Sharapova shrieks, slips and leaves
ONLY three days in, but already it feels like game over for the women. Maria Sharapova's 6-3 6-4 defeat by Michelle Larcher de Brito, the world No 131 from Portugal, was a seismic shock even by yesterday's extraordinary standards, and surely handed the title to Serena Williams before the world No 1 has even played her second match.
For the first time in the Open era, two of the top three women's seeds have been knocked out before the end of the second round, while two former world No 1s– Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic – also crashed out.
There are mitigating circumstances, of course – Victoria Azarenka was unfortunate with injury, Wozniacki hurt her ankle during defeat to Petra Cetkovska, while Sharapova slipped and fell three times during her match.
But of the three, it was Sharapova who was by far the more culpable. "I just wasn't there," she said.
Not that anybody on Court No 2 was complaining. Having seen the dreadlocked Dustin Brown shock Lleyton Hewitt earlier in the day, they were now treated to this brutal 94-minute opera, complete with blood-curdling soundtrack: Bob Marley, followed by the wailers. The old Court No 2 was known as the graveyard of champions. Now its replacement is living up to the reputation.
A word about the screeching. Yes, it was loud out there. But in a match as taut and as fraught as this, the feral battle cries of each player took on a dramatic, almost spine-tingling quality.
For both these women, shrieking is an assertion of identity rather than a measure of effort, and like Whitby fishwives holding a vicious slanging match on the pier at sundown, these two gladiators were trying to outdo each other vocally as well as physically. Put it this way: if you do not like the shrieking, you probably do not really like women's tennis.
Sharapova preferred to praise her opponent rather than blame her defeat on the surface. Yet anybody who watches her play regularly will tell you that despite her high centre of gravity, she is not the sort of player who tumbles over, even occasionally.
"Obviously, when you fall twice or three times, you do think about it," she said. "But those are the conditions that were there for my opponent, as well."
The surface was clearly not to her satisfaction – "this court is dangerous," she complained to the umpire after falling for the final time – but she did not help herself either at times. Her body language was dispiriting, her serve erratic, her backhand missing its usual vigour and her movement hampered by those painful falls, for which Sharapova called the trainer midway towards the end of the match.
A break of serve in each set was enough for De Brito, who returned with a ferocity that startled Sharapova. The Russian won just 43pc of points on her second serve, and after losing the first set 6-3, surrendered an early break in the second with a slack double fault.
De Brito weathered a late onslaught in a thrilling final game, in which six deuces and four match points went abegging for the Portuguese. Finally, with one final dying shriek, Sharapova flopped a backhand into the net. (©Daily Telegraph, London)
109 decibels - Michelle Larcher de Brito (measured at Wimbledon yesterday)
103 - Maria Sharapova
100 - Pneumatic drill, motorcycle
110 - Power saw
140 - Jet engine on take-off