Launching outrageous winners left, right and center, 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 Rafael 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 leveled the match at two sets all, it seemed inevitable 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-time Grand Slam champion and complete an electrifying 6-7 (9/11), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory in 3 hours, 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 subplots.
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.
However, the day will be remembered for a performance of rare power from a player who usually inhabits a different tennis universe from the one Nadal resides in.
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.”
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 No. 2 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.”
Murray survived a scare when losing the second set against Karlovic, winning 7-5, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 7-6 (7/0).