Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki were just three of the big names to blame the state of the grass at Wimbledon for one of the most extraordinary days ever witnessed at SW19.
“This court is dangerous,” shouted Sharapova at one point of her defeat by Michelle Larcher de Brito, while Azarenka also pointed the finger of blame at the All England Club.
The biggest shock of the day – Roger Federer going out – was simply down to a legend having a so-so day against an inspired opponent on what John McEnroe dubbed the "craziest day ever at Wimbledon".
But as for the other shocks, was the grass to blame? And if not, who, or what, made it such a day of shocks? Tramlines gets forensic on the chaos of Wimbledon’s ‘Black Wednesday’.
THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION:
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Slipped badly three times and was clearly struggling through the pain during her defeat by Michelle Larcher de Brito. “This court is dangerous… I don't think I've ever fallen three times in a match before in my career,” she said. Even her opponent De Brito agreed: “(It was) really slippery and quite dangerous. There is a lot of dead grass at the top end that made it slippery. I tried to be careful and take small steps rather than trying to stop right away. It's a tough court to play on."
VICTORIA AZARENKA: The Belarussian second seed took a bad fall in her first-round match on Monday and her knee failed to recover for Wednesday's clash with Italy's Flavia Pennetta. : “My opponent fell twice; I fell badly; there were some other people who fell after. They are not in a very good condition. I don’t know what the issue is, there was nothing I could have done.”
CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: Twister her ankle en-route to a second-round defeat at the hands of Petra Cetkovska. “I don't know if it's coincidence or if the court is a little bit more slippery or what exactly it is. I don't know. I just know that it's just not really fun to be out there when you feel like you can't really push off on your foot."
MARIN CILIC: The Croatian 10th seed withdrew with knee trouble before his second round match against Frenchman Kenny De Schepper. “This is a very black day,” was his analysis.
STEVE DARCIS: The Belgian, who had been due to face Pole Lukasz Kubot, pulled out after saying he injured his right shoulder in his stunning victory over Rafa Nadal on Monday.
JOHN ISNER: The American marathon man, whose longest-ever tennis match is part of Wimbledon folklore, had his knee buckle in the opening moments of his match against Adrian Mannarino and lasted only two games.
YARASLAVA SHVEDOVA: The Kazakh player gave 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova a walkover because of an arm injury.
RADEK STEPANEK: The Czech veteran quit with a hamstring injury while trailing powerful Pole Jerzy Janowicz.
JO-WILFRIED TSONGA: The French sixth seed retired with a knee injury during his second round match against Latvia's Ernests Gulbis on Centre Court.
GUIDO PELLA: The Argentine was carried off court on a stretcher after a fall in the opening round.
THE ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS
TOO COLD FOR TENNIS?
Tsonga suggested that the chilly conditions are more of a factor than anything else: “The weather is not that good to play tennis because it's cold outside, and it's humid. And I think for all the joints, it's not really good."
The Frenchman’s argument could easily be used the other way, however: high humidity and cool temperatures mean the grass remains slightly juicier and slipperier than usual throughout the day.
IS IT JUST STATISTICAL ANOMALY?
Andy Murray was not surprised at the spate of withdrawals and big-name exits, claiming that it’s only surprising it hasn’t happened more often in the past: “Upsets happen every single day in sport, you can't take any match for granted. You can't write people through to semi-finals or quarter-finals, you need to be ready for every match, every player is a threat,” he said.
"If you look at the consistency of the top players at the Slams in the last few years, it's something tennis has never really seen before, it has been incredible. That was never going to last forever… I think there has been good depth in the men's game for a long time and it's just now that results are starting to show it."
DOESN’T IT HAPPEN EVERY YEAR?
The grass at Wimbledon is always slightly slippery in the opening rounds, but becomes grippier as the tournament goes on and the surface becomes worn as Wimbledon chief Richard Lewis pointed out: “The courts have been prepared to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years and it is well known that grass surfaces tend to be more lush at the start of an event. The factual evidence, which is independently checked, is that the courts are almost identical to last year, as dry and firm as they should be, and we expect them to continue to play to their usual high quality."
ARE THERE REALLY MORE RETIREMENTS THAN USUAL?
10 players have withdrawn through injury so far this Wimbledon, but 13 were forced out in 2008. Given that the courts become grippier throughout the event, and that players who are carrying injuries tend to get weeded out early on, this year’s tournament isn’t likely to surpass that record.
DIDN’T MOST OF THE INJURIES HAVE OTHER CAUSES?
Several of the retirements were not to do with slips: Tsonga’s knee had been suspect even before the tournament, Darcis hurt his shoulder diving for a volley rather than slipping up, and Isner simply landed badly while serving. “I always serve and land on my left leg, like I have done 20 million times playing this game, and this is the first time I just felt this sharp pain,” he said.
DO PLAYERS PLAY THROUGH THE PAIN FOR THE SAKE OF CASH?
With £23,500 prize money on offer even for those who take part in the first round, nobody wants to miss out on a spot at Wimbledon – or any of the other Grand Slams. At the US Open two years ago there were 17 retirements, including nine on the opening day – despite there being not a blade of slippery grass in sight.
In other words, players will play at Wimbledon when in ordinary circumstances they wouldn’t. Title contenders will simply hope they can overcome any twinges during the fortnight, while the journeymen will do whatever they can to pocket what could be their biggest cheques of the year. And players taking part despite not being fully fit are far more likely to do themselves further damage.
Tramlines has come to the view that while the grass is perfect, the weather conditions have probably made it marginally slipperier than usual at SW19 this year – but that’s something that is simply part of the game. Just as players have to get used to skidding and sliding when the clay season starts, they also need to change their approach slightly for the grass court season – and it seems that perhaps one or two players haven’t done that quite well enough.