Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Verdict! This will be the way we write about matches from time to time. Here is the scale used to evaluate the match and certain aspects of each player:
Without further ado, let’s start with (one of) today’s momentous upsets!
Overall Match Rating:
This was an extremely well-played encounter, with the added historical significance of Roger Federer’s legendary quarterfinal streak at Grand Slams coming to an end. It was a throwback match, too, since Stakhovsky was hell bent on attacking the net as often as he could (as you will see below, the Ukrainian came to net 96 times). In a way, it was a tribute of sorts to an era of tennis that seems to be long gone, where the points were short, and anybody could catch fire and knock out a high seed.
The atmosphere on Centre Court was simply perfect, and there was plenty of great shot-making, as well as drama of all kinds. At the end of it all, Stakhovsky’s win felt momentous, not only because the famous streak ended, but because Roger Federer was losing in the second round of Wimbledon. The last time Federer lost this early at his favorite event was 11 years ago in 2002, a year before his first title. Of course, the fact that it was Sergiy Stakhovsky who ended the Quarterfinal Streak, a man ranked outside the top 100 and not having the greatest of seasons, amplifies the impact of the upset.
But what I will always remember from this match is how good Stakhovsky was. Particularly because he had overcome the disappointment of losing the first set after having a break point at 5-all. In that 30-40 point, Sergiy was presented with a short ball that was extremely attackable. A put-away shot, really. Federer was leaning to one side, and there was lots of space on the other. Stakhovsky chose incorrectly, hit the approach straight at Federer, and two passing shots later, the break point was lost.
After that sequence of events happened, and particularly after Federer nabbed the set in a tiebreaker, I thought Stakhovsky was done. How many times have we seen a heavy underdog have a chance to take a first set against one of the top guys, botch it, and then crumble? That didn’t happen today, though; he was the better player in the second set, and the same could be said for the third stanza as well. Federer seemed to recover some of the momentum when he broke Stakhovsky to get back on serve in that fourth set, but he couldn’t find a way to force a decider. Interestingly enough, the match ended after a long baseline rally. While much of the match was played in a retro style, the last point certainly felt extremely contemporary, in more ways than one.
Winner: Sergiy Stakhovsky
Sergiy Stakhovsky played the match of a lifetime. It was the kind of performance every pro must dream about: to play your absolute best on Centre Court, against an all-time great. Stakhovsky was relentlessly aggressive: the fact that he ended up with 72 winners and only 17 unforced errors (think about that for a bit) in a four set match that included three tiebreakers is simply astounding. I thought Stakhovsky found ways to overcome the lack of pace on his forehand by using his great one-handed backhand to keep Federer at bay on the Ad court. Naturally, Sergiy’s transition game was on point, anchored by a terrific serving performance.
To me, just as impressive as his numbers is the fact that Stakhovsky didn’t let the match out of his hands. Not after he lost the first set, and not after he lost his break advantage in the fourth set. That’s how you pull a historic upset. And boy, did he do it in style.
Loser: Roger Federer
Roger Federer did not play a bad tennis match. As the stats show, he won only one fewer point than Stakhovsky. Moreover, Federer ended up with only 13 unforced errors, which is ridiculous.
However, you cannot escape the feeling that Federer looked like the better player today for only a brief period of the fourth set. It took him almost half the match to even create a break point on Stakhovsky’s serve. And while the Ukrainian had to deal with Federer’s all-time great serve on grass, Federer had to deal with the serve of someone who has a career high ranking of No. 31. The Swiss clearly had an edge in that department, but just couldn’t find ways to break Stakhovsky’s serving groove.
The main issue I had with Federer today is that he never really figured out how to assert himself over Stakhovsky. Throughout the years, Federer has been the master of overwhelming lower-ranked opponents like Stakhovsky with his all-time great array of skills (hence the Quarterfinal Streak). Not so today: Roger seemed to be reacting to Stakhovsky almost all of the time. Particularly shocking to me was the fact that Federer couldn’t find ways to exploit the blatant advantage he had on the forehand side, though credit must be given to Stakhovsky for brilliantly steering the conversation away from that kind of exchange.
Apart from the shock of losing so early at Wimbledon (in a year in which he was the defending champion, no less), Federer will find himself ranked no higher than No. 5 when the rankings come out after Wimbledon. That’s uncharted territory for the 17-time Major champ – or at least it’s territory he hasn’t set foot on in over a decade. How Roger Federer reacts to this new reality in what’s left of 2013 will be absolutely fascinating to watch. And the entire tennis world will be watching.