WIMBLEDON, England -- No. 3 Maria Sharapova crashed out of Wimbledon on Wednesday, losing 6-3, 6-4 to qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal in the second round. Sharapova's loss occurred on a day when the courts at the All England Club came under fire for a high number of slips and falls. Sharapova lost her footing several times, and a nasty fall in the first round led Victoria Azarenka, the other top seed in Sharapova's half of the draw, to withdraw Wednesday with a knee injury.
Three thoughts on Sharapova's shocking loss:
1. Sharapova couldn't overcome a stellar performance by a former prodigy: Larcher de Brito may not be a household name, but she's as well known for her pedigree as she is for her whooping grunt. The 20-year-old came up through the Bollettieri program, like Sharapova, and made a name for herself when she rose to a career high of No. 76 in 2009. Now ranked No. 131, she played three matches to qualify for Wimbledon, and defeated Melanie Oudin in three sets in the first round. Her level of play against Sharapova made her look like a top-30 player; she consistently struck the ball on the rise at the baseline and smacked down the lines with great effect.
On the other hand, Sharapova simply looked flat, missing returns she normally makes and struggling to break her younger opponent's surprisingly effective serve. Sharapova, who admitted she had an off day and wasn't aggressive enough, couldn't seem to get her teeth into the match until it was too late. As Larcher de Brito served for the match at 5-4, Sharapova got the game to deuce and fought off four match points before finally succumbing to her opponent's constant pressure.
"I give her a lot of credit," Sharapova said. "I think she played extremely well today. She was really solid from the baseline. I don't feel like I was aggressive enough, that I hit the ball deep enough. I wasn't ready after the returns or the serves. She's someone that plays extremely aggressive. I just wasn't there."
2. Court conditions have to be questioned: Part of the problem for Sharapova was her footing. She fell three times during the rallies on the No. 2 Court, where Caroline Wozniacki slipped and injured her foot in the match before. Sharapova told the chair umpire that the courts were dangerous. She needed to call the trainer after her third tumble, which seemed to strain her hip.
"Well, after I buckled my knee three times, that's obviously my first reaction," Sharapova said of her message to the umpire. "And because I've just never fallen that many times in a match before. Those are the conditions that are there for my opponent, as well. Just took a lot more falls than she did today."
Sharapova was the third match on No. 2 Court on Wednesday, which means she spent much of the day watching players hit the deck.
"I just noticed a few more players falling a bit more than usual," she said. "And understandably the first couple of days, they're always a bit like that, but I don't think I've seen as much as I have maybe in the last few years."
Wednesday featured a record seven retirements or walkovers in singles and one retirement in doubles because of injuries. While the men's injuries appear to be pre-existing or freak accidents, the players have been slipping and falling at an alarming rate this year. How much of it is related to the condition of the courts and how much of it is just the difficult transition from clay to grass? Wozniacki refused to make a causal link, but she admitted the surface feels different this year.
"I find them a little bit slower, first of all," she said. "I don't know if the grass is a little longer, what it is. But, yeah, I think they're more similar to the Olympics last year than they were to Wimbledon last year."
3. Get ready for a surprise finalist: On a day with seven retirements or walkovers, both the men's and women's draws are hanging by a thread. Azarenka's withdrawal seemed to have paved the way for Sharapova to make the final without much challenge. Now that both the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds are out of the bottom half of the draw, the highest remaining seed is painfully erratic former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. This is a huge opportunity for someone in that half, including Sloane Stephens, who is into the third round after defeating Andrea Petkovic.