LONDON: Launching outrageous winners left, right and centre, obscure Czech Lukas Rosol rocked Wimbledon’s Centre Court to its foundations on Thursday by winning a final-set shootout after dusk against twice former champion Rafa Nadal.
Ranked 100th in the world, few of the enthralled 15,000 fans inside the famous arena would have heard of Rosol before the match started but none present will forget witnessing one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s 126-year history.
When Nadal levelled the match at two sets all it seemed inevitable that he would go on to reach the third round, albeit with plenty of battle scars after being staggered by the heavy artillery coming off Rosol’s strings.
However, after a 30-minute delay while Centre Court’s roof was slid into position, 26-year-old Rosol returned to overpower the 11-times grand slam champion and complete an electrifying 6-7 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4 victory in three hours and 18 minutes.
The late-night drama left everything that went before it on the fourth day looking almost bland by comparison although there were plenty of sub-plots.
Nadal’s defeat meant Andy Murray’s chances of ending Britain’s 76-year wait for a men’s grand slam champion increased considerably as his nemesis would have been his prospective semi-final opponent.
Murray survived a barrage of Ivo Karlovic serves to reach the third round in four sets after which his livid Croatian opponent accused Wimbledon of bias.
Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova stayed on course for a possible replay of their 2004 final with contrasting second- round victories and Frenchman Gilles Simon’s comments that women should not get equal prize money continued to ruffle feathers.
The day will be remembered, however, for a performance of rare power from a player who usually inhabits a different tennis universe from the one Nadal resides in.
The game’s journeymen are supposed to fight valiantly against the so called “Big Four”, provide some entertainment before packing their bags and disappearing back into the wilderness.
Not Rosol. He showed Nadal scant respect and even went face to face at one stage as they collided while changing ends.
After losing the first set tiebreak 11-9 he hit back with blistering tennis to stun Nadal and take a two sets to one lead. The Mallorcan swept through the fourth set but Rosol returned after the roof closure like a man possessed.
Serving at 5-4 all eyes were on the Czech to see if his nerve would hold.
He simply took a deep breath, stared over the net at his quarry and fired down an ace, a clubbing forehand winner, an ace and another ace to leave Nadal powerless.
After his 22nd ace flashed by the Spaniard, Rosol fell to the court in disbelief before clambering to his feet and shaking the hand of a shell-shocked opponent who had not tasted a second-round defeat at a grand slam since Wimbledon 2005.
“I’m sorry for Rafa but today I was somewhere else and I’m really happy for this,” said Rosol, who had never played a main draw match at Wimbledon until this week.
“I still can’t believe it. It’s like dream for me. I didn’t feel anything. I was in a trance a little bit. I had my adrenaline so high.”
Rosol thumped 60 winners during the match, some ground strokes clocked on the speed gun at 100mph.
Nadal, who had hoped to complete a third French Open/Wimbledon double, admitted there was little he could do in the face of a Rosol’s extraordinary last-set onslaught.
“In the fifth set he played more than unbelievable,” said the world number two Spaniard, who looked mildly irritated when the match was halted to close the roof at the end of a fourth set, when the momentum has swung his way.
“I didn’t have the right inspiration in the first three sets. Later was impossible, no? That’s happens when you play against a player who is able to hit the ball very hard, hit the ball without thinking and feeling the pressure.
“At the end, when the opponent wants to play like he wanted to play in the fifth, you are in his hands, no? Everything was going right for him in the fifth.”
Nadal’s exit could prove to be a boost for Murray, whose title bid was halted by Nadal for the past two years in the semi-finals.
Murray survived a scare when losing the second set against Karlovic, winning 7-5 6-7 6-2 7-6.
Karlovic complained that he was foot-faulted 11 times.
“I don’t know what to say but it was a little bit outrageous,” he said.
“Is it Davis Cup or is it Wimbledon? After this match, the whole credibility of this tournament went down for me…”
Women’s top seed Sharapova lost her way against dangerous grasscourter Tsvetana Pironkova before claiming a 7-6 6-7 6-0 victory while Williams, the four-times champion who Sharapova beat to win her sole Wimbledon crown in 2004, was far more ruthless in a 6-1 6-4 defeat of Hungarian Melinda Czink.
After contrasting victories they both ganged up on Simon.
“Oh, my gosh. You know I can’t bite my tongue,” sixth seed Williams told reporters. “I mean, definitely a lot more people are watching Maria than Simon. She’s way hotter than he is. Women’s tennis I think is really awesome.”