Wimbledon's crazy day of falling stars

THE most extraordinary day in Wimbledon's 136 years ended in the highest drama here as Roger Federer, the seven-time winner, suffered the most astonishing defeat of his career. The defending champion was beaten 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6 in the second round by Sergiy Stakhovsky, the world No 116, to end his record run of 36 Grand Slam quarter-final appearances in a row.

Federer's earliest loss at Wimbledon for 11 years and his earliest exit from a Grand Slam for 10 years came at the end of a day which also saw the demise of the No 2 and No 3 women's seeds, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, and the withdrawal or retirement of seven players through injury.

The fallen included Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a potential quarter-final opponent for Andy Murray, who beat Lu Yen-hsun in straight sets. Murray began the week with Federer and Rafael Nadal as the biggest threats in his half of the draw, but Nicolas Almagro , the No 15 seed, is now the highest-ranked player he can face before the final. John Isner and Marin Cilic, two potential threats, both withdrew with injuries.

The former champion John McEnroe described the day as "one of the all-time craziest" in Wimbledon history and added: "Not in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to see a day like today."

Stakhovsky had never beaten a top 10 player in 21 attempts. The 27-year-old Ukrainian played the match of his life, but he provided final confirmation that Federer is a fading force. Next month the 31-year-old Swiss will drop to No 5 in the world rankings, his lowest position for a decade.

Federer's defeat followed criticism of the courts here after a day of heavy falls, shocking defeats, mid-match retirements and withdrawals. The head count was led by Steve Darcis, conqueror of Nadal, and Azarenka, who were forced out after failing to recover from heavy first-round falls.

Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki both required treatment after nasty tumbles during shock defeats on No 2 Court. Sharapova, who slipped in almost the same spot as Wozniacki, complained to the umpire "this court is dangerous" in her straight-sets defeat to a qualifier, Michelle Larcher de Brito. "I don't think I have ever fallen three times in a match before," Sharapova said. "Today I saw a few players take hits. It was a bit slippery on the outside. After I buckled my knee three times that [comment] was obviously my reaction. I'd be lying if I said you don't think about that when you fall a lot. I rarely see myself on the ground like that."

Azarenka blamed the surface on Court One for the knee injury she suffered in the first round. "The court was not in a good condition," she said. "My opponent fell twice and I fell badly on there. So did a lot of people after."

However, the All England Club issued a statement which said: "There have been no changes in the preparation of the courts and as far as we are aware the grass surface is in excellent condition. In fact, we believe that it is drier than last year when the prevailing conditions were cold and wet." The Independent's columnist Nick Bollettieri said: "I've been to many Grand Slams and have not seen so many people pull out. These are big pull-outs too. It is unbelievable. Grass is going to be a topic of conversation. You just don't have these many injuries happening."

The former champion Boris Becker said the turn of events was predictable. He said: "The grass is slippery in the first couple of days and is going to be dangerous. It has been like this for the last 150 years."

In addition, Radek Stepanek (hamstring) and Yaroslava Shvedova took the number of withdrawals this week to 10. The record for withdrawals at a Slam was set at the 2011 US Open, when 17 singles players retired. The record at Wimbledon, set five years ago, is 13. After this amazing day, it would be no surprise if that is broken too in days to come.

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