Russians, Czechs and Saturday Night Tennis
LONDON--By the end, it was so dark, they had to bring out new balls for the players to see.
That's how desperate Wimbledon organizers were Saturday night to make sure the match between Mikhail Youzhny of Russia and the Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek was completed.
After all, the winner was to play Rafael Nadal on Monday.
The scene was noisy, maybe a little ugly and nearly surreal. After four hours, Youzhny and Stepanek, two of the tour's more entertaining players, were deadlocked at two sets apiece.
It was like a Davis Cup match had broken out. Russians chanting on one side of the legendary "Graveyard of Champions," Court No. 2, and Czechs chanting on the other.
Both players emoting, chirping at their supporters, mugging for the fans and kissing the net cord when it worked in their favour.
The clock ticked on. The light faded.
At 9:24, with Youzhny ahead 5-3 in the fifth set and serving for the match at deuce, Stepanek fell, apparently injuring his right hand.
At 9:26, he called for a medical timeout. Camera flashbulbs seemed like lighthouse beacons in the near darkness.
At 9:29, they resumed play. Two points later, Youzhny won the match. As Stepanek walked to his chair, he smashed a racquet, then another.
Russian fans booed.
Then Youzhny stood at mid-court, placing his racquet on his head while saluting, military style, to the various corners of the court.
Czech fans booed.
It was a wild night at the All-England Club. Not stuffy at all.