoli went down to Mirjana Lucic. And on it goes.
Before Wimbledon started, I thought idly about what it would take for Andy Roddick to win the tournament. “The top seeds would have to be taken out in shocking, out-of-nowhere upsets,” I thought listlessly, knowing that with Djokovic and Nadal’s levels, this was unthinkable. Well, now look. One out of the two scarily invincible guys is gone. There’s still Andy Murray, but I’m not thinking he’s as much of a block to Andy R. as Federer is. Murray, prey to moods and downward swings, is just not reliable.
Djoker. He’s looking good, but at the French Open, he wasn’t. That’s what I hung my “Nadal will take it all” prediction on. Well, so much for me as a prognosticator. But is it possible Novak could be vulnerable to a freakishly strong opponent like Rosol?
Is it possible the gods have noticed the gutsy, never-say-die struggle undergone by one Andrew Stephen Roddick for so many years, and have decided to throw him one last shot?
I mean, you never know. That is, what you know is overturn-able. Four days ago the answer was no, that’s not remotely possible. And now the talk is only of Andy Murray’s chances. But I think the setup is terrible for Murray – the pressure on him is off the charts.
Well, anyway. Idle speculation, a pointless probing of the future for answers it can’t give. As people have been saying over and over, this is why we watch sports – for shocking, come-from-behind wins over clear favorites. But the conditions for those seems to be being entirely unaware of the possibility. So I’ll hush up now.