Federer moves indoors to put on an exhibition of excellence
Swiss enjoys first time under Centre Court roof with straight-sets win over Mannarino
Friday 24 June 2011
In boxing, they would have stopped the fight after the first punch. It looked such a hopeless mismatch that Adrian Mannarino required over half an hour – and 24 attempts – before managing to take his first point off Roger Federer's serve. The Frenchman permitted himself a bleak smile. By that stage, Federer was deep into a virtuoso exhibition that blended the grace of Fred Astaire, with the insouciant precision of Sergeant Troy demonstrating his sword drill.
Your heart went out not only to Mannarino, but also to Conor Niland, who must have watched in the bitter certainty that he could hardly have fared any worse. On Monday the first Irishman to play here in over three decades had a lead of 4-1 in the fifth set against Mannarino, before contriving to lose five games in a row. Had he been here, at least he would have brought some Co Limerick sedition to the crowd, who instead watched this evisceration in rapt adulation.
You can easily picture Mannarino writing existential poetry in a café on the Left Bank, a packet of Gitanes protruding from his corduroy jacket. But you could not imagine the 22-year-old breaking Federer's serve if they played until Christmas.
The French left-hander brought to proceedings a wristy forehand and precious little in the way of a discernible backhand, especially on the volley. His only contribution of note to the first set, much to the merriment of the crowd, had been to bean an unsuspecting cameraman with the ballooned return of a long serve. It is to his credit, then, that Mannarino managed to salvage his dignity to the extent he did, obliging Federer to save three break points when serving for the second set. The seraph of the sward, clearly vexed by his momentary inattention, regrouped to win the next five points – but was fortunate, on the third of them, when dangling a miscued forehand only just inside the baseline.
As that, and one or two other cameos showed, Mannarino has climbed to No 55 in the rankings for a reason. But the fact remained that Federer had, in effect, settled each set by breaking serve at the first attempt. With his customary blend of serenity and power, he polished Mannarino off in 88 minutes, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, settling the final point with a flamboyant, leaping smash.
Having been obliged to wait until dusk to get on court, and making his first appearance under the roof here, Federer had looked a man in a hurry. His next opponent is a former nemesis, and the 2002 finalist, David Nalbandian. "He used to be my dark horse," Federer admitted as he left the court. "But I think I've been able to turn around our head-to-head. It's nice to see him still around, and I'm expecting a really difficult match.
"We've come a long way since the US juniors back in '98," he added. "I used to panic and run to the net because I felt I couldn't hang with him from the baseline. Later I really started to enjoy the challenge against him, his backhand is a shot like almost no other on the tour. I'm really looking forward to that match."
Federer paid tribute to the crowd and the indoor atmosphere. "It was fantastic," he said. "They had some heavy matches before, and I didn't know what their stamina would be like. If the crowd would be talking during points, it would resonate, but they're very disciplined. It was a special moment in my career to play indoors here. I think the conditions feel slower because you can see the ball clearer."
Though he acknowledged that tougher tests await, the six-times champion is clearly suffused with confidence. "I think I've played well for a year now," he said. "I think the French Open proved I'm in a good place, physically and mentally."
A rather more competitive encounter had, meanwhile, come to a gripping conclusion over on Court One, where Jo-Wilfried Tsonga finally stifled an outrageous young talent in Grigor Dimitrov, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6. Tsonga was abetted on match point by a net cord, which left his Bulgarian opponent face down after a despairing dive. Tsonga had been so impressed that he hurdled the net and pulled the 20-year-old to his feet, consoling him that he has a great future. "I hope he will go on to be one of the big champions," Tsonga said afterwards. "He was a bit on fire sometimes. I say to myself that if I am consistent, he will miss – but he didn't miss and it was really difficult."
On the show courts today
Centre and No1 courts start at 1pm.
Centre F Lopez (Sp) v (8) A Roddick (US), (25) D Hantuchova (Slovak) v (4) V Azarenka (Bela), (4) A Murray (GB) v I Ljubicic (Croa).
Court No 1 L Robson (GB) v (5) M Sharapova (Rus), M Sanchez Martinez (Sp) v (23) V Williams (US), (1) R Nadal (Sp) v G Muller (Lux).
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