Wimbledon 2019: While young stars tumble, Federer and Nadal keep on keeping on
30-somethings Roger and Rafa take one step nearer semi clash, but Thiem tumbles
The Queue at Wimbledon is famous: it is as part of scene here as strawberries and cream, with numbered tickets just as formal as those for seats on Centre Court.
And the keen ones arrive earlier every year, to such an extent that The Queue Twitter account warned against attempting to set up tents before the Sunday morning ‘opening time’ of 8am
Yet on Saturday, the hardy few began to arrive, many from around the world to try for a place on that hallowed court for their hero’s opening match at 1pm on Monday, Novak Djokovic. Such is the dedication, and such the demand to get a glimpse inside this oldest of tournaments.
Yet some of those Saturday arrivals were not for Monday—they were determined to reserve a place to see the second and third seeds on Tuesday: hundreds wanted Centre Court for Roger Federer’s opening gambit, just as many wanted to see Rafael Nadal on Court 1.
By 10.30am on Sunday, one of those queue members tweeted that 210 people had already got their cards for Tuesday. By early evening, there were 1,200. Soon after, one brave soul admitted that they had missed the cut-off with No1,301.
And all to see either Roger or Rafa, many for the first time.
For Federer, playing in a record 21st straight Championships, this has the feeling of home: The Swiss was a junior champion, won his first Major here, and has stacked up a record eight titles from 11 finals. If he reaches the semi-finals, he will be the first player ever to win 100 matches at a single Major. But such records are more than a week away, and there is plenty of work to do before then.
Exactly 18 years ago, on this very day, and just short of his 20th birthday, Federer played his idol Pete Sampras for the first and only time—and beat him. And he would go on to beat Sampras’s record seven titles here, too.
On the anniversary of that memorable win, the Swiss now played 22-year-old Lloyd Harris, who had idolised Federer since he was five, and who saw his idol play and beat Marat Safin on his first visit to Wimbledon in 2007.
Harris, ranked 86, up from 127 at the start of the season, and playing his first Wimbledon, was without a main-tour match on grass. He told ATPTour.com:
“I’ve been watching him all my life… Now I’m here and I’m going to play against him. It’s just something special for me.
“It’s hard to describe [playing on Centre Court]. It’s an amazing feeling and I’m super excited, especially my first time to play probably the greatest grass player, the greatest tennis player of all-time. It’s going to be something electrifying for sure. It’s going to be one of those goose-bump moments.”
So could the tall South African do what his compatriot Kevin Anderson did in the quarter-finals last year, and beat Federer—and upset the hopes of those hundreds of queuing fans?
For the first half an hour, it looked as though he could, with an early break, a 4-1 lead, and ultimately the set, 6-3. The Swiss was making errors, and the big-serving game of the youngster was not allowing Federer to settle into rhythm or find his usual attacking patterns.
But that changed in the second, as Federer eliminated his own errors and forced the hand of Harris. He broke twice and levelled the match, 6-1, and carried that momentum into the third with two more breaks. He dropped only two points on serve in the 6-2 set, and that despite only putting 28 percent of his first deliveries into play.
The effort of Harris then translated into a long medical time-out to strap up his left calf. A long third game really tested the South African, as Federer chipped, lobbed, and worked break chances in the fourth. He got the breakthrough with a cross-court backhand pass, 2-1.
Harris worked his socks off, and kept battling, but Federer knew he had his man, and broke again to seal the win, 6-2, after just under two hours. It had been a test, but he responded, and avoided his first opening round defeat at a Major since Paris in 2001.
He was not, he said afterwards, nervous, just slow to get going:
“I just felt like it was slow. I couldn’t really have any impact…As my legs weren’t moving, it’s hard to see the short ball. In defence you’re weak. The next thing you know you’re struggling.
“But I think with my experience I stayed calm. I know I have other things in the bag that I can come up with, other tricks. I just took a bit of time.”
And he will face another fresh young challenger in the shape of British wild card Jay Clarke, age just 20 and a striking and powerful young player who a year ago was ranked 225. He is now 169. Playing in just his second Major draw, he scored his first win via qualifier Noah Rubin, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
The next seed in Federer’s quarter, Kei Nishikori, took on Thiago Monteiro, a qualifier ranked 113. The Japanese has reached the second week in 11 of his past 12 Majors, and reached the quarters here last year. He took a little over two hours to win, 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-4.
Nadal, playing his first tournament since winning his 12th French Open title, also had a first-time meeting, with qualifier Yuichi Sugita.
The Japanese player, age 30, had won just a one match at Wimbledon in his years on the tour, and had to come through qualifying. He had not won a main-tour match all year. It was a mountain of a challenge for the 5ft9in Japanese man against one of the most formidably tough players ever to pick up a racket, and although Nadal’s greatest records have come on his beloved clay, his Wimbledon record is an enviable one: two titles from five finals, and just two match-wins away from 50.
So although the Spaniard found himself 2-0 down in the first set, that quickly changed as he began to dominate proceedings. It would be his only break of the match, while he inflicted breaks six times on Sugita. He took the first set, 6-3 and swept the second, 6-1, and although the underdog kept his hopes alive for a while longer in the third set, it was done and dusted, 6-3, after a tidy two hours.
Nadal has made at least the semi-finals at his last five Majors, but now he faces the man who upset him here back in 2014. Firebrand Nick Kyrgios came through a lively match against fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson, 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(10), 0-6, 6-1 after three hours 26 minutes.
Nadal’s scheduled quarter-final opponent, No5 seed Dominic Thiem, always had his work cut out against Sam Querrey, who reached the semi-finals here in 2017 and was runner-up last week in Eastbourne. And it proved to be the latest upset among the younger highly-ranked players in the draw—the third top-10 man to lose in the first round, 6-7(7), 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-0.
It continues a poor record at Wimbledon for the Austrian who has made the last two Roland Garros finals: He has once made the fourth round in five previous visits but this was his third opening loss.