At the previous changeover, Nadal stood and barked at the chair umpire, complaining about being distracted by 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol while serving. Later, Nadal shook his head and frowned when a Wimbledon official explained that, with light fading and the second-round match heading to a fifth set, they’d need a 45-minute break to close the retractable roof and turn on the lights at Centre Court.
Of all the things that rattled Nadal on Thursday evening, the most significant was Rosol’s gutsy game — his 22 aces, violent groundstrokes and shot-punctuating staredowns. Put it together and Rosol, making his debut at the All England Club, overpowered 11-time Grand Slam champion Nadal 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, one of the most astonishing results in tennis history.
“That’s (what) happens when you play against a player who is able to hit the ball very hard, hit the ball without thinking and feeling the pressure,” the second-seeded Nadal said. “At the end, when the opponent wants to play like he wanted to play in the fifth (set), you are in his hands, no? Everything was going right for him.”
It’s the first time since 2005 that Nadal lost in the second round at any major tournament. It also ends two streaks for the Spaniard: He reached the final at the previous five Grand Slams, and also reached the final the last five times he entered Wimbledon, winning the grass-court tournament in 2008 and 2010.
“He played a good match,” Rosol said, “but I think I was better today.”
Actually, seven-time French Open champion Nadal came oh-so-close to a straight-set exit. He barely avoided losing the opener, forced to erase three set points before taking it in the tiebreaker when Rosol plopped a gimme forehand into the net.
Rosol took the next two sets, pounding serves, returning well and swinging away from the baseline. It was an aggressive approach, as though Rosol wanted to out-muscle the ultimate on-court bully, right down to imitating the way Nadal sprints back to the baseline after changeovers.
Even Rosol considered it stunning he was able to stay close, much less win.
Asked afterward what his expectations had been, Rosol replied: “Just to play three good sets, you know. Just don’t lose 6-0, 6-1, 6-1.”
They’re both 26 years old, yet Nadal entered the day with 583 career match wins, and Rosol 19. Nadal owns 50 titles, Rosol zero. In 178 prior Grand Slam matches, Nadal never had lost to a foe ranked 70th or worse. In five previous visits to Wimbledon, Rosol lost every time in the first round of qualifying — not even the main event. Qualifying. This is only the Czech player’s second career tour-level event on grass; the first was two weeks ago.
He thought Nadal was trying to throw him off in the third set with a bit of gamesmanship. First, after Rosol broke to go ahead 2-1, Nadal complained to the chair umpire about something his foe was doing to bother him. “So do you think that’s fair?” Nadal asked. “Let me know.”
At the following changeover, they crossed paths on the way to their seats, and Nadal offered a body-check.
“He wanted to take my concentration. … I knew that he will try something,” said Rosol, who has a tribal tattoo covering his entire left calf, and wore green laces on one shoe, white laces on the other. “I was surprised that he can do it on the Centre Court, Wimbledon, you know. It’s, like, something wrong.”
Nothing fazed Rosol, especially down the stretch. Never showing a hint of nerves or inexperience, he was the one who seized control from the get-go when they resumed play after a taking a break while the roof was shifted into place.
Nadal didn’t like the long delay one bit.
“Completely new stadium, with new roof, so the normal thing is cover the roof in 5-10 minutes,” Nadal said.
When they came back out, Rosol immediately broke for a 1-0 lead, swatting a forehand passing shot that Nadal volleyed into the net. And then he held for 2-0, thanks to a trio of groundstroke winners and a service winner.
As it turned out, that was that.
Rosol still needed to keep holding serve, of course, which is easier said than done against Nadal, one of the top returners in the game. But Rosol did not fold. If anything, he got better. From 2-1, 40-30, Rosol won the last 13 points he served, seven with aces.
He kept coming up with huge, flat shots, hit hard as can be, aimed at the white chalk lines — and catching them. When Rosol smacked a forehand winner to hold at love for a 5-3 lead, moving within one game of by far the biggest victory of his career, he took an extra ball out of his pocket and slammed it to the ground.
Then, at 5-4, Rosol served it out this way: ace, forehand winner, ace, ace. He dropped to his knees — a pose generally reserved for winning a final, not a second-round match — and fell forward, staying face-down on the grass for a few seconds. When Rosol rose, he tossed his racket at the net; it rolled over the tape and onto Nadal’s side. After a brief, awkward handshake, Nadal shuffled over and picked up the racket, handing it to Rosol.
The victor then basked in his standing ovation, placing a hand over his stomach while bowing to the four sides of the arena.
“He played more than unbelievable,” Nadal said.
“You play against an inspired opponent and I am out. That’s all. Is not a tragedy. Is only a tennis match,” he added. “At the end, that’s life. There is much more important things. Sure, I wanted to win, but I lost.”
That one result rendered all of the others on Day 4 of Wimbledon relatively meaningless. For the record: Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams reached the third round, as did Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, who needed five sets and more than four hours to get past 173rd-ranked British wild card James Ward.
And there were a couple of other upsets, such as Xavier Malisse eliminating 13th-seeded Gilles Simon — he of the pot-stirring comments about men deserving more prize money than women at Grand Slam tournaments — and Benoit Paire beating No. 22 Alexandr Dolgopolov. Also: Mirjana Lucic defeated 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli, and unseeded American Varvara Lepchenko got past No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
But this day will always belong to Lukas Rosol.
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