Well, there are limits. They have already shown the English how to play cricket this year, after all. Yesterday, as though in atonement, an Irishman came to Wimbledon and produced a performance straight out of the English manual of plucky failure.
The pity of it was that Conor Niland – a qualifier with superior claims to many of the British favoured with a wild card – had seemed to show all the fortitude and ambition that elude so many home players when they come here. In a marathon slugfest with Adrian Mannarino, the first Irishman to play here in 31 years stood on the brink of a second-round tie with none other than Roger Federer. Having broken the Frenchman's serve for a second time in the fifth set, his destiny was in his own hands at 4-1. But he promptly contrived to lose five consecutive games. From looking forward to the biggest match of his career, he was suddenly looking back at the biggest match of his career – and a scoreline of 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.
Making his Grand Slam debut at 29, however, he had certainly done himself proud over the past four hours. Certainly there will be no better atmosphere here this week than was generated by his compatriots squeezed around Court 17. Half of Co Limerick appeared to be there, and every ebb and flow in his fortunes was raucously amplified. His opponent, a rather soulful Frenchman, obligingly played the villain, arguing with the umpire and remorselessly spraying groundstrokes to the corners. How they roared, then, whenever their man rose to a crisis – never more so, perhaps, when he gave himself two set points in the third by flinging himself full length to stun one dead over the net. But Mannarino salvaged the game, won the tie-break, and showed terrific spirit to withstand the unsparingly partisan uproar that greeted his every error. Even his finest flourishes barely drew even the most perfunctory applause.
Federer, meanwhile, will note that Mannarino mustered just four aces over the afternoon. Overall there has so far been precious little sign of any man rocking the boat, and Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro all briskly dismissed their first opponents in straight sets.
Djokovic continues in the form of his life, making ruthlessly short work of Jérémy Chardy, requiring just 80 minutes to win 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. "It's great to be back on Centre Court, the most famous in the world," the Serbian said. "It's my first grass-court match of the season and I'm extremely happy with how I played. Roger and Rafa have been so successful on grass, and they deserve to be favourites here, but I'm one of the players waiting behind for his chance."
Roddick set the tone by smashing four consecutive aces in the very first game before seeing off Andreas Beck, 6-4, 7-6, 6-3. Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, was meanwhile able to break Flavio Cipolla's serve three times in a slick 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 success. The No 15 seed, Gilles Simon, had a tougher passage against his French compatriot, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6.Reuse content