An afternoon in the baking heat of the All England Club was made more sensational by the departure, too, of the current queen of tennis, the world No.1, Caroline Wozniacki.
The women’s tournament was thus thrown wide open. It is the first all-European quarter-finals since 1913. The list of ties is the most extraordinary of roll-calls: Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia v Maria Sharapova of Russia, Sabine Lisicki of Germany v Marion Bartoli of France, Tamira Paszek of Austria v Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic v Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria.
The absence of the Williams is the most dramatic development at the tournament. The sisters have won all but two of the ladies’ singles championships this century. They fell on the same day at a major championships for the first time since the French Open in 2008 and left behind a group of happy, if slightly stunned, survivors in the last eight.
The most delighted, of course, was Bartoli who famously dispatched her father from the side of the court in her fourth-round match against Flavia Pennetta. She restricted herself yesterday to dismissing the reigning champion 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).
Bartoli was rather too frank about her struggles against the Italian in the previous round, stating: “I was suffering the most definitely against Flavia. That one was crazy. I was not feeling very well. I was a bit sick in my stomach, so it was of course making things a bit tougher. But I really took it deep into my guts and found a way to stay in there and win the match, even though it was taking three hours and something.”
She was more serene about the victory over Serena. “Today the way I played and the way I handled the pressure was good. But I think this match against Flavia helped me today to step up and during those tough moments to really play some great points.”
Williams arrived at the tournament having played only two matches since winning the title last year. She was “devastated” at the defeat but already looking towards the US Open, where her burgeoning fitness will make her favourite.
“I never came here thinking I would lose. That’s my attitude,” she said of the curtailed preparations for Wimbledon. She added philosophically: “You know, you win some and you lose some. Today just happened to be the one that slipped under me.”
She voiced some optimism in the wake of defeat. “Even though I lost, I was able to kind of hang in there and play tough,” she said. “I can only get better and that can potentially be really scary, because I can only go up from here and I can just do so much more.”
She dismissed any long-term suggestions that the Williams sisters were finished at the top level. “I’m still here. I plan on doing better,” she said.
“Definitely not our best day,” was the verdict of Venus of the family fortunes after she lost to Pironkova for the second year in succession, 6-2, 6-3. She, too, came into the championships with a restricted build-up and believed this finally took a toll.
“When you haven’t played many matches you have to focus on every point and I did a good job of that in my previous matches, but today I kind of let it go,” said Venus, though she was generous in her praise of her conqueror.
The other major departure was Wozniacki, the world No.1, who has yet to win a major. She took the first set easily against Cibulkova 6-1 but lost the next two 7-6, 7-5 as the Slovakian became more aggressive, going for every shot.
“That’s the way you should play against Wozniacki, because she’s the best defensive player,” said Cibulkova. “She just waits and waits and then she takes her chance. Today I had to take all or nothing. After first set, I realised I had to go for my shots 100% or I had no chance. That’s how I started to play, and I really went for everything.”
The day started gently with a routine 6-4, 6-2 win for Sharapova over Shuai Peng of China. The Russian won at Wimbledon seven years ago and will be fancied to do so again in the absence of the Williams sisters. “I’m doing well,” said the 24-year-old. But she added: “It’s only going to get tougher from here. I just hope that I raise my level even more. I’m in the quarters for the first time since 2006, so I think that’s definitely a step forward. But I want to be even better. I want to keep improving. I still feel like I can.”
This was a statement of intent. The Williams dynasty is over, at least for a year. Sharapova, the Ice Queen, plans a succession in a summer of turmoil for the women’s game.