Before playing Rafael Nadal on Centre Court, 26-year-old Lukas Rosol had managed 18 wins in 50 matches on the ATP Tour, lost five straight years in the first round of qualifying at Wimbledon, and only once strung together two wins at a major.
This was a man acquainted with failure, so well acquainted, in fact, that his ambitions were unpretentious: “Just play three good sets, you know, just don’t lose 6-0, 6-1, 6-1.”
Yet, intriguingly, something within the World No.100 rebelled against reality: “Sometimes I can wake up and I can beat anyone, you know; Nadal is also human.”
So the 6ft 5in Czech borrowed Thor’s hammer and obliterated one of the greatest, most difficult-to-defeat champions tennis has known. The sustained brilliance of shot-making, its flat, powerful brutality; the sonic blast of a serve that was its best when most needed: both were reminiscent of Robin Soderling’s conquest of Nadal in Paris in 2009.
And like Soderling, Rosol was fearless. He refused to realise suddenly the enormity of what he was about to accomplish and freeze. In the climactic stages of the fifth set, he was so deeply present, so attuned to his instincts, so beyond the confines of conscious thought that he “was in a trance a little bit”.
And again like Soderling, Rosol seemed to get under Nadal’s skin. The two-time Wimbledon champion refused to elaborate on what had caused him to mutter in annoyance, saying, “whatever I say now gonna sound like an excuse”.
But there was an incident in the middle of the match when the pair appeared to bump into each other at a changeover — something Rosol said Nadal had done to shake his concentration.
Not at his best in the first three sets, Nadal never gave up. His high-bouncing top-spin, which even on grass keeps most normal-sized opponents from taking advantageous court position, was right in Rosol’s strike-zone. But Nadal found a way to defuse Rosol’s missiles after going down two sets to one. And he had every reason to be aggrieved after the fourth set when the decision to close the roof for better light stopped his momentum.
Rosol had a shower and spoke with his coach, Slava Dosedel, the 1999 US Open quarterfinalist. “My coach gave me very good tactic. I cannot tell it to no one, you know. Then Rafa will change everything. But, yeah, he was watching couple matches on video, he told me everything what he [Nadal] gonna do.”
The playing conditions had changed; it was now an indoor court. The wind had no more influence, allowing Rosol to better produce his penetrative strokes off the ground. He broke immediately, and held his nerve and his serve all the way to win 6-7(9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
The holds at 4-3 and 5-4 were outrageously confident: he lost not a point, blasting down five aces, including a scorcher out wide to the ad court on match point.
Nadal’s second-round defeat was his earliest exit at a Grand Slam since 2005, when he lost in the same round here. “Playing in this surface these matches can happen,” said the World No.2. “I played bad, my return wasn’t working very well. I think my serve worked well, but I played with little bit less energy. I didn’t have the right inspiration in the first three sets in a few points.
“To win these kinds of matches I must have this inspiration in that moments; I didn’t. Later was impossible, no?
“That 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. At the end, when the opponent wants to play like he wanted to play in the fifth, you are in his hands, no?
“But, well, that's sport. You win, you lose. Last four months were great for me. Then you play against an inspired opponent and I am out. That’s all. Is not a tragedy. Is only a tennis match. At the end, that’s life. There are much more important things.”