Multiple Injuries Cap Weird Day At Wimbledon

Audie Cornish talks to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated about a busy and odd Wednesday at Wimbledon.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This year's Wimbledon has been weird from the start. In one of the first matches of the tennis tournament, Rafael Nadal, who just won his eighth French Open, lost in straight sets to journeyman Steve Darcis of Belgium. Now, Roger Federer, last year's Wimbledon champ, is also out. He lost to the 116th seed, Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky - ever heard of him? Well, it gets stranger from there.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today, Darcis got hurt in a second round match and was forced to withdraw. And he was one of seven players to retire from their matches today, including Victoria Azarenka, who was the second-seeded woman in the tournament. In case you are wondering, yes, seven players in one day is a major tournament record. What's made the world's most famous tennis tournament look more like a field hospital? For that, we turn to Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. And, Jon, we've heard reports of players slipping around on grass courts today. And is this spate of injuries due to a bad surface, bad luck, bad run of rain? What happened?

JON WERTHEIM: Well, it hasn't been raining, and I think it's a little disingenuous to say bad luck, as some of the tournament organizers have. I mean, clearly this high concentration owes to something besides the fates. And I think that they're, you know, they really owe us some answers about why we've had this rash of injuries. The players are certainly complaining about the surface. Grass is sort of inherently quirky, but it's a real issue. But I've never seen anything like this where just so many matches have ended in, you know, the players haven't even been able to finish.

CORNISH: One good example is number three seeded Maria Sharapova. Didn't withdraw today but clearly had a hard time with the playing surface, right? She slipped a few times, at one point needing medical attention during the match. And she lost in straight sets. So, normally, this would be a big upset, right? But given how strange everything is, it sounds like maybe not.

WERTHEIM: It was of a piece with the other action today. But, no, exactly. Maria Sharapova has won this event. She was the third seed. A lot of people picked her to get to the final, to do very well, and she too had trouble with the surface. Yeah, she was one of the lucky ones. She actually at least got to complete the match. Victoria Azarenka, the second seed, wasn't as fortunate. She didn't even give it a try. She slipped in her first round match and decided not to even try playing today.

CORNISH: So, what are we hearing from tournament officials? I mean, what are they saying that they can do to keep this from happening again?

WERTHEIM: They have been disquietingly quiet so far. We haven't heard much. The grass (unintelligible) the same thing as prior years and I think it's a little bit Flat Earth Society. But they're playing the fluke card so far. And, you know, we didn't have many withdrawals last year. We haven't done anything differently. It may be it's just one of these things.

CORNISH: Although, one thing it seems I was reading they were saying was that the grass is always more slippery at the start of the tournament.

WERTHEIM: Usually, it's more slippery. You could even sort of see that on TV. Eventually, the players wear it out so it looks like a sandlot late in the tournament. The players complained, though, one thing they've also said is that it's not uniform and some courts are much slicker than others and some courts have grass shavings and others don't. Remember, too, this court, this surface was used for the Olympics as well as Wimbledon last year. And if we can play pet horticulturalist, my pet theory is that there may be have been some problem in overuse last summer and we're paying the price now.

CORNISH: So, how do all these upsets and withdrawals shape up the tournament from here on out?

WERTHEIM: Yeah. You know, you look at the draw sheet and you have to be a pretty hardcore fan to recognize some of the names that are left. I mean, the upsets have really been striking. We're only three days into this event. And I think we'll see the effects next when, you know, Hu plays Ha in the quarterfinals. But, you know, I mean, this is sport - it's not scripted. But right now, you know, three days into a two-week event, it has been very, very strange.

CORNISH: Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. Thank you so much for talking with us.

WERTHEIM: Thanks, Audie.

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