On Thursday, Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic proved just how unpredictable sports can be with a 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory that few could have expected. Rosol was facing Rafael Nadal, who had just come off a record seventh French Open championship this month and was bidding for his third title at Wimbledon.
Nadal had reached the final in each of his last five Wimbledon's and hadn't been defeated in the second round of a Grand Slam since the 2005 Wimbledon.
Rosol on the other hand, lost in qualifying for Wimbledon in each of the last five years, and was making his first main draw Wimbledon appearance as the 100th-ranked player in the world.
The patterns in men's tennis over the past few years have taught us that players ranked outside of the top 20 are not supposed to beat players in the top five. Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, and even Andy Murray are simply expected to make it deep into the second week of majors, and if they do lose, it is supposed to happen to one another or at least players who have been ranked in the top ten at some point in their careers.
The 26-year-old Czech player proved that on any given day, a seemingly unknown player can play the greatest tennis of their career, even against one of the most storied and respected players of all time.
Maybe it's once in life you can play like this against Rafael Nadal on Centre Court and you can win against him, Rosol said after the match. While Rosol may never play a match quite like this again in his career, it will surely stick in the memory of everyone who watched.
The 6-foot-5 Czech player has a large game that seems well suited for a quick surface such as grass. He has one of the biggest serves on the tour and a big forehand. At times, Rosol hit remarkable winners from every part of the court. At other times, he sprayed balls to the back walls of center court and played inconsistently, demonstrating why he has struggled to make a name for himself.
Regardless of his inconsistencies, on Thursday, Rosol managed to make more than he missed at just the right times. He hit 22 aces in the match and an impressive 65 winners against one of the quickest athletes in the world. His groundstroke winners consistently topped the 90mph, leaving spectators in awe.
In the fifth and final set of the second round match, Rosol exhibited his best tennis of the match, winning his final 13 service points, seven with aces. No one could have predicted this result, even Rosol himself.
I'm not just surprised; it's like a miracle for me, he said. Like just some B team in Czech Republic can beat Real Madrid (in) soccer.
Nadal on the other hand, did not play poorly or hit an unacceptable number of errors. On the contrary, in the entire five set match, Nadal only hit 16 unforced errors. He also hit 41 winners and 19 aces. Simply put, Rosol outplayed the Spaniard in the most crucial moments.
In the fifth set he played more than unbelievable, Nadal said of Rosol after the match.
While Thursday may have been a sad day for Nadal fans around the world, it is a heartwarming story for many. It proves that nothing is guaranteed, and could give hope to players who are struggling to find their place in professional tennis. It shows them that one day, they may play their best match on the sport's biggest stage.
Nadal put it simply in a post match interview when he said, Well, that's sport. You win, you lose...You arrive here, and a little bit of everything. You play against an inspired opponent, and I am out. That's all. Is not a tragedy. Is only a tennis match.
Rosol's is not the only heartwarming story to come out of this Wimbledon championship. On Thursday, American Brian Baker's amazing comeback continued as he dropped only six games in reaching the third round of a grand slam for the first time in his career.
The 27-year-old from Nashville defeated Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, 6-0 6-2 6-4.
Nieminen is a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist and was no easy opponent for Baker. The Finn however, could do little on Thursday to stop the inspiring player who has come through physical hardships to revive his career.
In 2003, Baker was an up-and-coming American star who reached the junior French Open final. However, a couple of months after playing in the 2005 U.S. Open, Baker needed left hip surgery.
That began a six year period in which he had five operations. Overall, Baker has had three rounds of hip surgery plus hip reconstruction, elbow surgery, and a hernia operation. From November 2008 to July 2011, he did not even hold a world ranking.
During that difficult and often painful time, Baker began coaching at Belmont University and pursued a degree in business and finance. At times, it seemed unlikely that he would ever return to the pro tour. After his final elbow surgery, Baker recalls sitting in the operating room.
''I knew it would be a year and a half before I got back. It actually took longer than that,'' Baker said. ''Sitting in the operating room, I told myself I'm not going to keep on coming back, having surgery, prolong my 'career,' if I can call it that.''
However, the American has had a tremendous summer, winning several challenger tournaments and reaching the final of a clay court tune-up event in Nice. He then made an appearance at this year's French Open, where he reached round two before pushing Gilles Simon to five sets.
Now, Baker can call his 2012 season a comeback season as he is in the third round at Wimbledon, his best showing at any Grand Slam tournament.
Tennis has become an incredibly physical sport that wears and tears parts of the body. With so many round of surgery, few may have expected Baker's body to hold up well enough to compete with the world's best.
However, he is not just competing with some of the best, he is defeating them. His comeback keeps getting better, and he is inspiring people with every match he plays.
Baker and Rosol have proven that no path or result is set in stone. Careers and matches are not predictable. It is the uncertainty of tennis, sports, and life for that matter that drives people like Baker and Rosol to compete, and maybe, just maybe achieve their dreams.
Brian Baker will now face Benoit Paire of France while Lukas Rosol will face Philipp Kohlscreiber of Germany. If both win, they will face each other in the next round.