You know you’re in trouble when master-of-mayhem Fabio Fognini “leads an exodus” anywhere. In this case, it was back to the pool and karaoke lounge at the official ATP player hotel in Hamburg. The ATP website described it back on Wednesday as an exodus of seeds at the Hamburg 500 event.
Last year’s finalists, No. 2 seed Fognini and No. 13 Federico Delbonis, both lost on what fans in Hamburg will undoubtedly remember as Black Wednesday -- or perhaps Weenie Wednesday, the better to commemorate the weak showing of so many capable players. Fognini lost to once-promising junior Filip Krajinovic. Delbonis, seeded No. 13 this year, stumbled out at the hands of wild card Tobias Kamke. They were second-round encounters only on paper; each loser had a first-round bye.
Those were just the highlights, though. Other casualties included No. 9 seed Fernando Verdasco and No. 5 Mikhail Youzhny, who also was among the Magnificently Malodorous seven seeds who were knocked out that day.
There are many theories being floated to explain the bloodbath, starting with the notion that these boys were all tired after the long slog through the clay-court season and Wimbledon. Nice idea, but none of the beaten seeds had a particularly great Roland Garros-Wimbledon combo, least of all the two men who ought to have been the most fired up: Fognini and Delbonis. Fognini didn’t make the second week at either event; Delbonis barely made the first week -- he lost in the first round at both events and not exactly to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Another theory to explain the massacre is that this is the dead week in the ATP, and nobody really cares. What’s that you say? Last week was the dead week? Granted, there were no ATP 500 events or top-tier WTA meetings the week after Wimbledon. Many fans were lurching away from the sofa, armchair or desk after consuming the enormous amount of Wimbledon coverage provided over the Fortnight.
But Wimbledon has an afterglow, and grass-court tennis has a last hurrah at Newport, bolstered by the International Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. The World Cup was still in progress last week, and basketball free agents sifted through their offers. All that, led by the futbol, combined to keep at least some of us interested in summer sports that don’t require tow ropes or air pumps.
This week is different. The Hamburg organizers have worked to make their event a highlight of the Hamburg summer, and a crown jewel of the mini-me summer clay-court circuit. But they’re swimming against the tide of torpor. You think not? Tell me what else is going on in tennis this week. The only other ATP event is a hard-court tournament in Bogota. The women are in Bastad, Sweden and Istanbul.
What, nobody thought to take the tour to Dar es Salaam?
Tennis, however, never sleeps -- and neither do its most hard-core fans. The chaos in Hamburg has helped create a story that might make this week in the dead zone memorable after all. Seventeen-year-old Alexander Zverev is on the cusp of a remarkable breakout despite the way the tour is smiling upon aging veterans rather than exuberant prodigies these days.
A Hamburg native and wild-card wunderkind, Zverev became the youngest player to win a match at an ATP 500 in five years, and what a win it was. He tore down Robin Haase in the first round by the Serena Williams-esque stats of 6-2, 6-0 in under an hour. He took on No. 5 Youzhny next and sat him down in straights. Then he knocked off, respectively, No. 11 Santiago Giraldo and Tobias Kamke. Now he’s in the semifinals, where he’ll probably meet top-seeded David Ferrer. Uh-oh.
So it turns out we do have a story worth following this week, even if none of the Grand Slam champs is working. Dimitrov, along with the other elites, is resting. And why not? Everybody deserves a break now and then. Even Fabio Fognini.