Amid an invasion of flying ants at the All England Club – a kind of lawn tennis horror movie – Caroline Wozniacki had the insects in her hair, in her ears, on her sun visor, on her racket hand, and in her mouth.
She must have also felt as though they were crawling all over her brain, on an afternoon when the No.2 seed lost her second round match to Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
“I want to focus on playing tennis and not eating bugs,” the Dane said to the umpire at her moment of greatest exasperation, which is not a sentence you hear too often from someone with the elevated status of playing Wimbledon for the first time as a Grand Slam champion. And flying ants weren’t the Australian Open winner’s only problem on No.1 Court.
While someone found Wozniacki a spray to help her fend off the insects, what she really needed was what no one could give her: a giant can of Makarova repellent.
If the story here was Wozniacki’s demise – which meant that the ladies’ draw had lost three of top five seeds by teatime on the first Wednesday, after the departure of Sloane Stephens and Elina Svitolina – it was also about Makarova’s astonishing resilience.
Twice Makarova had failed to serve out the match, the first time at 5-1 and then again at 5-3, when she had played an excruciating game from 40-0 up, including double-faulting on one of the four match points she had in that game.
Makarova could very easily have folded from there. But she didn’t, and in the end completed her win with a break of serve rather than a hold. She took her sixth match point for a 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 victory.
“I told myself, ‘you’re not going to lose this – you’ve had so many match points’,” said Makarova, the Wimbledon ladies’ doubles champion last summer alongside countrywoman Elena Vesnina.
With all the discussions this summer about the seedings – centred around whether new mother Serena Williams would be among them, which she was – you would be forgiven for thinking that the status gives players a great deal of protection in the draw. But that’s not how it has been working out this summer, with tennis’ middle classes showing little respect to the grass court aristocracy.
This result leaves Karolina Pliskova, the No.7 seed from the Czech Republic, as the highest ranked player left in what we might now think of as Williams’ bottom half of the draw. You can also add this defeat to the earlier departures of Petra Kvitova, the No.8 seed and many people’s tournament favourite, and Maria Sharapova, the No.24 seed, in the top half.
Clearly, when you’re out on the grass, raw power counts for far more than starpower, so while the unseeded Makarova is ranked No.35 in the world, she can give the ball a mighty clump, which was extremely unsettling for one of the sport’s Hollywood names.
Looking at the rankings alone, you would have thought that Wozniacki would have been in complete control. But Makarova had two things over Wozniacki. Unlike Wozniacki, she had previously played in a Wimbledon quarter-final.
And she had also won their only previous Grand Slam match, in the second round of last season’s US Open. Here, among the flying ants and her own match points demons, was another.
“It’s frustrating because I feel as though I could have gone on to do something great here,” said Wozniacki, who won the Eastbourne title last week.
Source: Mark Hodgkinson|| Wimbledon