LONDON (REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES) - Young guns Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev suffered shock first-round defeats at Wimbledon on Monday (July 1) as the sixth and seventh seeds were bundled out within an hour of each other.
Greek Tsitsipas entered the tournament tipped as the man most likely to challenge the authority of the sport's so-called "Big Three" of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but was beaten 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (8-10), 6-3 by 89th-ranked Italian Thomas Fabbiano who produced an inspired display on Court 2.
Tsitsipas saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak but Fabbiano was relentless and when he broke in the seventh game of the decider with a cruel netcord, it was clear it was not going to be Tsitsipas' day.
"I wouldn't actually deserve the victory today even if I would have won because I didn't play well," the 20-year-old, who reached this year's Australian Open semi-final after beating Roger Federer, told reporters.
He found himself in good company through the exit door though as Germany's Zverev ran into Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely and was also sent packing, losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
The 22-year-old seemed on course for victory when he won the first set but the powerfully-built Vesely roared back.
Zverev, coached by Ivan Lendl, slipped when serving at 5-6, 15-30 in the fourth set, handing his opponent two match points, and netted a backhand volley to seal his fate.
"I started off well, then one or two things don't go my way, and everything kind of a little bit falls apart," he said.
Fabbiano had a strong Wimbledon run last year, upsetting Stan Wawrinka in the second round in straight sets. That run came to a halt with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 loss to Tsitsipas.
But on Monday, Tsitsipas said he had trouble coping with Fabbiano's improved forehand, which left him guessing throughout the match. He also did not rule out that his five-set loss to Wawrinka at the French Open last month might still be lingering in his psyche.
"It was very, very difficult to overcome that match," Tsitsipas said. "I was really disappointed; I am disappointed now. People expected things from me; I didn't deliver.
"When you get so much support, so much energy, so much positivity from everyone, then just ruin everything by yourself, it's devastating."
Though ranked 124th, Vesely has a strong pedigree at Wimbledon, having upset five seeded players in the last five years before beating Zverev.
Such context was scant consolation to Zverev, whose performances at the four Grand Slam events have often underpaced his stellar achievements at tour stops. He called Monday's loss to Vesely "kind of a typical Grand Slam match for me," and said it came down to his failure to perform his best on crucial points.
"I didn't lose this match on tennis," Zverev said. "It's just, yeah, my confidence is below zero right now."
He has been distracted this year by a legal battle with his former manager Patricio Apey. He expressed feelings of betrayal toward Apey, whom he believed had tried to derail him on the eve of Wimbledon, describing "two really rough days" without being able to go into further detail because of the litigation.
"He does it on purpose right before a tournament like this, and I don't know why he's doing it," an emotional Zverev told German reporters. "It hurts me. He was a man who was very close to me. I thought we were close, not only because of the job. I thought we were friends. But now he's doing things I can't understand."
Zverev bleakly said his next step after Wimbledon was a destination unknown. "I'll take a few days off now," he said, "and go somewhere where nobody can find me."
"It was a great match, fantastic from beginning to end," Vesely said. "Overall I think I played an unbelievable match without many mistakes.
"The pressure was a little bit on him, but he won the first set and then I started to play. I had nothing to lose anymore.
"After the second set, the pressure came back on him. I tried to force it and all of a sudden, I was two sets to one up. I think I have done really well today."