2010 Wimbledon Coverage
Day One Thoughts
It's that time of year when everything starts compressing down into a few key weeks around the world of international sport. It might mean that some daily coverage comes out a little late (like getting Wimbledon off to a bad start without any news or notes until the next morning, as Day 2 play already commences around the grounds of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club), it might mean that some is spotty, but bear with me... I will do my damnedest to ensure that tennis' oldest tournament gets its fair due alongside other spectacles like the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the Tour de France slated to begin less than two weeks from now.
So there I was yesterday, flipping between the Portugal-North Korea soccer match and defending champion Roger Federer's showdown with Colombian Alejandro Falla. One could've been forgiven for expecting the all-time Grand Slam men's singles champion to look downright Portuguese in his execution against what in all honesty was an opponent without half the weaponry in his arsenal. But anything can happen on the opening day of Wimbledon, as the lawns play slick and fast and everyone is still coming down from the clay-court season just a fortnight in the past.
Falla, who had lost twice already to Federer over the past month -- including a straight-sets, sub-two-hour match in the second round at the French Open last month -- came out determined to make his mark today. Brashly asserting before the match that he wanted to be finished before Chile and Switzerland kicked off their soccer match down in South Africa, the Colombian came out and drove Federer onto his heels. Unable to get anything working, the Swiss star fell two sets to love after 77 minutes and was looking in danger, on the heels of his quarterfinal ouster from Roland Garros, of dropping a first-round match at a Grand Slam for the first time since dropping straight sets to Peru's Luis Horna at the 2003 French Open. Not since 2002, when Federer lost as the #7 seed to qualifier Mario Ancic of Croatia, had he lost before the final at Wimbledon.
And it ultimately was not to be today for him either. Falla faded in the third set, allowing Federer to claw back into the match with a break and a 6-4 set win. The fourth set nearly went in the Colombian's favor again, though, several opportunities to close out the giant missed as the tiebreak decided on a fifth set of play. And by that point, Falla had spent all his energy and was ready to call it quits. It showed, as Federer bageled the final set 6-0 to cap his impressive turnaround and keep his shot at an eighth straight final alive on the grass.
It was a day for pushing favorites to their breaking points. Novak Djokovic, seeded third, needed five sets against Oliver Rochus before moving on to the second round. Nikolay Davydenko, who earlier this year was the most on-fire player on tour prior to being sidelined by injury, nearly threw away his seven seed against tough out Kevin Anderson of South Africa. 2002 Wimbledon champ Lleyton Hewitt, the last man to win before the Federer/Nadal show dominated this corner of London, dropped his first set before rebounding to close things out.
Not everything was so lucky for seeded players, though. #30 Tommy Robredo, showing why his seedings have been unjustified all year long, bombed out of his third straight Grand Slam tournament in the opening round with a four-set rout by Peter Luczak. Poland's Michal Przysiezny ended the tournament for #17 Ivan Ljubicic, needing just the minimum three sets to close out the Croat. Stanislas Wawrinka, playing as the #20 seed, couldn't hang on in the final set of his marathon with dangerous Uzbek Denis Istomin -- at one point up two sets to one, Wawrinka dropped a fourth-set tiebreak that would've won the match for him and then flamed out with a 3-6 effort in the decider. But perhaps the biggest upset of all came over on Court 12, where Germany's Florian Mayer needed just two hours on the dot to close out #11 Marin Cilic. Few expected this kind of result, with Cilic a rising star who has seemed poised for a breakthrough on the grass after fourth- and third-round appearances each of the past two years. But there it was, scoreboard clear in its intentions -- it was Mayer advancing through...
That, however, was nothing compared to the biggest upset on the women's side. Francesca Schiavone, coming off her first-ever Grand Slam title at Roland Garros and seeded a personal-best fifth in the tournament in England, came to London hoping to at least equal her quarterfinals appearance at Wimbledon from 2009. She has been playing some of the best tennis of her life this spring. Up against Vera Dushevina, a 23-year-old Russian who had never even reached the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam event before, Schiavone played things close through the first set. The two women took the match to a tiebreak, with the favorite easily conquering the thirteenth game of the opening set to win out 7-6(0) for the lead. It would prove to be the last lead Schiavone would enjoy that day. As the solstice gave rise to summer, the Italian wilted on the grass.
Already an hour and a quarter into the contest, the second set began at the same pace as the first. The two women gutted things out, but a break in Dushevina's favor evened up the match at a set apiece. With things going to a final clinching set, the two women had already been on court nearly two and a half hours. It was apparent that both were starting to fade, but Schiavone -- who simply didn't seem as comfortable on the lawns as she did on the crushed brick in Paris two weeks ago -- was enduring the worst of the fatigue. Dushevina, taking her opening, needed just 36 minutes to finish off her more-heralded opponent 6-1 in the rubber set.
It was a stunning turnabout for Schiavone, but it really wasn't that shocking. While she had reached the quarters here before, she has never won a tournament on grass in her decade-long career nor even reached a final during that span. Clay is ultimately her strongest surface, as it is for so many Italians and other Mediterranean peoples who grew up on the material. So the first of the top-five seeds tasted the acrid bitterness of defeat with a disappointing (yet not wholly unexpected) letdown from the giddy highs of championship.
The only other seed to lose on this day, Kateryna Bondarenko, was an injury replacement in the seedings as the #34 player in the tournament. Her three-set loss against Hungary's Greta Arn, while shocking, was not nearly the upset that Schiavone's ouster proved. All told, though, most of the favorites lived to play another day, awaiting their second-round opponent and praying that the pleasant summer weather holds in London throughout the next fortnight...