Who is Lukas Rosol? That was the biggest question as the 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Wimbledon history, outclassing Rafael Nadal 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, in a second round match that began in late afternoon sunshine and finished more than four hours later beneath a closed roof, the artificial light only adding to the surreal shock his win created.
While Nadal had been amassing a record that included 11 Grand Slam singles titles and a long stint as world No.1, Rosol had in fact been scratching out the odd quarter-final here or there but had never come close to anything so spectacular. He’s never been a tournament finalist – let alone a titlist - and lost in the first round of qualifying in his last five Wimbledon attempts. In 10 years on tour, he’s never progressed further than a ranking of world No.65. They are both aged 26 but in tennis terms, Rosol and Nadal were, until now, poles apart.
As Rosol would surmise later, though, “you never know what to expect” and that allowed a sense of freedom as he shocked the two-time Wimbledon champion and three-time finalist with stunning firepower on his serve, equally devastating returns and an unwavering focus on victory.
“I'm sorry for Rafa, but today I was somewhere else and I'm really happy for this, “he said. “Still I cannot find the words. I still can't believe it. It's like [a] dream for me.”
Having resolved “just to play three good sets [and] don't lose 6-0, 6-1, 6-1” Rosol showed his ability from the opening point, kicking off his service game with a pair of aces – an ominous sign of the 22 that would eventually prove so damaging – and with similar sting in his massive groundstrokes (particularly the forehand) gained the first service break in the sixth game. While Nadal would break straight back, he was forced to save his first set point in the sixth game and was clearly disappointed with his form.
While the tie-break often provides a chance for the more accomplished player to re-assert his authority, that was barely the case this time around. Nadal held the next set point at 5-6 but Rosol would hold two more set points of his own before the increasingly rattled Spaniard could close it out 11-9.
But Rosol simply wasn’t going away, as he proved by breaking Nadal in the opening game of the second set. With an 80 per cent first-serve success rate, and returns of up to 95 miles an hour, it proved impossible for the Spaniard to regain an edge. The set remained on serve thereafter, but it was Rosol who claimed it in 37 minutes.
Unbelievably, the third set offered more of the same, Rosol’s four aces, 11 winners and five of five net points hardly telling the story of a rarely-seen intensity that at times made Nadal seem the less experienced man on court. Rosol’s next break occurred in the third game of the fourth set and he maintained his lead throughout, taking the set in 34 minutes.
Mingled with the sense that the out-of-sorts Nadal simply had to wait for his opponent’s unprecedented form to waver was a growing awareness that such a lapse might not occur. Finally, in the fourth set, Losol’s first serve success rate dipped slightly, helping Nadal claim the crucial break in the sixth game. When he served it out two games later, momentum finally seemed to be back in the Spaniard’s favour – or at least it seemed that way until fading light dictated that the roof be closed so play could be completed until lights.
It would take 43 minutes for the edge-of-the-seats encounter to resume and while Nadal would, as is often his custom, delay a little bit more as he took care of his usual routines, Rosol was a man who refused to be unsettled. After claiming the first break of serve he didn’t falter, closing out that crucial last set 6-4 in 23 minutes.
Nadal, for whom it was his worst Grand Slam loss since since falling to Gilles Muller in the second round of Wimbledon 2005, refused to blame his fate on the timing of the closed roof.
“For sure wasn't the best one for me, but that's what it is and [I]) accept that he came back and played unbelievable [in] the fifth.
“I was playing well in the fourth. I think I played a great fourth set. Sure the stop this time didn't help me. That's the sport. That's it.”
As he prepares to return home for the rest “I need and I deserve” Nadal will also work hard to keep the unexpected turn of events in perspective.
“You arrive here, and a little bit of everything. You play against an inspired opponent and I am out. That's all. Is not a tragedy. Is only a tennis match,” he insisted. “At the end, that's life. There [are] much more important things. Sure, I wanted to win, but I lost. That's it.”
For Rosol, it’s a very different story. From wondering where he’d been until now, attention now turns to what he might achieve next. Firstly there’s his third round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber, and from there, anything seems possible.
“Sometimes I can wake up and [can] beat anybody, you know. Sometimes I can lose to a player who is [ranked] 500,” admitted the still-stunned Czech. |Sometimes I can wake up and I can beat anyone, you know. Some days I know I can lose to player at 500. I need to keep going same level.”
At the same time Rosol has proven – as much to himself as the entire world – that performances can now be more about wins than losses. “It's always open. It's sport. Nobody's unbeaten. Everybody can lose and everybody can win,” he said. “We're just people. We're just humans. Everybody can win.”