Nobody Killed Roger Federer
As a junior, Serhiy Stakhovsky- the lanky Ukrainian tennis player that defeated Roger Federer in the second round of Wimbledon 2013– was always on the fringes. He played at the same time as current greats like Djokovic and Murray- even defeating Djokovic in 2002 a couple of times, losing to Murray in the US Open Junior Men’s final in 2004. Once he turned pro, he scalped a few big names, but always struggled to maintain any kind of consistency in a tennis world that was fast turning power-baseline, and remained stubborn about his classic serve-and-volley style. He managed to beat mercurial names like Safin, Karlovic, Ljubicic, Tipsarevic during the years, even defeating Robredo and Baghdatis in 2010. He consistently went down to Andy Murray on the pro circuit, retiring the one time he was leading Murray by a set and a break at Dubai 2009.
The one advantage younger players like Murray, Djokovic and Stakhovsky enjoy- making up for their lack of experience compared to a Federer- is the advantage of observation and foresight. They can model their games and style of play at an early age in order to beat the reigning senior champions, who are usually the benchmark in tennis at that time. They can figure out exactly what to do as a 19 year old about to turn pro, while watching Federer demolish Roddick various times. They can foresee an era of tough physical men’s tennis that could knock him off his perch one day.
The difference between the Ukrainian middling tennis player and the rest is that he stuck to the Sampras and Ivanisevic school of tennis. He believed in short rallies, single-handed backhands and leaps to the net to demonstrate an art of volleying that never died. While players like Henman faded away years ago, a modern player like Stakhovsky proves that once men’s tennis reaches a certain level where tough-as-nails-baseline-tennis is a must, where most youngsters try to decipher a way to outNadal Nadal- it is cleverer to go back to the classics, turning the table on the current generation by shocking with old fashioned tactics. Physical tennis is almost taken for granted nowadays, and Stakhovsky’s win over the least physical and most artistic player of a generation is an irony, and a breath of fresh air at the ever-slowing courts of Wimbledon.
On a Wednesday that could go down as the craziest in recent modern-era tennis at a Major, players like Tsonga, Cilic, Stephanek, Darcis, Azarenka, Tipsarevic withdrew or retired and Hewitt, Sharapova, Woznaicki and Ivanovic were defeated by younger qualifiers. All that was needed for the day to be rechristened as the theatre-of-bizarre was another shockwave loss like Nadal’s the previous evening. Federer had last been defeated before a Slam Quarterfinal at the French Open in 2003- more than 10 years ago. He was last ranked outside the top 4 on July 7th, 2003.
10 years later, on July 8th 2013, he will be ranked outside the top 4 again. The streak of 37 consecutive Slam Quarterfinals- arguably the greatest record in pro tennis- is broken. Stakhovsky served and volleyed the Swiss out of Wimbledon- in a similar way Federer had, as a 19 year old, dismissed Sampras in 2001. This was to be the ultimate upset in men’s tennis, eclipsing Nadal’s first round loss or anything that Murray and Djokovic manage to do from here on.
The defending Champion is out, leaving only Djokovic as the only active Wimbledon winner in the draw, clearing the path for a Murray-Djokovic Final.
And to think, fans were outraging about a Nadal-Federer Quarterfinal (an early meeting) at a Grand Slam for the first time ever.
Stakhovsky, meanwhile, can say a silent prayer- and enjoy his most famous victory. He can be proud, for he put on a clinic of volleying that had old McEnroe in the commentary booth flapping around.