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Championships looking to recover after shocks

For the men, it was their worst performance at Wimbledon since 2002 when only two top-16 seeds survived the first week.

sports Updated: Jun 29, 2008 17:53 IST

For three days running, a series of seismic shocks ripped through Wimbledon, causing destruction rarely witnessed so early at a grand slam tournament.

The exit of Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic rocked the All England Club on Wednesday and 24 hours later 2004 Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova and twice runner-up Andy Roddick were also ejected.

On Friday, the biggest name in the women's draw, top seed and newly-crowned French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, was toppled in round three.

The quartet were not the only players forced to catch early flights out of London: as the event goes into its second week, only six of the men's top 16 seeds and eight of the women's have made it through to the fourth round.

For the men, it was their worst performance at Wimbledon since 2002 when only two top-16 seeds survived the first week.

While Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have ruthlessly cast aside their opponents to reach the last 16, more significantly for local fans 12th seed Andy Murray also survived the cull to keep alive Britain's hopes of ending the 72-year wait for a home-grown men's champion.

The seeds who were not so lucky included Djokovic (3), Nikolay Davydenko (4), David Ferrer (5), Roddick (6), David Nalbandian (7), James Blake (9), Tomas Berdych (11), Paul-Henri Mathieu (14), Fernando Gonzalez (15) and Radek Stepanek (16).

Before the tournament started, many pundits were predicting the end of Federer's five-year Wimbledon reign after he was thrashed by Nadal in the French Open final three weeks ago.

Even Swedish great Bjorn Borg, whose modern-era record of five successive Wimbledon men's titles Federer equalled in 2007, had picked the Swiss maestro as his third favourite for the championship, behind Nadal and Djokovic.

While Djokovic has already left the grasscourt grand slam with his tail between his legs and Nadal dropped a set in the second round, Federer has silenced his detractors by gliding past his opponents.

"Last year out of 100 people, 90-95 would have picked Federer and the other five or 10 would have picked Nadal (for the title)," three-times men's champion John McEnroe said.

"Now it's at least 50-50 maybe picking Nadal, if not 60-40. I still pick Federer. All you have to do is see what has happened in the last (few days) and you realise and appreciate how great a run Roger has had, how consistent he's been."

Little-known Russian Alla Kudryavtseva and Chinese doubles specialist Zheng Jie had little in common when they walked through the All England Club gates last Monday.

By the end of the week, both had been elevated to superstar status as they wielded their rackets to send three-times grand slam champion Sharapova and world number one Ivanovic packing.

Fans were stunned when Kudryavtseva, the daughter of a Greco-Roman world champion wrestler, floored third seed Sharapova in the second round and then the 1.85-metre tall Ivanovic was blown off court by the diminutive Zheng.

"Everybody can present a challenge. Everybody is hungry. This girl that beat me...she might not win the tournament but she beat me and it probably made her tournament," Sharapova said after winning only six games against her 154th-ranked opponent.

French Open runner-up Dinara Safina (9), Daniela Hantuchova (10), last year's Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli (11), Patty Schnyder (12), Vera Zvonareva (13) and Victoria Azarenka (16) were also felled in an action-packed first week.

"It's surprising (that there have been so many upsets)," said second seed Jelena Jankovic, whose own title prospects hang in the balance after she injured her knee on Saturday.

"Somehow the top players, even though they're not playing so well, somehow they get through these rounds...But the conditions are quite tough here. It's very windy...a lot of bad bounces. The players that they played against, they just go out on court and really played their best tennis."

With both draws depleted, few would now bet against four-times champion Venus Williams contesting the women's final with her sister Serena on Saturday, followed by Federer and Nadal playing out Act III of their intriguing Wimbledon rivalry in the men's final the following day.