Roger Federer plays second fiddle to Mahut/Isner drama

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
roger federer wimbledon 2010

Federer, 28, is a six-time champions at SW19 (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It is difficult to know where to begin. Wimbledon 2010 opened this Monday with such drama on Centre Court that Roger Federer was quickly the headline story in every news medium going.

As is the norm, the reigning champion strode onto Centre Court at precisely 1pm. Rolex made sure the time was right: it does, after all, sponsor all of Wimbledon’s timepieces as well as the champion himself.

The sun shone, he was immaculate in head-to-toe, unadorned white, and opened his first game with a casual 128 mph serve. So far, so good.

What he, and few others on Centre Court, expected was for the world No.60, Colombian Alejandro Falla, to take the match by the throat, play as if his life depended on it, hammer the ball with the vim of a Viking, and storm into a two-set lead.

Federer looked bemused, as though he had—for once—underestimated his challenger.

The lion awoke in the third set, though not before he had faced break points. But just as order seemed restored, Federer was again broken at the beginning of the fourth, and that allowed Falla to serve for the match at 5-4. The Houdini in Federer chose that very game to break back, and went on to win the tie-break convincingly, and the final set even more easily, 6-0.

But it was a close shave, and Federer knew it. There was talk of a bit of luck, and that is rare from the great man.

The earth paused on its axis again on Wednesday as Federer took to the court for his second-round match against an even less heralded player, a qualifier ranked 152 in the world: Serbian Ilija Bozoljac.

What’s more, the powers-that-be scheduled the match on Court One, the first time since 2007 that the champion had played anywhere other than Centre Court.

As if to affirm that something strange was indeed afoot in World Federer, he duly lost yet another set against another inspired opponent. It took a fourth set tie-breaker for the Swiss to seal the match, though the Serb looked just as happy with his loss.

As Federer said afterwards of their words at the net: “I asked him what kind of drink he wanted later in the bar.”

Yet despite the death-defying antics of Federer, there were bigger headlines elsewhere at SW19.

On Centre Court, Taylor Dent notched up the fastest serve ever struck at the championships: 148 mph. But it was not enough to beat Novak Djokovic.

Seeds were tumbling in the first round: No.8 Fernando Verdasco, 11 Marin Cilic, 14 Juan Carlos Ferrero, 17 Ivan Ljubicic, 19 Nicolás Almagro, 20 Stanislas Wawrinka, 24 Marcos Baghdatis, and 30 Tommy Robredo. By the second round, No.7 Nikolay Davydenko was also gone.

But all of these events paled into thin air alongside the record-breaking, heart-breaking events on Court 18, that have now stretched to a third day.

Still playing a first-round match, No.23 seed John Isner and qualifier Nicolas Mahut broke for bad light at two sets apiece on Tuesday and commenced the final set at 2pm on Wednesday.

More than seven hours later, bad light terminated what had become the longest match ever played, containing the longest ever set—and it was still deadlocked at 59-59.

For at least 40 of those games, the younger Isner looked set to expire with exhaustion, yet continued to serve to the highest level.

Mahut all but matched him and both broke the record for most aces in a match: Isner at 98 and Mahut at 95. The latter man had, arguably, the more psychologically difficult role, serving second and so serving to stay in the match 55 times.

Yet Mahut looked the fresher by far and, had the light not given out, he seemed capable of playing a good hour or two more. Hard to believe he had already beaten Britain’s Alex Bogdanovic on Monday, 24-22 in the final set, to qualify.

The match may not be over, but as many observers such as Federer, Djokovic, and John McEnroe said: one will be bitterly disappointed when it is, but both will, most likely, be forever in the record books.

The eventual winner will play Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands in the second round, who was himself involved in a marathon with Santiago Giraldo, coming through 16-14 in the final set.

But that one lasted a mere four hours and six minutes. Who knows how many more hours Isner and Mahut have in store?

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