LONDON — For a day, they were the pair who ran Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova out of town.
And then, suddenly, he was plain ol’ 116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky again and she was 131st-ranked Michelle Larcher de Brito.
Less than 48 hours after affixing their stamp on one of the most stunning days ever at Wimbledon, Stakhovsky was sent out to Court 3 for a third-round match against Jurgen Melzer and Larcher de Brito went to court 17 to play Karin Knapp.
Stakhovsky, the man from Ukraine who served and volleyed like John McEnroe in dispatching Federer, opened his encore with a pair of double faults in his first service game – a sign of worse things to come en route to a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 loss to the 37th-ranked Melzer.
De Brito, the woman from Portugal who yelled every bit as loud as Sharapova and matched her groundstroke for groundstroke, went down meekly, 7-5, 6-2 to 104th-ranked Karin Knapp.
As the results showed, it’s not so easy playing the match after “The Match.”
“I think I was coming in quite slow, because of the emotions coming off the match with Roger,” Stakhovsky said. “You expect yourself to play a little different, maybe.”
Meanwhile, the man who sent Nadal packing this year – Steve Darcis – didn’t even play his next match, sidelined by a shoulder injury he said he made worse when he barrel-rolled into a shot against Nadal in the first set.
Maybe Darcis, ranked 135th, had it right. Hard to top moments like he had.
“At one stage, I had to turn my phone off,” Larcher de Brito said. “I had almost an hour and a half of press after the match. I practiced and tried to take it easy the next day. But I guess I didn’t realize how big the win was.”
Another enduring a similar fate Friday was Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, the reigning junior champion who, two days earlier, had a match on an outside court moved to Centre Court, then went out and dispatched 12th-seeded and former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in straight sets. Two days later, on Court 18 in front of about 14,000 fewer spectators, Bouchard went down 7-5, 6-2 to 19th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro.
“I think that was in the back of my mind, yeah,” Bouchard said. “It’s a totally different situation. Not on Centre Court, not against a big, big player. But I knew that ahead of time. I tried to prepare like it was just another match, which it was. But, yeah, I just think I didn’t play as well as I know I can.”
Larcher de Brito felt the same way.
After battling back from down a break to 5-5 in the first set, she was ahead 30-0 but let her service game slip. Knapp served out the set, broke to open the second, then the rain set in. A few hours later, with the sound of Friday night jazz spilling over from the Wimbledon mezzanine, Knapp had no trouble putting away the match.
Over on Court 3, Stakhovsky lunged awkwardly for a volley in the first set and, moments later, was calling for the trainer to tape his right ankle. He insisted that had little to do with his loss.
More, he said, it was the lack of mental composure – a result of the hectic 24 hours after the Federer win, during which he took every phone call, granted every interview, signed every autograph.
“I was not ready for such a turnover,” Stakhovsky said.
What resulted was a game plan that wasn’t as well thought-out or executed as he would have liked.
Against Federer, Stakhovsky played serve-and-volley with reckless abandon, knowing the seven-time Wimbledon champion was having trouble with his serve. But Melzer? He didn’t have nearly that sort of trouble. That fact was evident from the beginning – when Melzer hit a clean, crosscourt return for a winner in the first game – to the end, when he closed the match with an almost identical shot off a wide Stakhovsky serve.
“Today I was a bully. I was just going to the net and trying to save it,” Stakhovsky said. “It just didn’t work. I mean, yes, I lost at the net. But that’s not the point. I wanted to win. And if I wanted to win, I had to change. But I didn’t do it because I didn’t think about it.”
The statistics told part of the story. Against Federer, Stakhovsky got 72 percent of his first serves in and won 65 percent of his points at the net. Against Melzer, those numbers dropped to 62 and 58.
“You go out there and show him that I’m not Roger Federer and I can return his serve and make him play tough volleys,” Melzer said. “That was my goal today.”
Instead of looking at this as an opportunity lost, though, both Stakhovsky and Larcher de Brito felt it was time well-spent.
As they walked off their respective courts and toward the locker rooms Friday, they did it with a security escort by their side, but otherwise in almost total obscurity – Stakhovsky stopping to sign three or four autographs, Larcher de Brito weaving her way quickly through a departing Friday night crowd.
These, of course, were not the main memories they were taking home from Wimbledon.
“It was a fantastic win, obviously,” Larcher de Brito said. “It gave me an incredible amount of confidence and it proved to myself that, yeah, I can be there.”
And Stakhovsky: “Nobody’s going to take it away from me. If someone would ask me, ‘Would you rather beat Roger and lose in the next round?’ I would always take that, obviously.”