|Lukas Rosol plays near flawless tennis, serving, returning and at the net. (AP)|
WIMBLEDON, England -- Rafael Nadal made his earliest Grand Slam exit since 2005 when he was overpowered Thursday by big-serving Lukas Rosol 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in the second round at Wimbledon.
Rosol, a 26-year-old Czech ranked No. 100, earned the biggest win of his career playing in Wimbledon's main draw for the first time. He lost each of the past five years in the first round of qualifying.
As the match stretched beyond dusk, the conclusion came with the retractable roof closed for the final set on Centre Court. The upset on tennis' biggest stage was no fluke: Rosol served brilliantly and repeatedly stepped instead the baseline to hit aggressive groundstrokes, while Nadal found himself pinned deep and on the defensive.
Nadal saved three set points to win the opening set, but his demeanor grew glum as Rosol overtook him. After falling behind in the third set, Nadal grumbled to the chair umpire during a changeover, apparently irritated by Rosol's movements as he awaited serves.
Two games later, Nadal bumped into Rosol -- and didn't acknowledge the contact -- as they walked to their chairs for a break.
Rosol exhaled before hitting his final shot, which was his 22nd ace. He fell to his knees, arms up, then collapsed face down on the grass. He then rose and shook hands at the net with a frowning Nadal.
Rosol became the lowest-ranked player to defeat Nadal in a major tournament. The 6-foot-5, 178-pound Czech lost only 16 points on his first serve, returned well and won 22 of 28 points at the net.
In short, it was a complete performance that had spectators wondering why they'd never heard of him before. Nadal lost despite committing only 16 unforced errors in 276 points.
The Spaniard had reached the final in the past five Grand Slam tournaments, and had played in the final of his past five Wimbledons.
After Nadal broke twice in the fourth set to even the match, gathering darkness made lights necessary for the final set, and tournament officials suspended play for 45 minutes so the roof could be closed. Nadal was clearly unhappy that the delay interrupted his momentum, shaking his head and frowning when advised of the situation by an official.
Serving to start the final set, Nadal shanked a groundstroke on the first point and was broken when he failed to put away an overhead. Rosol easily held from there, winning his final 13 service points, seven with aces.
Nadal won a record seventh French Open championship this month and was bidding for his third title at Wimbledon, where he was runner-up last year to Novak Djokovic.
Maria Sharapova's old serving problems resurfaced, costing her the second set before she recovered to beat dangerous Tsvetana Pironkova, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (3), 6-0. The Court 1 match took two days and ended three minutes after Williams concluded her victory on Centre Court, beating qualifier Melinda Czink 6-1, 6-4.
The No. 1-ranked Sharapova saved five set points in the first set and led the second set 3-1 when play was halted Wednesday because of darkness. She lost the first two games when the match resumed, and double-faulted on her first three service points in the tiebreaker.
"It felt like two matches in a way," Sharapova said. "Today I wanted to start off really well because I knew I was up a break. Didn't go according to plan. Really served sloppy."
Sharapova underwent shoulder surgery in 2008 and has been prone to double-faults, but in the final set she had no trouble with her serve - or anything else. She won 21 of the last 27 points and finished with just 11 unforced errors.
Sharapova said she didn't make any major changes down the stretch.
"We were playing with the same balls; I played with the same racket," she said. "I just started doing things a little bit better."
Pironkova, ranked 38th, beat Venus Williams at Wimbledon each of the past two years,
"If she played on grass 365 days a year, she'd be top five probably," Sharapova said. "She has the perfect game for it."
But Sharapova's at her best in winner-take-all sets. She improved her record in three-set matches to 9-0 this year and 21-1 since the beginning of 2011.
She has won 14 consecutive matches, including the French Open this month to complete a career Grand Slam.
While Sharapova battled an erratic serve, with eight aces and 10 double-faults, four-time champion Serena Williams had no such trouble. She won 27 of 28 points on her first serve, including 10 aces, and never faced a break point. Czink twice whiffed on returns.
"I love my serve," Williams said, "and I love feeling good when I serve."
The sixth-seeded Williams could meet Sharapova in the final next week. A 17-year-old Sharapova defeated Williams for the Wimbledon title in 2004.