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Tennis

Historic Wimbledon allows for lesser-known players to take the stage

Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

No. 25 seed Benoit Paire was drawn into the quarter initially containing Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

I'll say this about the International Tennis Federation: It's not the sport's p.r. house organ. The ITF, one of tennis' (too) many governing bodies, has issued a series of releases this week that support empirically what we know intuitively: This has been something other than a banner event so far. To wit:

• Wednesday set a record for players retiring with injuries in a single session.

• For the first time since '12, there are no American men surviving the second round at Wimbledon. That's 1912, the last year of the William Taft presidency over a century ago.

• Today we learned that only 10 of the top 10 men's and women's seeds combined reached the third round at this year's Wimbledon. This is the worst performance by joint top 10 seeds at any Grand Slam in the Open era.

Five days in, it's been an historic Wimbledon, but only in a negative sense. Seed after seed has fallen -- often literally -- and been bounced from the tournament. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer bow out in the first and second rounds, respectively. The grass has been criticized so fiercely that the organizers took the rare step of issuing a defensive statement in response. Friday's play was marred by steady rain delays. If the strawberries and cream triggered an E.Coli outbreak, no one would be surprised. As a friend of mine put it today, "It's time to hit reboot on this entire event."

WERTHEIM: Tennis Nation tries to make sense of the wacky Wednesday at Wimbledon

No way, I would say. One of the great virtues of sport is that it's unscripted and unchoreographed. Sometimes you get pyrotechnics and sometimes you get duds. And maybe there's some silver lining behind the all the clouds overhead: The rash of upsets and injuries will divert the spotlight and feature some new stars. For much of the last decade, the sport has been dominated by a half-dozen players. Now we get to meet the back-up performers.

The much-anticipated quarterfinal Federer and Nadal won't happen. But now we might spend time meeting, say, Dustin Brown, the serve-and-volleying Jamaican/German who once lived in a van -- down by the Rhine River? -- shuttling between lower level events. Or, say, Benoit Paire, a quirky Frenchman who is to ballstriking what R.A. Dickey is to pitching. Or Tommy Haas, the 35-year-old who is finally healthy and making up for lost time; he has already delivered the line of the tournament so far. ("You can't buy ATP points to buy your ranking. It's not possible, otherwise [Ernests] Gulbis would be No.1 in the world," he said today.)

On the women's side, we will not get to see Miss Maria Sharapova play Miss Serena Williams -- or Mistress Williams, as Sharapova ungraciously implied last week -- in the oncourt manifestation of their off-court feud. Instead, we might get to see Madison Keys, the ascendant American; Alison Riske, a Pittsburgh native who beat Ursula Radwanska today with her green lucky baby blanket tucked away in her courtside bag; or Kirsten Flipkens, a funky Belgian who played in sunglasses despite slate-colored skies.

NGUYEN: Maria Sharapova goes from competitor to spectator at Wimbledon

Even the hardest of the hard-core fans may not know Igor Sijsling from Grega Zemlja or Marina Erakovic from Klara Zakopalova. But they are all still playing for the Wimbledon title, and each has a story to tell. If some new players can break through, and get their moment in the sun -- or the clouds -- to broaden the cast of tennis players these next few days, the ambient chaos may be a disguised blessing.

Mailbag

Kimiko Date-Krumm made it to the third round of Wimbledon at the age of 42, and the seemingly unstoppable, 31-year-old Serena Williams could possibly be near the top of tennis well into her mid- to late-30s. Do you think Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport or even Kim Clijsters could come back today and break into the top 20, or perhaps even the top 10, due to the lack to depth and talent in the women's tour?
-- Robby Joe, Los Angeles

• Do I think one of the aforementioned players, assuming full health, could go out tomorrow and win a few rounds against players outside the top 50? Sure. Do I think they could play a full schedule? No. To me, Date-Krumm's run here is a nice story. But it's more impressive that she's still doing this, week in week out, all over the world.

With the upcoming match between 31-year-old Serena Williams and 42-year-old Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm, I'm curious to know if there has ever been a match with this high of a combined age.
-- Chris, San Francisco

• With a nod to John Berkok, Date-Krumm played Venus Williams, as well as Tamarine Tanasugarn, both of whom were older than Serena.

After three days, is there anything at Wimbledon to look forward to other than a Novak Djokovic-Andy Murray final? As I sit here on Thursday morning, this tournament seems a lot less interesting.
-- Srikanth, Washington

• This tournament has the vibe of one the those NCAA tournaments when the early rounds are filled with bracket-busters, and yet the favorites still win.

Michael Llodra retired from his singles match today, but then went out and won a doubles match (his opponents retired). I thought it was a rule that if you retired from singles you couldn't play doubles either. Must not have been a serious injury. Do you know any of the details?
-- Jennifer Benson, Silver Spring, MD

Take it away, Michael Llodra.

John McEnroe made a case for Nadal being the GOAT over Federer, citing the Davis Cup. I don't see how the Davis Cup goes in the GOAT equation. It just means Spain has more top players than Switzerland.
-- Mike T., Alameda, CA

• Can someone track down the video of this? Would love to see it as, I suspect, would many. I don't want to mischaracterize John but I'm surprised he'd go so far down this rabbit hole.

Quick note: in response to that guy who asked, "Speaking of conflicts of interest, what is your connection to Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf?" I'm a huge fan of both, and always appreciate the selective linking you do of them. I hope this guy's pointed question doesn't cause you to stop. Even though they are both retired, I think you do a great job of bringing them into the conversation when it's appropriate from time to time.
-- Tom Glickman, Los Angeles

• I'd add that we're talking about of the greatest tennis players ever. It's not like I'm giving periodic updates on Jaime Yzaga and Sabine Hack.

"On a serious note, it's interesting that Federer is entirely too rational for superstition." Except for his stubborn refusal to give up on an outdated racket...
-- TennisDe, Milwaukee

• I'd contend there's a difference between stubborn and superstition.

"If Sergiy Stakhovsky is akin to George Bastl doesn't that mean Federer will win the 2013 U.S. Open then retire?" I hope half of that is true.
-- Cainim, Seattle

• Why do you want him to retire so soon?

Two quick thoughts: Could Tomas Berdych be an under-the-radar finalist, now that the draw so wide open? And is this the beginning of the slow fade for my compatriot Milos Raonic? Hockey's over, and if there's no Milos playing in Wimbledon, what are we Canadians to do until the start of the CFL season?
-- Neil Grammer, Toronto

• You like the UFC? There's always Georges St-Pierre. And what about Munenori Kawaski. Oh, wait...

I'd like to propose a new rule -- if closed-ended mailbag questions can be simply answered by Google on the number one result (type in "article on federer suicide" and see what the first three words are in the result), you should reject those questions for other readers' questions who are more earnest in their desire for an answer. I know, I know -- this sounds and is snooty, but c'mon people, Google!
-- Shayne, Louisville

• Usually I abide by this rule and avoid answering questions like, "Who did Federer beat to win Wimbledon for the first time?" In the case of yesterday, addressing the question offered an opportunity to plug David Foster Wallace. So I did.

Shots, Miscellany

Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki talks Wimbledon on The Ticket in Dallas.

• Andrew of New York, NY: Your readers/followers might be interested in revisiting this interview with Sergiy Stakhovsky, and might not know that he was subsequently elected to the ATP Player Council.

• Nathaniel Aserios of Cebu: Federer still has a streak of 41 consecutive Grand Slams in which he makes the second round or better.

• Sam of San Diego: If Sergiy Stakhovsky does not eventually win the Wimbledon champion's trophy, his older brother, Academy Award winning actor Roberto Benigni should be able to spare one of his Oscar trophies.

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