Seven former No. 1s fell at Wimbledon on Wednesday, one of the most ridiculous, destructive days at a slam in tennis' long history. Victoria Azarenka couldn't go at all. Caroline Wozniacki slipped and fell, then fell again. Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic were blown off the court. Lleyton Hewitt was outhustled and outhit. Maria Sharapova slipped repeatedly, tweaked her hip, then was taken down by an opponent who wouldn't buckle.
Of those six, only Sharapova was a true surprise. We could at least envision those losses taking place.
But how in the world were we supposed to see Roger Federer's loss coming? Federer had made 36 consecutive slam quarterfinals, pulling rabbits out of his hat on multiple occasions (including at Wimbledon last year, when he fell two sets behind Julien Benneteau in the third round), but he had no answer for the serve-and-volley game of Sergiy Stakhovsky. The No. 116 player in the world, a lanky 27-year old from Kiev, Ukraine, Stakhovsky ended one of the more incredible streaks in sports with a 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 7-6 win over the seven-time Wimbledon champion. Federer served well and showed some fire, but his return game has slowly disintegrated over the last couple of years, and Stakhovsky took full advantage. With a game straight out of 1986, Stakhovsky frustrated and eventually defeated the all-time slams leader.
The last time Federer lost before the third round of a slam was at the 2003 French Open. He lost two tiebreakers and was swept by Luis Horna in the first round and responded with his first of 17 slam titles. Wimbledon was the most likely place for Federer to pick up an 18th, and that opportunity is now gone. We always rush to proclaim a once-amazing athlete done!, over!, but while Federer probably has quite a bit of elite tennis left in him, he probably doesn't have as much. We've assumed his mortality for a few years now, and today we saw proof that it exists.
The carnage of this incredible Wednesday at Wimbledon will be felt for the rest of the fortnight. Azarenka and Sharapova were easily the two players with the best shot of preventing Serena Williams from winning her sixth Wimbledon title, even if their odds weren't great. In all, seven of the top-13 women's seeds failed to reach the third round, and we're only halfway through the second round. The most likely players to reach the semis in the Sharapova region: either Marion Bartoli or Sloane Stephens. In the Azarenka region, it's perhaps Petra Kvitova, Ekaterina Makarova or Kirsten Flipkens.
Meanwhile, a semifinal slot assumed to be reserved for either Federer or Rafael Nadal will go to one of the following eight players: Nicolas Almagro (No. 12 on grass according to Advanced Baseline, which has just thrown its hands up at this point after a ridiculous few days), Benoit Paire (No. 30), Jerzy Janowicz (No. 36), Jurgen Melzer (No. 63), Stakhovsky (No. 79), Lukasz Kubot (No. 93), Adrian Mannarino (No. 105), or Dustin Brown (No. 207). Combined career slam semifinals from these eight: zero. Meanwhile, thanks to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's retirement to injury, there is not a single top-10 grass court player standing between Andy Murray and the Wimbledon final.
There has possibly never been a day like this in tennis' long history. Players who have never had golden slam opportunities have them now. And players whose legacies have already been well-defined missed wonderful opportunities to enhance them even more. Federer was bound to lose a match like this someday. But it was still stunning to actually see it happen.