Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Roger Federer passes 1st round test at Wimbledon


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It was like an annual family outing: Roger Federer, his wife Mirka and assorted friends and relatives were all crammed into the players’ box to watch the greatest player of all time get his Wimbledon campaign underway. Other families go to Blackpool for their summer hols; the Federers come to SW19.

And, as expected, Federer did what he was supposed to do and moved into the second round with a 7-6(5), 7-6(3), 6-3 win over Guido Pella of Argentina.

His twin daughters, Myla and Charlene, were there, laughing and giggling as they waited for Dad to come to work. Federer always said that he wanted to keep playing at least until his children were old enough to come and watch him play and understand a little of what he did. His two boys, Lennie and Leo, may be a little young still but the girls are now old hands at Wimbledon. Now six years old, their first taste of Dad making history was when Federer beat Andy Murray back in 2012.

For the girls, Dad winning first round matches at major championships was just what happens in the Federer household these days. The seven-time Wimbledon champion has not lost in the opening match at a Grand Slam since 2003. But that was at the French Open just a few weeks before he became the Roger Federer, the mighty Roger Federer, the Roger Federer who won his first grand slam title in SW19 that summer and has gone on to win a further 16 Grand Slam titles since. That Roger Federer does not lose on the opening day of big events any more.

That said, he usually comes to the All England Club in perfect working order and moves through his first few matches like a finely tuned car (a Rolls Royce or a Bentley, obviously). Easing through the gears, he has normally hit top speed by the time he gets to the open road of the second week but this year has not been like any other for the suave Swiss.

In January, he arrived in Australia with a nasty dose of the flu which hampered his preparations for the Australian Open and then having losing in the semi-finals there, he hurt his knee while running a bath for Charlene and Myla the very next day. He turned, something went ‘click’ and when he went home to Switzerland to have it checked out, he discovered he had a torn meniscus. Clearly, bathing children can be a hazardous business.

That cost him a good couple of months of the season and then when he came back for the clay court season, his back started playing up and he had to miss the French Open. The Federer engine, then, has been misfiring of late.

“I’m so happy,” Federer said once Pella had been dispatched. “I was walking out thinking to myself ‘it’s so nice to be out here’. I’ve worked so hard since February to be here fully fit. I didn’t want to have miss Wimbledon. We’ll see how fit I am – nobody knows, not even myself. But I’m just happy to be here.”

But if Federer is a Rolls Royce in need of a tune-up, Pella is, on grass, more your sensibly priced, small hatchback. He may be ranked No.52 in the world and he may have been a professional for the past decade but he came to Wimbledon without a single career grass court win of any description. Not one. To be fair, he had only played three matches on the green stuff in his life and none of them ended well. Grass is not really his thing.

No matter, Pella got to work swiftly. Strong, left-handed and with nothing to lose, went for the simple option: make Federer run. He was never going to beat the living legend with a traditional grass court game (as we have already established, he has never mastered that particular art) but if he could make Federer move, he might stand a chance. After all, the grass is always slicker on the opening day, Federer has a suspect back and has had a dodgy knee. And, dare we mention it, he is 34 years old. So that is that is what Pella did: rally, drop shot; rally, lob. And he served. He served big.

It was enough to keep Federer scampering around for two hours and five minutes but it was not enough to worry him. As they inched towards the tie-break in the first two sets, the contest looked relatively even and then Federer took control of both deciders and that was that. From two sets up, the man chasing his eighth Wimbledon crown looked relatively secure.

This may not have been Federer at his best but there were still those moments of magic: the shot conjured up out of nothing, the ridiculous angles he could create from seemingly impossible positions and that sublimely good forehand. Two of them gave him a look at a chance to break in the third set – 0-30 – another brought up break point and a fourth got the job done. Federer had broken – he was 5-3 and serving for the match. Two last aces got the job done and the Great One was through to play Britain’s Marcus Willis on Wednesday.

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