There was a double shock at Wimbledon, as Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova were upset by a qualifier and player who had lost her last five matches on grass, respectively.
Sharapova blew a huge lead and was bundled out by 132nd-ranked Vitalia Diatchenko 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 as light faded, with Kvitova exiting hours earlier in warm sunshine against 50th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4 4-6 6-0.
Even though Sharapova pulled out of a Wimbledon warmup in Birmingham last month, citing the need to “take care” of her body, few could have predicted the 2004 champion departing Tuesday to her Russian compatriot.
Sharapova had never lost in the first round in 13 previous Wimbledons, while the free swinging Diatchenko had never won a main draw match on grass in the top tier. Furthermore, the 27-year-old Diatchenko — beset by shoulder, Achilles and knee injuries in her career — had only ever beaten a top-50 player once before in 2014.
Making her return to Wimbledon after a drug suspension ruled her out in 2016 and an injury led to a qualifying withdrawal last year, Sharapova looked on course for victory with a set and 5-2 advantage. Then in the third set, the five-time grand slam winner was up by a break at 4-3.
But as was the case at the French Open, Sharapova had trouble holding on to the lead and this time paid the price.
Her 11th and final double fault came on match point.
“I definitely had several chances in the match,” Sharapova told reporters. “Although not playing my best tennis, I opened up a few doors and was a couple points away from winning this match.
“Kept doing that in the third, as well. But sometimes you put yourself in a better or winning position, and you don’t finish through. That was the case today.”
Still the 24th seed was adamant that she was in a better place than 12 months ago, when the 31-year-old was ranked 180th.
“I’ve certainly made a lot of progress despite this result today,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months. I find myself in a much better position than at this time last year.”
Kvitova might feel the same.
Last year Wimbledon marked Kvitova’s third tournament back after she was attacked in her home and needed surgery on her left, playing hand to save her career. The hand isn’t 100% and probably will never be, according to the 28-year-old.
Yet for now she is bound to be bitterly disappointed.
Kvitova owns two Wimbledon titles and many thought the Czech would add to her haul in just under two weeks given she has tallied the most wins on the women’s circuit in 2018 and collected five titles, including in Birmingham a little over a week ago.
Indeed Kvitova has mostly sparkled this year in what has been a stunning turnaround — except at the majors.
Her opening reverse at the All England Club — the last time Kvitova fell in the first round came in 2009 — followed a first-round defeat at the Australian Open in January and third-round loss at the French Open last month.
Wants it too much
The eighth seed told reporters on the eve of Wimbledon that she struggled to play relaxed during the grand slams this year, wanting success “too much.”
That was a factor Tuesday, she admitted.
“Probably I wanted too much again,” she told reporters. “I just made a joke that probably I’m going to skip the grand slams for the next years.
“When I was kind of younger, I played better in the grand slams than the other tournaments. Now is the time when I’m playing better on the other tournaments than the grand slams. So I make a promise that I’m going to be very patient and I’m going to try to break it again for the other side.
“It’s just not really working for me right now.”
Sasnovich — a bubbly Belorussian — began the season in impressive fashion, making a final in Brisbane. But since then, her record was only 10-13 and Sasnovich hadn’t won on grass since last year.
Maybe Sasnovich likes playing against Czech opposition, since both of her top-10 victories have come against Czech players.
“It was a good match, but I can play better,” said Sasnovich.
French Open winners progress
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep cruised in their first matches on grass after winning the French Open.
Nadal — bidding for a first quarterfinal at Wimbledon since 2011 — crushed Israel’s Dudi Sela 6-3 6-3 6-2. At one stage from the middle of the first set to early in the second, the 17-time grand slam champion amassed 21 straight points.
How did the streak end? On a double fault.
Unfortunately for Nadal and away from tennis, his Spain lost to Russia on penalties at the World Cup on Sunday but — a massive Real Madrid fan — he is still watching.
“Still enjoying the World Cup,” he said. “I watched two great matches (Monday). I’m going to watch this beautiful match at 7,” he added, referring to England’s game against Colombia that started at 7 p.m. English time and eventually went England’s way on penalties. “World Cup continues without us.”
Halep said she slept a lot after opening her grand slam account following three near misses in major finals and plans on taking a break post Wimbledon.
But first she attempts to make a first final at SW19, having reached the semifinals in 2014 and losing a quarterfinal epic to Britain’s Johanna Konta 12 months ago. The Romanian got off to a good start by dispatching Japan’s Kurumi Nara 6-2 6-4.
The players Nadal and Halep downed in the French Open finals made quick Wimbledon exits. After Sloane Stephens was ousted by Donna Vekic on Monday, Dominic Thiem retired injured Tuesday against Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot led 6-4 7-5 2-0 when Thiem called it quits with what appeared to be a back problem.
Novak Djokovic, the resurgent 12-time grand slam winner, thumped Tennys Sandgren 6-3 6-1 6-2.
Women’s defending champion Garbine Muguruza — toppled by Halep in the French Open semifinals — eased past a big-serving British wildcard, Naomi Broady, 6-2 7-5.
Elsewhere, Nick Kyrgios slammed down 42 aces and wasn’t broken in his 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 win over Denis Istomin, while his fellow Aussie, Matt Ebden, knocked out 10th-seed David Goffin 6-4 6-3 6-4. Trying to repel one of Kyrgios’ rocket serves, Istomin was floored but still made the return.
Feliciano Lopez overtook Roger Federer for the most grand slams played in a row on 66 and did so with a win, too, beating Federico Delbonis 6-3 6-4 6-2 to set up a clash with another Argentine, fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro.
Lopez, 36, said changes to his diet have proved key to his longevity.
“So I don’t drink Coke,” he told reporters. “I don’t eat bread, only once in a while. No milk. Those three things I don’t take. And the rest I eat everything.”