WIMBLEDON, England: Rafael Nadal bumped into his unknown and unheralded opponent as they headed to a break between games. Perhaps it was incidental contact.
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.
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.