Surveying the Wimbledon wreckage
LONDON -- With the wreckage now over, it's time to survey the damage. Even a quick, wincing glance shows the devastation is nearly complete.
Two pillars of the men's draw are gone, and much of the surrounding area mowed down -- only in one far spot, a national landmark remains unscathed. The bottom half of the women's draw is in ruins.
That is the scene after the tournament took blow after blow on its third day, with player after player falling on the grass, scores of upsets and a record seven pullouts. Many called it the craziest day they could remember at The Championships at Wimbledon. At the very least, there has been nothing like it for a decade since "Wild Wednesday" in 2002 when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Marat Safin all lost in short succession.
Even that hardly compares to the stunning menu of events that just transpired at the All England Club because, ever since Roger Federer won the title the next year and began a long period of top-player dominance, such days had come to seem like a thing of the past.
Until Wednesday. The twists and turns have been well chronicled, starting with withdrawals that included No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka with a knee injury from her previous match, Rafael Nadal's conqueror Steve Darcis with a sore shoulder, Marin Cilic with a knee injury and Yaroslava Shvedova, who hurt her arm. Others, such as John Isner, Radek Stepanek and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, took the court but could not finish.
Throughout the day, players had trouble finding their footing, with No. 3 seed and former champ Maria Sharapova hurting her hip and former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki her ankle when they fell in their losses. There were other upsets, including Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Lleyton Hewitt, also all former No. 1s.
By the end of the day, the carnage had even claimed Federer himself, the man who has come to define Grand Slam consistency by reaching 36 straight quarterfinals. With Nadal having already made his shocking exit on opening day, home hope Andy Murray is the lone top name left in the bottom half of the men's draw.
The tournament had begun with a lot of buzz about a possible quarterfinal meeting between Federer and Nadal, with the winner potentially facing Murray in the semifinals.
Let that be a warning against complacency, Federer said after his defeat.
"You guys hyped it up so much, me playing Rafa, and we're both out," he said. "So there's a letdown clearly. Maybe it's also somewhat a bit disrespectful to the other opponents who are in the draw still.
"Maybe you shouldn't do that so often next time around."
So what will happen to that much-vaunted Federer-Nadal quarterfinal? It will now take place between Sergiy Stakhovsky and Lukasz Kubot. Or Jurgen Melzer and Benoit Paire. Or Jerzy Janowicz and Adrian Mannarino. Or Dustin Brown and Nicolas Almagro. Or some combination thereof.
And what's more, one of those eight players will end up a Wimbledon semifinalist. Just 48 hours earlier, it would have been a stunning prospect.
Make no mistake, there is some serious talent contained in the collection of names above, but talent so wild and untamed that hardly any of these players would have been considered capable of stringing together five best-of-five victories at a Grand Slam. Now, one will.
The biggest opportunity might be for rising prospect Janowicz, a 22-year-old from Poland who made the final of the Paris Masters last year.
Frenchman Paire, who is slightly older, is also a talented shot-maker who has been moving up the rankings. Both, however, struggle with maintaining their mental focus.
Among the veterans, Melzer is a grass-court natural but is carrying an injury and Almagro has a big serve and has been a consistent but not outstanding performer on the lawns the past few years.
The most interesting of the bunch might be Brown, the Jamaican-German with flowing dreadlocks and funky game featuring a whiplash forehand and mad rushes to net. Although his unorthodox style is delightful to watch, it rarely remains on course over an entire match -- as his No. 189 ranking attests.
As for Federer's conqueror, Stakhovsky, his first task is to avoid the post-upset hangover that often affects players after a big win.
"I hope I can come out with a great performance the next round," Stakhovsky said Wednesday. "[T]oday was great, but I didn't win the tournament."
Overall, it makes things look much easier for Murray, who would now be a big favorite against anyone he faces in the semifinals. His own quarter also has been partly cleared out by the loss of Tsonga and Cilic, leaving Ernests Gulbis and Mikhail Youzhny as his biggest threats on the way to the final four. A return to the final seems almost assured, except … what was that Federer said again about making assumptions?
On the other hand, a surprise finalist is guaranteed in the women's draw unless former champ Petra Kvitova manages to come through the bottom half. Even she would be a somewhat unexpected presence on the final weekend after having poor results this season and almost going out in the first round against No. 108 Coco Vandeweghe.
After well-publicized struggles since her Australian Open run, Sloane Stephens now has a good chance of making her second Grand Slam semifinal this year. Marion Bartoli, who made the Wimbledon final in 2007 but is currently in crisis, is the next-highest player left in a section that has no others in the top 50 and has four outside the first hundred.
For the record, those other names are Monica Puig (No. 65 and rising), Eva Birnerova (No. 152), Petra Cetkovska (No. 196 but reached the fourth round in 2011), teenager Camila Giorgi (No. 93), Karin Knapp (No. 104), and former phenom and renowned grunter Michelle Larcher de Brito (No. 131 but with a win over Sharapova in the second round).
Kvitova still faces some tricky opposition in her section, including two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, late-blooming Kirsten Flipkens and Carla Suarez Navarro, more known as a clay-court expert.
The emerging glamour name is last year's junior champ, Eugenie Bouchard, who piqued interest as she took out Ivanovic -- on Centre Court, no less, after their match was moved to the main stadium to fill the spot created by Azarenka's withdrawal.
Whoever comes through, it's clear this Wimbledon will now have a very different feel from majors recently passed. The increased predictability in the women's game, the long-established presence of the men's big four -- all wiped away overnight.
What happens next? After Wednesday, better not to guess.