LONDON — Wimbledon’s famed grass courts were at the center of a safety row on Wednesday after Victoria Azarenka, Steve Darcis, the conqueror of Rafael Nadal, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were among seven players forced out with injury.
World number two and Australian Open champion Azarenka withdrew just minutes before she was due on Center Court to face Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta for a place in the third round.
A right knee injury, suffered in a fall during her first round win over Maria Joao Koehler on Monday which left her in tears and requiring 10 minutes of treatment, put paid to her hopes after an MRI scan showed extensive bruising to the knee.
French sixth seed Tsonga quit his match with Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis with a knee injury at the end of the third set.
Also withdrawing were Darcis, who put out Nadal in the first round, Croatian 10th seed Marin Cilic and Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova.
John Isner and Radek Stepanek both quit during their second round matches.
The seven pullouts were the most on one day in Grand Slam history.
Azarenka’s fall happened on Court One, the same arena where Darcis knocked out Nadal on Monday.
Darcis, the world number 135, also took a painful tumble, causing the right shoulder injury which forced him to withdraw.
“The court was not in a very good condition that day. My opponent fell twice; I fell badly; there were some other people who fell after,” said Azarenka, a semi-finalist in the last two years.
“It would be great if the club or somebody who takes care of the court would examine or try to find an issue so that wouldn’t happen.”
On Centre Court, Tsonga needed a medical time-out to have his left knee taped just after he had dropped the second set, 6-3, against world number 39 Gulbis.
Tsonga had won the first set, 6-3. But when he dropped the third set 6-3, he gave up.
“I have a problem with the tendon on my knee. I’ve had it for a five or six days now,” Tsonga said.
“When it’s going worse and worse like this it’s not good for me to play on because I know I will do more damage.”
An All England Club spokesman told AFP: “The courts have been prepared in exactly the same way as they have done in the past. There is no change. It is the same seed, everything is identical.”
“We will definitely be looking at it. But we understand there is no connection that we’re aware of with the preparation of the courts.”
Darcis, the world number 135, admitted he was devastated after being forced to pull out.
The 29-year-old Belgian had been due to face Poland’s Lukasz Kubot in the second round, but was unable to recover in time after sustaining the shoulder problem in his remarkable triumph against Nadal 48 hours earlier.
“I think when you beat a guy like Rafa in the first round, you want to show more, you want to play more matches. I was playing maybe the best tennis in my life here,” he said.
“So not to go on the court today, it’s the biggest disappointment I have had.”
America’s John Isner, famous for winning the longest match in history at Wimbledon in 2010, pulled out after just two games of his second round tie against France’s Adrian Mannarino.
Croatian 10th seed Cilic joined the list of Wimbledon’s walking wounded when he withdrew with a left knee injury.
Cilic, the runner-up to Andy Murray at Queens last week, was due to face France’s Kenny de Schepper for a last-32 place.
“It’s a very black day,” said Cilic.
Czech veteran Stepanek was also struck down by injury.
At 6-2, 5-3 down to Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, the 24th seed, he quit with a left hamstring injury.
Shvedova had an arm injury and her withdrawal meant that 2011 champions Petra Kvitova received a free pass into the third round.
Later Wednesday, defending champion Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova take center stage.
Federer, bidding to become the first man to win the title eight times, tackles Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Murray plays Lu Yen-Hsun, the Taiwan player who beat him at the 2008 Olympics.
Three former world number ones were knocked out.
Lleyton Hewitt was dumped out by German qualifier Dustin Brown, the dreadlocked former Jamaica player winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 6-2.
Ana Ivanovic was knocked out by Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, the reigning Wimbledon girls’ champion.
The 12th seeded Serb was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by the 19-year-old.
Caroline Wozniacki, the ninth seed, also went out in straight sets to Czech qualifier Petra Cetkovska after needing treatment for an ankle injury, also following a fall on Court Two.
Originally posted at 11:59 pm | Wednesday, June 26, 2013