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Tennis

Ranking Wimbledon's top 10 upsets of all time

Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

No one expected for Roger Federer's Wimbledon demise to come at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky.

"Victory is fleeting," Billie Jean King once said on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. "Losing is forever."

Sometimes those defeats are so stunning that they withstand decades of rationalization, taking their spot in history, right alongside the epic victories by tennis' greatest champions.

This has been a Wimbledon of ongoing shock, one incomprehensible result after another, to the point where no list of the tournament's "greatest upsets" could possibly survive it unchanged. Here's a personal list of 10, and although they are ranked in order, they could easily be tossed into a hat, chosen at random and plausibly explained.

10. Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5), second round, 2013: It has become terribly trendy to write off Federer and attempt to guess when he'll retire, but he entered this Wimbledon as the defending champion and looked magnificent in his first-round match. If he was going to lose, certainly it wouldn't have been to No. 116 Stakhovsky, a veritable meteor bound for imminent demise. Stakhovsky seemed to arrive from some other time, serving and volleying Federer off the court for his first victory against a top 10 player in 21 attempts, then losing his very next match. For certain, Federer's legion of devoted fans won't forget the sight of him losing nerve on big points. That just doesn't happen at Wimbledon. This loss is forever.

PRICE: Despite his loss, Roger Federer maintains a mystical hold over his fans

9. Roger Taylor d. Rod Laver, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, fourth round, 1970: Taylor, a tough-minded sort from the north of England, was the No. 16 seed and a reputable player. But Laver was coming off a Grand Slam year (he's the last man to do so) and had won his last four Wimbledons: 1961-62 and, after a maddening stretch in which professionals were barred from the majors, 1968-69. Thus, this defeat ended his 31-match winning streak at the All England Club.

8. Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4, fourth round, 2013: Lisicki is known for her grass-court expertise, but let's be honest: She's never won a tournament of consequence, and Williams entered this event to the plaudits of seasoned critics proclaiming her the greatest female player in history. Williams was considered a rock-solid lock to win her sixth Wimbledon and 17th major, but she couldn't hold a 3-0 lead in the third set against Lisicki.

WERTHEIM: While shocking, Serena Williams' loss wasn't completely unexpected

7. Jelena Dokic d. Martina Hingis, 6-2, 6-0, first round, 1999: Dovic was a 16-year-old, virtually unknown qualifier ranked No. 129. Hingis, while shaken by her meltdown against Steffi Graf in that year's French Open final, was ranked No. 1 and had won five major titles, including the '97 Wimbledon. The truly stunning aspect of the match was the score.

6. Arthur Ashe d. Jimmy Connors, 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, final, 1975: Ashe's career track record speaks for itself, but he was about to turn 32, never to win another major. Connors, nine years younger, had won three of the four majors in 1974 and appeared to be an unstoppable force. Moreover, the two were bitter enemies over political issues, diametrically opposed in every way. Employing radical change-of-pace tactics designed especially for this match, Ashe dismantled the Connors machine with his mind.

5. Lori McNeil d. Steffi Graf, 7-5, 7-6 (5), first round, 1994: The unseeded McNeil was a solid player, but at 30, she was well past her prime. Only weeks before, she'd lost 6-0, 6-0 to Mary Pierce at the French Open. Graf had won five of the previous six Wimbledons and was measuring up to the greatest who ever played. This would be the first time that a women's defending champion had gone down in the first round.

4. Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-4, first round, 2003: This wouldn't be such a surprising result today, especially on grass, but it was a ridiculously out-of-the-blue result at the time. Hewitt was the defending champion and No. 1 seed. He'd barely heard of the 6-foot-10 qualifier and had never seen him play, and come to think of it, who had? Karlovic was ranked No. 203 with exactly two tour-level victories, and he'd been 0-for-10 trying to qualify for Grand Slam events. Hewitt became the first defending champion to lose in the first round in the Open era (which started in 1968).

3. Peter Doohan d. Boris Becker, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, second round, 1987: Becker had won the last two Wimbledons and had become a full-fledged, worldwide celebrity -- the toast of the sport. He'd routed the little-known Australian during the Queen's warmup tournament, en route to defeating Connors in the final. Yet here was Doohan, 0-7 in tour matches the previous year, playing the match of his life. He would go on to win only two Grand Slam singles matches for the rest of his career. This marked the earliest exit by a defending men's champion since Charlie Pasarell's first-round upset of Manolo Santana in 1967.

2. George Bastl d. Pete Sampras, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, second round, 2002, on the notorious (and since torn down) "Graveyard" Court 2: Few realized that Sampras would be in his final season of Grand Slam competition; perhaps this loss sent him a definitive message. But he did rally to win the U.S. Open (what a way to go out), and he was Pete Sampras, for crying out loud, the seven-time Wimbledon champion. George Bastl? Few could even place the name. Ranked 145th, he hadn't won a single tour-level match before Wimbledon and he lost in the qualifying, sneaking into the draw only after Felix Mantilla withdrew because of injury. Bastl never won another match at Wimbledon.

1. Lukas Rosol d. Rafael Nadal, 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, second round, 2012: We learned later that Nadal's aching knees were an issue, but he was hardly short of movement in this match. Rather, he was short of answers against a rocket-launching powerhouse, seemingly straight out of a movie or a video game. The sheer force of Rosol's game was incomprehensible from a man who entered Wimbledon with an 18-32 career record, held the No. 100 ranking and was making his first appearance in Wimbledon's main draw, having lost in the first round of qualifying in all five attempts. Perhaps other upsets are more surprising in retrospect, but none was more shocking at the time -- and for my money, it overshadows Nadal's bizarre first-round exit at the hands of Steve Darcis this year.

Other Court 2/Graveyard disasters: No. 1 seed Ilie Nastase losing to unseeded Alex Mayer, 1973; Tim Gullikson over John McEnroe, 1979; Kevin Curren beating defending champion Connors, 1983; Qualifier Doug Flach taking out Andre Agassi, 1996; Jill Craybas knocking off Serena Williams, 2005.

Also worth noting:

1932: Henri Cochet, the great French player who had won seven majors, including two Wimbledons, lost in the second round to 29-year-old Scotsman Ian Collins, an unseeded player known mostly for his doubles results.

1962: Unseeded Vera Sukova beat defending champion Angela Mortimer in fourth round, No. 2 seed Darlene Hard in the quarters and No. 3 Maria Bueno in the semifinals.

1983: Unseeded Kathy Jordan defeated second-seeded Chris Evert in the third round, the only time Evert ever failed to make the Wimbledon semifinals.

1985: Curren dispatched McEnroe, the two-time defending champion coming off a career year, in the quarterfinals -- while 17-year-old Boris Becker crafted a list of upsets all the way to the championship.

1992: No. 1-ranked Jim Courier, coming off wins at the Australian and French Opens, lost to qualifier Andrei Olhovskiy in the third round.

1996: Unseeded Richard Krajicek ended Sampras' 25-match Wimbledon winning streak in the quarterfinals -- Sampras' only loss at the All England Club between 1993 and 2000.

2004: No. 30 Karolina Sprem, never to be a significant factor on tour, beat two-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in the second round.

2013: Four-time major champion Maria Sharapova lost to Michelle Larcher de Brito, a career underachiever reviled for her shrieking, in the second round.

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