The draw had thrown together three of the most sought-after players—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray—in the same half, and that meant fans fortunate to get lucky in the ballot or who had slept all night in the queue, would fall between the devil and the deep blue sea, between Centre Court and Court 1.
Federer, playing in his 17th consecutive Wimbledon, already owner of seven gold trophies, and with his 34th birthday looming over the horizon, was about to begin his campaign for another record at his most beloved tournament.
The popular Swiss came tantalisingly close last year to winning his eighth title here—which would take him ahead of the record he currently shares with Pete Sampras. And there is no doubt that even the most ardent fans felt time may be running out for him to seize the day and the trophy once more.
Nadal, twice a champion here and owner of his own Grand Slam record at the French Open, was beginning his campaign for a 15th Major title, moving him into second place ahead of Sampras and behind Federer.
There would be few at Wimbledon who were not aware of the Spaniard’s trials of the last year, too. It was here that he played his last match—aside from a small handful later in the year—in 2014. First a wrist injury, then back problems and finally appendicitis wrecked his schedule until this January and, not surprisingly, it had taken more months for the old Nadal to begin to emerge via lost clay titles and a drop to his current No10 in the rankings.
He hoped the forgiving surfaces at Wimbledon would turn his season around: From here on, he could only gain points and rankings, with the declared aim, he admitted after Roland Garros, of qualifying for the World Tour Finals.
It was against Federer, in what many regard as one of the best finals ever played at the All England Club, that Nadal won his first Wimbledon title in the third title battle in three consecutive years. The five-set classic in 2008 would be their last match against one another at the All England Club, but on this day, they would take to court simultaneously, and while they could not meet in the final, they could collide in the semis—unless the third of Tuesday’s triumvirate, Murray, had his way.
And Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon and 2012 Olympic champion, had turned a Wimbledon-loving nation into a tennis-loving nation. Fame now follows him like never before, but he is more comfortable in his skin than ever before, too—helped not a little by partner Kim—now his wife—and a coaching partnership with Amelie Mauresmo that fits like a glove.
Playing arguably his most confident tennis since he won that Wimbledon title, he is here at No2 in the race and with his best ever clay season under his belt—not to mention the Queen’s title.
So these three heroes vied for their place in the sun and for the attention of the thousands who clutched their precious passport to either Centre or No1 court.
Federer would be up first, and to a man and woman, the crowd on Centre Court were up too, on their feet to applaud the most prolific winner of grass matches and titles, Grand Slam matches and titles in the Open era—and playing a record 63rd consecutive Major.
He took on No88 Damir Dzumhur, having beaten him in their only previous match—a month ago at the French Open—and it proved to be a devastating 67 minutes of all-court, attacking grass tennis that left Dzumhur with few answers.
First set: 18 minutes, with a love hold to close it, 6-1. Second set, 25 minutes, with Federer playing three aces in a row to hold his opening game. He broke in the seventh and then again to take the set, 6-3. Now the race was on to see whether he could win a best-of-five match in under an hour. He broke to lead 3-1, and was at 5-2 after an hour. But Dzumhur held serve to push the match over the hour before Federer finally closed it out to love, 6-3.
The stats? They did not do justice to the variety of Federer’s shot-making, but they were eloquent enough: 26 winners, 12 unforced errors, only six points dropped from 41 first serves.
Had he found the conditions oppressive? “No, just perfect playing conditions, to be honest. It was wonderful.”
His other answers were as short and to the point: He was out of here as quickly as he was off Centre Court. He next plays Sam Querrey, who beat Igor Sijsling 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
Nadal, meanwhile, was plying his trade on Court 1 at a slightly slower pace but to just as great effect. He took on the No42-ranked Thomaz Bellucci, who had yet to win a set from Nadal in four previous matches. It was more of the same, a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win in a little over two hours against a testing opponent who had his break chances but could not take advantage.
Nadal was satisfied with his performance, but only just: “I think I played OK; played well, played solid. But I think I can do it better. I can play more winners down the line, am a little bit more confident now than I was few months ago. Just day by day for me. Obviously victories help.”
He next plays Dustin Brown, who beat Yen-Hsun Lu 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
Murray was onto Centre Court rather faster than he expected after Petra Kvitova completed in 35 minutes and Federer in 67. But he would give the fans their money’s worth, courtesy of the difficult, shot-making No59 Mikhail Kukushkin. In a big-serving first set, the two stayed neck and neck until the crucial 10th game. Kukushkin opened with a double fault, fought off two break points but lost the third and the set, 6-4.
The second set would last almost twice as long, and see multiple exchanges of service breaks. Murray went out to a 3-0 lead, and was 5-2 up before Kukushkin levelled at 5-5. He then broke Murray to serve for the set, but Murray levelled for a tie break, and swept through it, 7-6(3).
With the sun now casting magnificent shadows from the racing figures on the court, the crowd were living and breathing every point. Murray upped the level, and broke with a stunning backhand cross-court winner in the fifth game.
He came close to being broken back as he served for the match but held with some bold serving—he would hit 16 aces in the match—to win 6-4 in two and a quarter hours.
The crowd stood as one in ovation: If the reception is like this after the first round, one can only surmise what will greet Murray come a meeting with Nadal in the quarters—which is still on the cards—or a semi with Federer.
By the end of the day, there was more good news for Murray and for British fans. James Ward won in four sets, Aljaz Bedene in five sets, all in the same Murray quarters. That brings the total of British men in the second round to four, countin in Liam Broady yesterday.
Also through in this quarter are No13 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No23 seed Ivo Karlovic, who hit 42 aces against Elias Ymer, and No22 Viktor Troicki.
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