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28 Jun 2013 00:00
Maria Sharapova slips during her second-round match, in which she was defeated by Michelle Larcher de Brito. (Dennis Grombkowski, Getty Images)
Sharapova has led the criticism of the condition of the Wimbledon courts, after she slipped three times and then fell out of the tournament altogether on a day when a record seven players were forced to pull out through injury.
The Russian, who lost in straight sets to the Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito, was one of several stricken players who cast doubt on the courts after a spree of falls, retirements and withdrawals.
By mid-afternoon on the third day of the tournament, the polite chatter and manicured lawns of the All England Club had become more of a field hospital full of anguished cries as players dropped like bowling pins.
Seven athletes, from the fêted conqueror of Rafael Nadal, Steve Darcis, to the fancied Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the women's second seed, Victoria Azarenka, were forced to withdraw and several others suffered injuries. Caroline Wozniacki, the ninth seed and former world No 1, crashed out in straight sets to Petra Cetkovska after falling and twisting her ankle on court two.
Women's third seed Sharapova, who fell three times on the same spot on the baseline as Wozniacki, could be seen mouthing: "How many more times?"
The broadcast microphones also picked up the former champion saying: "This court is dangerous." Afterwards she refused to use the quality of the surface as an excuse but, asked about her on-court remarks, she said: "After I buckled my knee three times, that’s obviously my first reaction."
Right leg gave way
After her right leg gave way for a third time, she complained to a line judge.
Later in the third set, she had extensive treatment on a hip injury and afterwards suggested players should be allowed to practise on the show courts to get used to the surface.
Larcher de Brito also hit out at the court as "really slippery and quite dangerous" after defeating Sharapova.
The spate of injuries exacerbated concern over the state of the courts and speculation whether rule changes and the intensive schedule of the modern tour were to blame.
One of those affected, Marin Cilic, labelled it "a very black day".
Tsonga, the French sixth seed who came into Wimbledon on good form, was troubled by a knee injury that severely impeded his movement against Ernests Gulbis and he retired two sets to one down.
The other players forced to withdraw on Wednesday were the American John Isner, the former quarterfinalist Radek Stepanek and Yaroslava Shvedova.
All England Club officials insisted there was nothing in their preparation of the courts that could have led to the spate of withdrawals, but this did not stop the players speculating.
Azarenka, the Belarusian second seed, was due to play Flavia Pennetta in the second round on centre court but was forced to pull out after a heavy fall on Monday.
'My opponent fell twice'
"The court was not in a very good condition that day. I mean, my opponent fell twice, I fell badly, there were some other people who fell after," she said. "So I don't know if it’s the court or the weather. I can't figure it out. It would be great if the club or somebody who takes care of the court just would examine or try to find an issue so that wouldn’t happen."
The All England Club chief executive, Richard Lewis, said: "We sympathise with all the players affected. The withdrawals have occurred for a variety of reasons, but there have been some suggestion that the court surface is to blame. We have no reason to think this is the case. Indeed, many players have complimented us on the very good condition of the courts."
On Monday, the Belgian journeyman Darcis, ranked 135 in the world, enjoyed the greatest moment of his career when he knocked out 12-time grand slam champion Nadal in straight sets. But less than 48 hours later, he said he had been forced to make the most difficult decision of his life and pull out of his second-round match, after the shoulder that he hurt while diving for the ball against Nadal became inflamed and excruciatingly painful.
The seven retirements and withdrawals on Wednesday took the total number to 10. The record total for an entire tournament at Wimbledon is 13 players (10 men and three women) in 2008. – © Guardian News & Media 2013
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