As hard as he tried, Fabio Fognini could not quite dispel the idea that Wimbledon would be better served by excluding Roger Federer from the first week of competition, or at least until the seeds kick in. Sorry, competition is not the right word, not for either party. Fognini, by virtue of his mortal gifts, could not get near Federer, who was in and out of Centre Court in an hour and 14 minutes. In horse-racing terms, that is Frankel time.
As the 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 scoreline suggests, this was not a fair fight. Neither was Federer's first-round bout against Albert Ramos, which he won for the loss of just three games. This is supposed to be a champion in retreat. Seeded three, 30 years old, successive Wimbledon exits at the quarter-final stage were thought to be significant details pointing to the beginning of the end. Only two men in the open era have won this championship having passed 30, Rod Laver and Arthur Ashe, and none for 37 years.
Only an idiot would discount the possibility of a third. Perceived malfunctions on the Federer forehand have acquired an illusory quality. What were we thinking? The freak surrender of his opening two service points was as close as this match came to dynamic tension. The umpire was almost too embarrassed to call 0-30. Parity was not far away, followed by a familiar call in this precinct; game to Federer. That's better.
And it was. The point that secured the opening game was won at the net, a beautiful departure from so much of the baseline bish, bash, bosh we see in the modern game. That old serve-and-volley artiste Stefan Edberg was overcome by nostalgia in the Royal Box. Prince Charles even broke off the conversation with Mrs Bruce Forsyth to applaud.
Once into that familiar rhythm, Federer made a fly of poor Fognini, swatting him out of the first set in little more than 20 minutes. Since he worked out how to play on clay, Federer has never failed to progress to the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam tournament in 32 consecutive appearances, winning 12 titles to add to the four he had already stockpiled. Fognini is a game chap, but what chance did he have? He appeared to be playing with a two-ton racket compared to the table tennis bat Federer feathered around Centre Court.
Federer was not without sympathy for his Italian foe. "I thought he tried hard. On grass, it's tough to get into the match when you are down. I was serving well. You're not going to get many chances throughout a set against me when I'm serving like that. You have to be patient. On clay, if you play well you will get your chances. On grass, that is not automatically the case."
Out of the mouth of another that tone of testimony might easily be interpreted as bombast. Out of Federer's it was stone-cold fact, supported by 13 aces fired in at 120mph-plus and 90 per cent first-service points won. "I'm very happy," Federer said. "It was great to be back on Centre Court, and a great feeling walking out with Prince Charles and Camilla in attendance. I'm serving well, forehand, backhand, concentration, it's all going well."
There was a minor scare when Federer lost his balance and jammed his knee awkwardly into the turf. Elegance suffered momentarily and then he was back on his feet, plunder resumed. The pursuit of a seventh Wimbledon title to equal the SW19 account of Pete Sampras is one of the fortnight's principal narratives. Pity the world No 32 Julien Benneteau, who will have the pleasure of trying to halt Federer in the next round.
"The seeds might be coming my way," Federer said after putting a consoling arm around Fognini. "It will probably be more difficult but I have a day to prepare and I will be ready to go again on Friday."
On the Centre Court night shift, defending champion Novak Djokovic negotiated the spirited challenge of Ryan Harrison in straight sets. Djokovic clocked on beneath the roof shortly before eight, emerging two hours later a comfortable 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 winner.
Wimbledon in numbers
74 Minutes taken by Roger Federer to beat Fabio Fognini.
108 Fastest serve (in mph) recorded by Heather Watson during her victory over Jamie Hampton.
0 Unforced errors made by Aga Radwanska.
22 Slams without a title for Caroline Wozniacki after defeat.Reuse content