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Tuesday, July 1, 2014
One wacky day at Wimbledon

By Matt Wilansky
ESPN.com

LONDON -- It was one of those unrelenting days that kept getting more dire and more bizarre as the seconds ticked away.

When Maria Sharapova finally succumbed to her fate after saving six match points, the women's field took yet another hit. Serena Williams had lost just a few days before, and No. 2 seed Li Na had long been making plans for the hard-court season. This was, by all accounts, Sharapova's tournament to lose. And she lost.

Sharapova
And here we thought Maria Sharapova's loss was going to be the biggest headliner Wednesday.

But hours later, when the Sharapova saga had all but vanished from our minds, Williams, in one of the strangest scenes you'll ever see in a tennis tournament, became completely unhinged and unable to serve a ball over the net as she prepared for her first-round doubles match with sister Venus. Serena had actually whiffed on a few swings during warm-ups. In the third game of the match, she double-faulted four times.

Seriously, it looked like she had never touched a racket in her life.

The official statement from the grounds was that Serena had contracted a "viral illness," which could very well be true. But the ensuing scuttlebutt traversed through the All England Club faster than her usual rocket groundstrokes. To be clear, we have no idea what, if any of it, is true, but given the depth of Serena's freakish and out-of-joint movements on the court, we can't help but wonder and want answers. Answers we may never get, for what it's worth.

Anarchy during a Grand Slam isn't anything new. Just a few weeks ago at the French Open, the top three women's seeds fell before the fourth round for the first time in the Open era -- in any Slam. We had a hard time wrapping our collective tennis minds around that. But it was nothing compared to this day at the All England Club. But at least the weirdness was behind us. ...

... until world No. 1 Rafael Nadal lost.

No one knows for sure why things come in threes, but Tuesday at Wimbledon, that idiom didn't seem so idiotic.

Not only did Rafa lose, but he did so to a 19-year-old kid who had played a total of one match heading into this tournament this season. And this after Nadal had ample time off to prepare for that kid, the ultra-talented Aussie Nick Kyrgios, who most agree will be a serial Grand Slam champion.

"I tried. I lost," Nadal said. "That's the easiest way to explain that. I lost. Is not a drama. Is nothing strange. I lost in four sets having my chances, only losing one serve. Is not nothing about the grass. Is obvious that for everybody the grass is more dangerous than the rest of the surfaces."

Fair enough. Nadal has historically produced underwhelming results here, including a second-round loss two years ago, a first-round defeat in 2013, and now this one, which came in the fourth round.

As for Sharapova, she had won 11 straight three-setters before Kerber prevailed Tuesday.

"It happens," Sharapova said. "That's the game. Just because you come in as a favorite doesn't mean that you are guaranteed to hold the trophy at the end of the two weeks. That's why we play this sport. You start from the first round. As many people anticipate certain matches, people going through, the favorites, at the end of the day those are just words."

Say what you will about Sharapova, but she's a fighter, maybe the most dogged competitor in the game. But with her loss, it's now been 10 years since she last won here.

But at least she and Nadal walked away from a bad day clear-headed and with their wits about them.

Not everyone could say the same.