x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

When mood swung Lukas Rosol's way

The man who beat Nadal has never lacked in self-belief but he showed it on court on Thursday, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Lukas Rosol likened his win over Rafael Nadal on Thursday to 'some B [club] team in Czech Republic beating Real Madrid' in football.
Lukas Rosol likened his win over Rafael Nadal on Thursday to 'some B [club] team in Czech Republic beating Real Madrid' in football.

 

Lukas Rosol must have felt a bit like Cinderella.

A journeyman on the professional tour, the Czech has spent most of his career, which started in 2005, on the Futures and Challengers circuit.

Ranked No 100 in the world, his previous experience at grand slams was a mere nine matches across six events, with a third round appearance at the 2011 French Open being the furthest he has gone.

On grass, he had never played an ATP Tour match till earlier this month, when he reached the third round at Queen's Club. For five successive years at Wimbledon, he had lost in the first round - not the main draw, but in qualifying.

The 26 year old's ranking finally allowed him a place in the main draw this time and he defeated Ivan Dodig of Croatia in four sets to earn a second round clash with Rafael Nadal, the world No 2 and two-time Wimbledon champion.

Stepping onto the hallowed Centre Court on Thursday night, he was just thinking of playing "three good sets" and not to "lose 6-0, 6-1, 6-1".

Instead, he played five brilliant sets and after 198 minutes of pulsating tennis he was rolling on the turf with obvious delight and even disbelief.

In one of the biggest upsets in tennis history, he had vanquished Nadal 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

"I still can't believe it," he said. "It's like dream for me. [This is] like some B [club] team in Czech Republic beating Real Madrid in football. I never expected it can happen, something like this."

Not just Rosol, but probably nobody in the world expected such a result. In fact, few people, even among tennis' knowledgeable, had heard that name before.

Tennis correspondents were forced to hurriedly compile "Who is Lukas Rosol" guides for their readers.

The world will certainly know him now. There have been a few notable upsets in Wimbledon, but not of this magnitude.

Peter Doohan had defeated Boris Becker in the 1987 second round, George Bastl conquered a fading Pete Sampras in 2002 and Lleyton Hewitt, the defending champion, was knocked out by Ivo Karlovic on the opening day of 2003.

But this was Nadal. The Spaniard had reached the final in eight of his last nine grand slam appearances, winning five of them; the only final he missed during this period was the 2011 Australian Open, when he lost in the quarter-final to compatriot David Ferrer.

Overall, Nadal has 11 grand slam titles and has finished runners-up in five others. His earliest defeat at one of the four majors since he clinched the 2005 French Open crown had come at Wimbledon in the same year, when he lost in the second round to Austria's Gilles Muller.

Since then, he had made every final at the All England Championships, except 2009 when he missed the tournament through injury.

The "King of Clay", Nadal was also "Lord of the Centre Court" at Wimbledon. Rosol had never been on that court before, except "to see how it looks like, how many people are there".

So it was the proverbial David against Goliath then. On one side stood the proud winner of 50 titles, including an Olympic gold, with more than US$50 million (Dh183.6m) in prize money; on the other, there was a virtual nobody, with no ATP Tour titles and only $879,777 in prize money.

Born and raised in Brno, the Czech Republic's second largest city, Rosol had never reached higher than 65 in world rankings.

He had won just 18 matches on the ATP Tour in all these years, and lost 32. The 2010 US Open was his first grand slam; he had failed in his first 12 attempts to qualify for a major.

However, he has never lacked in self-belief. "Sometimes I can wake up and I can beat anyone, you know," he said. "Some days I know I can lose to player at 500."

On Thursday, the better Rosol showed and stayed there until the final game.

Serving for the match at 5-4 in the fifth set, he banged in an ace, a blazing forehand winner, an ace and yet another howitzer to finish off the No 2 seed.

Now, he meets Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round today and the world will be watching out for him.

"Everybody can lose and everybody can win," Rosol said when asked how far he expects to go in the tournament. "It's always open - it's sport. Nobody's unbeatable. We're just people, we're just humans."

On Thursday night though, he resembled a superhuman against tennis' alpha male. As Tim Henman put it on the BBC, "he was just too good".

arizvi@thenational.ae

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