But while there may have been only four matches to entertain visitors to the first day of the first ATP 500 of the year, they each brought a certain class or glamour to proceedings.
Up first, the flair of Richard Gasquet—a man who, at 18, beat the then No1 Roger Federer in Monte Carlo—against the fellow single-handed backhand in the shape of Flavio Cipolla. It was a seesaw of a match, with breaks aplenty in the first set followed by two one-sided sets that ended in victory for No5 seed Gasquet: 6-3 1-6 6-1.
Next up was the oft-dubbed ‘Deliciano’—the simmering Spaniard Feliciano Lopez. He, like Federer, is 30 and thriving. Indeed he is enjoying his highest ever ranking at No15, and was the fourth seed at Rotterdam.
Lopez played another veteran of the tour, Paul-Henri Mathieu—back from injury and coming into the draw as a qualifier. He took Lopez by surprise with a near three-hour fight-back from a set down to steal a tie-breaker and then the match: 4-6 7-6 6-4. Lopez may wonder what he did wrong, ending the match with more points than his opponent, but it was the Frenchman who advanced.
So one single-handed backhand was through and one was out, but before long, the one-handed brigade would be joined by another. Most expected it to be the imposing figure of the 32-year-old Ivan Ljucibic, even though the Croat has not been enjoying the best of form. But it turned out to be the little-known Dutchman, world No232 Jesse Huta Galung—and he had the home crowd out of their seats as he quashed Ljubicic in straight sets.
Last up was the popular but below-par Alexandr Dolgopolov, sporting vivid orange but looking pallid with the after-effects of flu. The jumping bean from the Ukraine took a ragged first set but, once he lost the second in a tie-break, the writing was on the wall. Errors poured from his racket and he fell to No97 Lukasz Kubot.
With both of Monday’s seeded players out, it fell to the No1 and 3 seeds—not scheduled to appear until Wednesday—to play to the crowds. Originally lined up to provide interval entertainment on Centre Court, the afternoon schedule overran so much that their practice was switched to Court 1. The news swept through Ahoy like a bush fire and there was standing room only by the time the two men appeared.
It’s rare for crowds to applaud during practice sessions, but it’s commonplace in a Federer warm-up. By the time the two players decided to crank it up to competitive points for the last 20 minutes, every point was cheered. Even Del Potro, looking sharp, freshly cropped and fit, smiled at the mystery of it all.
The two of them could even end up in the final on Sunday. Judging by the way they were striking the ball—low, clean and accurate—that would be some match. And judging by the crowd gathered in the outer reaches of the Ahoy, it would also be mighty popular.
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