If the eyes of (nearly) the entire sport are upon Andy Murray winning Wimbledon a second time, but incredible scenes are unfolding elsewhere in tennis, did they really happen?
Thanks to the magic of social media, the answer is a resounding yes.
The most dramatic singles match in tour-level tennis was a world away from the All-England Club on Sunday — in the qualifying at the WTA International-level tournament in Bucharest. The clay-court tournament, which gets underway on Monday and features top seed Simona Halep, saw its fair share of shenanigans on court on Sunday, featuring Isabella Shinikova, Nicoleta Dascalu and rising German umpire Miriam Bley.
Shinikova, a Bulgarian ranked No. 173 and the No. 2 seed in the qualifying draw in Bucharest, is currently at a career-high ranking. The 24-year-old has won six titles on the ITF Circuit thus far in 2016, and has nearly cut her ranking in half over the first six months of this year, having ended 2015 ranked No. 330. Dascalu, a 20-year-old Romanian ranked No. 356, defeated the Crimea-born Russian Valentyna Ivakhnenko in the first qualifying round.
The match started innocuously enough, as the player ranked nearly 200 spots higher in Shinikova sprinted out to a 4-0 lead after two breaks of serve. After Dascalu saved two break points to get on the board at 1-4, she ran off a streak in which she won 12 of the next 14 points to level the opening set at 4-4, and even got herself to set point at 5-4 (30-40) on the Shinikova serve. From there, though, the Bulgarian took the final three games to pocket the opening set — after taking the long way around.
I’ll let Stefano Berlincioni, an Italian tennis writer from Spazio Tennis who’s on the ground in Bucharest, take the story away from here.
With the match poised at one set apiece after the Romanian took the second set 6-3, things started to get quite dramatic — and a vocal home crowd was trying their best to pull Dascalu over the line.
Unable to corral an escalating and unruly home crowd — although, everything else aside, it’s nice to see a packed house for the qualifying of a WTA International-level event — Bley, clearly completely and utterly over it by this point judging by this reaction, elected to call in reinforcements.
(It didn’t help.)
While Milos Raonic had to face a partisan crowd at the All-England Club, the fans at Wimbledon certainly gave him more love than Shinikova got in Bucharest — as the match wore on, she hit winners in dead silence.
With the entire crowd against her, Shinikova struggled to keep her emotions in check in a match that featured 13 total breaks of serve. At some point en route to falling behind 1-4 in the final set, Bley tried her best to help her get on with it.
(A tip: put “has experience in crisis management” on the resume, Miri.)
However, the big-hitting Bulgarian would not be denied, as more and more of her flat groundstrokes began to hit their mark.
After two hours and six minutes — and a five-game swing in the final set — Shinikova finally prevailed, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, with a scream of delight that shattered said silence.
For all that effort the Bulgarian put in, she can’t have a letdown — because she’s not even in the main draw yet. Shinikova will have to recover and face former junior World No. 1 Xu Shilin for a place in the main draw tomorrow.
For more action from the WTA Bucharest Open, follow Stefano on Twitter at @Carretero77!