Flying ants hassle Wozniacki during shock exit
Caroline Wozniacki sounded so demoralised in her press conference that you needed to cup your ear to hear her. And no wonder: she had just been forced to swallow a narrow defeat to an inspired opponent, with a handful of bugs as a chaser.
Yes, this was the annual visit of the swarm of flying ants to Wimbledon - a natural phenomenon that somehow sounds like a 1950s B movie.
While Wozniacki was slipping to her 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 defeat against world No 35 Ekaterina Makarova, the little devils were buzzing around No 1 Court like party-goers at an all-night rave. Several of them ended up down her windpipe.
"Can the umpire stop this?" asked John Inverdale in his BBC commentary. "I don't know how," replied summariser Chanda Rubin.
The All England Club, always keen to shift the blame, pointed a finger at Mother Nature. "The seasonal appearance occurs once a year," intoned a straight-faced spokeswoman, "when ants embark on what is often referred to as a 'nuptial flight'." In other words, these insects are loved up and looking to get lucky.
Wozniacki's day was heading in quite the opposite direction. In fact, she must have been wondering which mirror she had broken to deserve such ill-fortune.
As she admitted afterwards, "I can't even be mad at myself because I played up to the level that I can. She was hitting shots that I just couldn't look at sometimes."
Many of these were screaming backhand winners that kept flying up the lines as if guided by SatNav.
And one or two had an element of fortune. Early in the third set, Makaraova's overhead flick caught the net-cord and dropped dead on the grass, as if shot by a tranquiliser dart. Wozniacki swished at the ball as it rolled gently towards her, intending to let off steam by thwacking it into the net, but only managed to tip it with her racket frame. It was that kind of day.
"Everything was going her way," said a distraught Wozniacki, who had come into Wimbledon as the second seed after picking up the Eastbourne title on Saturday. "Sometimes it happens in tennis.
"It's frustrating because I feel like I could have gone and done something really great here. For her to keep this level, I would be very surprised if you saw her go far."
Was there a hint of gracelessness here from Wozniacki? She was clearly unimpressed by her opponent's lengthy bathroom breaks at the end of each of the first two sets, commenting later that "she took her time".
And perhaps this was why she set out to highlight Makarova's status as the sort of player who scores fine individual wins, then buckles at the business end of events. For a player of Makarova's talents, three WTA titles is a poor return.
Indeed, Makarova did suffer a microscopic choke, wasting four match points to be broken while serving for the match. But she regrouped brilliantly, reeling off six of the last seven points and closing with a drive volley into the open court - the 46th winner she had struck in a quite stunning performance.
Speaking of microscopic things, what happened to the ants? As Wozniacki said: "It was definitely a first for me here. I just asked if they had some insect repellent. There were a lot of them at one point. All of a sudden it kind of died down." Perhaps they had all paired up, and then headed off for a celebratory cigarette.
Wozniacki came here with the cachet of a Grand Slam champion for the first time, having finally broken her duck at January's Australian Open. But when she was asked if that made this defeat any more painful, she seemed to be baffled by the question.
"I don't understand, what one has to do with the other," said Wozniacki. "It's obviously not the way I wanted the day to go. I played someone who went all in with every single shot, hitting a lot of lines, a lot of crazy shots that were going in. She raised her level and got a little lucky.
"At that point, what can you do? You just have to keep fighting, wait for your opportunity. I fought with all I had." (© Daily Telegraph, London)