LONDON, July 2, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Eight-time former champion, Switzerland’s Roger Federer was one of the biggest – if not the biggest – seeded attractions on Tuesday at The Championships, at Wimbledon. The second seed who played the tournament debutant Lloyd Harris of South Africa suffered a jolt in the first set before recovering to win 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 51 minutes.
The match had several connotations for Federer even before its start. For one, it marked the start of his 21st year of playing Wimbledon – marking a record eclipsing the previous record of America’s Jimmy Connors’ 20 Wimbledon appearances. For another, on the same date, in 2001, Federer had played his first match on Centre Court against United States’ Pete Sampras in the fourth round. That win on that day had changed the course of the men’s tour entirely. Was the passing of the baton on the cards against the 22-year-old?
The way the match began, it seemed so. Harris came out firing with big serves and put Federer out of place in the first few games of the opening set. It also did not help that Federer struggled with his shot-making, overcooking most of them for errors, both forced and unforced. The youngster directed the pace of the game throughout the set without any hesitation about his game plan.
Second set onwards, Federer changed tactics noticeably. Instead of letting Harris dictate the rhythm of the game through predominant baseline-to-baseline exchanges, Federer kept him off-rhythm by making frequent interceptions at the net. Federer’s sharp volleying put the 22-year-old on the backfoot and he was left caught unawares. The World No. 3 finished off the match with 29 off 31 points at the net to the South African’s eight off 21 points. For the match, the 2018 Wimbledon quarter-finalist had won 106 points to Harris’ 71.
In his post-match interview after exiting the court, Federer remarked about his initial loss of momentum. “I struggled early on – felt a bit frozen, my legs weren’t going and it was a bit heavy out there,” Federer acknowledged. “…He kept me nervous for a set and a half. Then I got into the match, but it took a big effort. Mentally I knew it was a long way to the finish line for my opponent. This is where experience kicks in. I really had time to figure out it was all about managing the nerves. I was disappointed not to play better from the get-go, but credit to him for swinging big.”
This was Federer’s 96th win at Wimbledon. In the second round, the Basel native will play Great Britain’s Jay Clarke. Clarke defeated American Noah Rubin 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
Dominic Thiem: Third Big Seed to Exit
Fifth seed Dominic Thiem of Austria joined Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas as the third top-10 seed to exit the tournament in the first round. 2017 semi-finalist Sam Querrey from the United States took out Thiem 6-7(4), 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-0 in two hours and 29 minutes.
Querrey, who is coming into the Championships after making it to the final’s at Eastbourne the past week, was expected to be tough opening-round opponent for Thiem. However, the American’s destabilising style of play became too much for the two-time French Open finalist who also had to endure the dubiousness of being bagelled in the fourth set. Considering that Thiem had not played any ATP prep tournament prior to Wimbledon, this result – albeit not surprising in many corners – is sure to be tough to accept.
However, from his rival’s perspective, Thiem’s exit opens up the draw further for Spanish third seed Rafael Nadal. The two-time former champion was drawn to face the World No. 4 in the quarter-final. With respect to his own result, Nadal overcame a 0-2 deficit in the first set to win against Japanese qualifier Yuichi Sugita. The Mallorcan won 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in two hours.
Even as match durations seem like a secondary detail to be tacked on while talking of results, in case of Bernard Tomic’s first-round match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga it was the other way round. The Frenchman won 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 against the brash Australian but more than the score-line itself, it was the time taken to complete the match that caught everyone’s attention. The entire match was wrapped up in 58 minutes to make it the quickest best-of-five set match since 2004. Unfortunately for Tsonga, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, his opponent’s intent in the match was questioned more than him pocketing the easy win.
Speaking of intent, Tomic’s compatriot Nick Kyrgios also faced queries about his purposefulness in his first-round match against yet another countryman, Jordan Thompson. The Australian derby between Kyrgios and Thompson was like seeing tides ebb and flow in quick succession, with Kyrgios controlling the motions even when not seeming in control.
The 2014 Wimbledon quarter-finalist won 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(10), 0-6, 6-1 in three hours and 26 minutes. While he put everyone through their paces in the first three sets, which included wasting seven set points in the third-set tie break, the last two sets were bemusing and funny at the same time. The 24-year-old played with no verve in the fourth set but made a quicksilver-like comeback in the decider to claim the win and set up a highly-awaited rematch – at the Championships’ – against Nadal.
In his press conference, however, Kyrgios shut down attempts of fanning flames between Nadal and him. When asked about his equation with the 18-time Grand Slam champion, Kyrgios said, “Not sure that me and Rafa could go down to the Dog & Fox and have a beer together. I don’t know him at all. I know him as a tennis player. I just don’t – no, I don’t know him very well. I don’t know what you want me to say to the question. It’s a very strange question.”