From virtually the first match on Monday, we've seen players slipping on the All-England Club grass. It's what happens when the ground has not yet been trampled. It is gorgeous and slick. But either the slips have been more frequent in the first three days of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, or they have simply been more costly. (Or, we're just seeing them more because there are cameras everywhere.)
Whatever the case, the injuries and walkovers piled up on a devastating Wednesday. Women's No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka? Gone with hip and knee injuries sustained during an awkward Monday fall. Men's No. 18 seed (and highest-ranked remaining American) John Isner? Out with what could be a severe knee injury sustained during a routine serve in the first game of the match. Men's No. 10 seed Marin Cilic? Knee. Nadal conqueror Steve Darcis? Shoulder. Old-school grass-courter Radek Stepanek? Thigh. In the first three hours of play on Wednesday, there were five walkovers/retirements. Then women's No. 9 seed Caroline Wozniacki twisted her ankle and got stomped by Petra Cetkovska in a match she honestly could have easily lost anyway.
So let's assess the damage. What have Wednesday's injuries (and some impressive upsets) done to the men's and women's respective draws?
Azarenka is the No. 2 seed and the No. 3 women's player on grass according to Advanced Baseline. Her absence quite obviously wreaks havoc on the bottom quarter of the draw. The next two players according to Advanced Baseline were 12th seed Ana Ivanovic (No. 8) and eighth seed Petra Kvitova (No. 13), but Ivanovic was crushed by dangerous youngster Eugenie Bouchard, and Kvitova barely advanced past Coco Vandeweghe in the first round. Kvitova's form has been shaky this year (despite winning Wimbledon in 2011, she has fallen to 13th on grass, after all), and she could face 25th seed Ekaterina Makarova (No. 15 on grass) in the third round.
The Kvitova-Makarova winner would have to be considered the new favorite to win Azarenka's region, likely facing either Kristen Flipkens (No. 20 on grass) or Jelena Jankovic (No. 21) in the quarterfinals. Regardless, opportunities abound here. Kvitova could begin to rebound after a long, steady backwards slide. Jankovic could continue her run of great form (she made the French Open quarterfinals) by going far, but she didn't even make it past the fourth round at Wimbledon when she was showing No. 1 form back in 2008. Makarova has never even made it past the second round at Wimbledon, but she has her best chance ever to reach a slam semi (she's a two-time quarterfinalist at the Australian Open). Flipkens, 27 years old and playing her best tennis ever, could put an enormous stamp on her résumé.
None of these players are anything even resembling dominant, however. Carla Suarez Navarro, 24, has reached the third round at Wimbledon for the second time and could make a run. And hell, 19-year old Bouchard looked outstanding in taking apart Ivanovic. She could make a Sloane-Stephens-at-the-Aussie type of statement as well. We're still staring at a likely final of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, but there is a semifinal slot completely up for grabs. That was pretty common a few years ago but has become more rare in the women's game.
Isner and Darcis
With Rafael Nadal out, Isner was staring at potentially the easiest possible road he ever had to a slam quarterfinal. With a win today, he could have faced Dustin Brown and Benoit Paire to reach Federer. Instead, he won the first three points of the match against Adrian Mannarino, then got hurt. His withdrawal, combined with Darcis' injury and Brown's stunning, fun upset of Lleyton Hewitt, clears the way for Paire. A 24-year-old Frenchman who is at a career high 25th in the ATP rankings, Paire has never advanced beyond the third round of a slam, but he's there now, and he will face Lukasz Kubot (No. 93 on grass) to get to the fourth round. Get there, and he'll play either Mannarino (No. 105) or Brown (No. 207) to get to the quarters. You'll never have an easier path. (Actually, that goes for everybody not named Paire in this portion of the draw as well. Brown looked awesome today, so you never know.)
Cilic was playing well and facing a favorable draw himself. Only wins over Kenny De Schepper (No. 69 on grass) and either Juan Monaco (No. 24) or Rajeev Ram (No. 137) stood between him and a fourth-round spot. He would have faced a strong opponent there (either No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 21 Ernests Gulbis, or a smoking hot No. 44 Fernando Verdasco), but he has the talent to win that match, too. Instead, the winner of the Tsonga-Gulbis-Verdasco battle royale will probably face Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.
Stepanek is solid on grass (No. 31, higher than his 24th-seeded second-round opponent Jerzy Janowicz) but had dropped the first set to Janowicz before the injury. His run was not likely to last too long, but he still could have taken down Janowicz and, potentially, Nicolas Almagro in the third round.
Upsets and injuries have made for a crazy first week. Who else will go down (literally or figuratively) in the days ahead?
UPDATE, 11:50 a.m. ET
The moment this piece got published, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired from his match with Ernests Gulbis. A crazier day gets crazier.
Following his trip to the French Open semifinals, Tsonga was certainly the favorite to reach the quarterfinals against Murray, especially with Cilic's injury. But now? One of the following four people will make the quarterfinals: Ernests Gulbis (No. 21 on grass), Juan Monaco (No. 24), Fernando Verdasco (No. 44), Kenny De Schepper (No. 69), or Rajeev Ram (No. 137). The Monaco-Ram winner will play DeSchepper, while Gulbis and Verdasco will face off in the other third-round match. Only Monaco is seeded, and he's No. 22 on his worst surface.