Stakhovsky slays ‘the legend and his ego’ in UK

Reuters, LONDON

Fri, Jun 28, 2013 - Page 18

No matter where Sergiy Stakhovsky looks when he walks around the leafy grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, he cannot escape the image of a beaming Roger Federer holding aloft the pineapple-topped gold Challenge Cup.

It is on the results board, on the official Wimbledon book, on the roll of honor plaque, on official merchandise — it is nearly everywhere.

However, on Wednesday, the man who hails from Kiev and is ranked outside the world’s top 100, wiped the smile off Federer’s face after evicting the Swiss from his own backyard.

Since winning the first of his record 17 Grand Slam titles in 2003, no one had managed to eject the grass-court master from Wimbledon before the quarter-finals. On Wednesday, the world finally met the man who could.

“When you come here, on the cover of the Wimbledon book ... is Roger Federer. Our sport is Roger Federer,” Stakhovsky said after becoming the latest giant-killer to light up Wimbledon with a 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/5), 7-5, 7-6 (7/5) victory.

“He’s the greatest player we had. He’s the biggest name we had and we still have,” the Ukrainian said. “You’re playing the guy and then you’re playing his legend, which is following him because he won it seven times. He’s holding all possible career records here.”

“When you play Roger Federer at Wimbledon, it’s like you’re playing two persons. First you play Roger Federer and then you play his ego,” Stakhovsky added. “When you’re beating one, you still have the other one who is pressing you. You’re saying: ‘Am I about to beat him? Is it possible?’”

Stakhovsky proved it was, even though the odds could not have been more stacked against him, as the following statistics show:

‧ Federer’s Wimbledon win-loss record stood at 67-7, Stakhovsky’ 2-4.

‧ Federer had chalked up a 257-39 win-loss record in Grand Slam matches, Stakhovsky’s was 11-18.

‧ Federer’s grass-court record was 122-17, Stakhovsky’s at12-12.

‧ Federer’s career record was 905-205, Stakhovsky’s was 107-121.

‧ Federer’s prize money amounted to US$77.6 million, Stakhovsky’s to US$2.73 million.

‧ Federer’s world ranking was third, Stakhovsky’s 116.

No matter where he looked, Stakhovsky did not belong on the same court as Federer, but after Wednesday it is unlikely the Swiss or any other sports fan will forget the Ukrainian’s name.

Playing a brand of fearless and brash serve-and-volley tennis many dream of, but only the brave produce, Stakhovsky caused one of the biggest upsets ever in tennis.

It left the Swiss shell-shocked, the crowd stunned and Stakhovsky blinking in disbelief as he joined the select band of players who have brought the mighty down:

Peter Doohan conquered Boris Becker in the second round in 1987, George Bastl tamed Pete Sampras at the same stage in 2002, Ivo Karlovic beat defending champion Lleyton Hewitt on the opening day in 2003 and Lukas Rosol ambushed Rafael Nadal in the second round a year ago.

However, two days after Steve Darcis brought Spain’s Nadal to his knees in a first-round shock, Stakhovsky surpassed them all.

Federer has been an omnipresent force in the second week of a Grand Slam for nine years, contesting 36 straight quarter-finals, and along with Nadal and Novak Djokovic, has combined to win 31 of the past 33 majors.

“It’s my first win of the top 10. What else I can say?” the 27-year-old Stakhovsky said after finally ending a run of 19 successive defeats against top-10 opposition.

Despite his own pain at what seemed to be the end of an era, Federer applauded Stakhovsky.

“I was impressed,” the Swiss said. “There was a time where some players didn’t believe they could beat the top guys. So maybe there’s a little bit of a thing happening at the moment. I’m happy about that, that players believe they can beat the best on the biggest courts in the biggest matches.”

Despite pulling off the biggest win of his life, Stakhovsky was keen to keep his feet on the ground and avoid the fate suffered by many giant-killers who quickly fade into the background after their 15 minutes of fame.

“Today was great, but I didn’t win the tournament,” he said. “I just won the second round. There’s still another five rounds.”