At first, precious little seemed to be going Roger Federer’s way. Expected to breeze past World No 86 Lloyd Harris, a 22-year-old who has never previously won a tour-level tennis match on grass, Federer started slowly. He struggled with his footwork. His serve kept going awry. And then, in the sixth game, he was broken. It was the first time Federer had lost his first set at Wimbledon since 2010: a match against the Colombian Alejandro Falla he would go on to win in five sets.
But there was to be no epic tussle this time around. As Centre Court greeted Harris’ unlikely opening set victory with a confused gurgle, Federer took a deep breath, altered his game plan and recalibrated his focus. “I think with my experience I just stayed calm,” he smiled in the press room after recovering to win the match 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. “I know I have other things in the bag that I can come up with, other tricks. I just took a bit of time.”
In a spot of bother, Federer fell back upon his years of experience at the very summit of men’s tennis, maintaining a clear head to avoid one of the greatest upsets in Wimbledon history. It is a skill the generation behind the imperious Swiss would do well to learn. Just a day after Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas crashed out of the tournament, their ATP Next Gen peers Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov suffered a similar fate, as the exodus of young seeds continued.
Just last month, 25-year-old Thiem reached the final of the French Open for a second successive year, playing some of the finest tennis of his career in a gallant 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 defeat to — who else? — Rafael Nadal. Yet the Austrian has never felt at home on Wimbledon’s verdant lawns, progressing beyond the second round only once, and duly collapsed to a 6-7(4), 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-0 loss to 2017 semi-finalist Sam Querrey, losing the final set in a brisk 20 minutes.
It was Thiem’s first grass court match of the year. It is likely to be the last, as he prepares for a swift return to the red stuff. “The only thing that I could do is to skip the European clay after Wimbledon but it's Hamburg and Kitzbuhel — two tournaments which I really love,” he replied, when asked how he could better prepare for SW19 in the future. “And that is one of the only possibilities in the year where I can play at home, so it's tricky. I will have to see how I handle it in the next years to hopefully play better here.”
Shapovalov, whose form has faltered ever since an impressive run to the semi-finals of the Miami Open in March, followed him out of The Championships with a dispiriting straight sets defeat to World No 77 Ricardas Berankis. The Canadian had won their only previous meeting handsomely but lost a first-set tie-break to love and then promptly collapsed, going down 7-6(0), 6-4, 6-3.
While the young guard continue to falter, the gilded veterans march steadily on. Nadal was the last of the Big Three to march into the second round this year and he did so with an even more emphatic victory than those recorded by Federer and Novak Djokovic, swatting aside the Japanese qualifier Yuichi Sugita 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
The Mallorcan has not won the Gentlemen’s Singles at Wimbledon since 2010, but had little trouble in making the switch from clay to grass, recovering from losing his opening service game with a typically dominant performance. “I have had success in a lot of places since I last won at Wimbledon, but I have had problems with injuries which didn’t give me a chance to play as well as I would like,” he said after the win. “My knee has been better so now I have been able to compete better.”
His next match guarantees fireworks, after the combustible Australian Nick Kyrgios beat his compatriot Jordan Thompson in an erratic five-set thriller, during which he earned a code violation for smashing a ball outside of the court and lost a set to love for the first time at a Grand Slam. There is no love lost between Nadal and Kyrgios after a war of words earlier in the year, prompted by the former’s Uncle Toni remarking the Aussie “lacks an education”. “I’m not sure that me and Rafa could go down to the Dog & Fox and have a beer together,” Kyrgios deadpanned after his 206-minute 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(10), 0-6, 6-1 victory. “Being honest, I’m too old for all of this stuff,” was Nadal’s conciliatory reply later into the evening.
Elsewhere, 2018 quarter-finalist Kei Nishikori beat the Brazilian Thiago Monteiro in straight sets and will face Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie in the next round, while John Isner saw off the Norwegian Casper Ruud. And the ever tiresome Bernard Tomic saw his effort levels questioned once again when he lost the shortest men’s singles match at Wimbledon in 15 years, handing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a routine 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory in just 58 minutes.
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