There was a time when nothing less than Centre Court would do. But sure-footed Roger Federer was denied the prince's entrance yesterday. A sleight in some peoples eyes, the 32-year-old father of four was cast out to Court One, he seeking to become just the second in history to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam.
The other, of course is Rafa Nadal, who became the first a few weeks ago with his eighth win at Roland Garros. Nadal, less certain and in the opening phases of his opening match against the unheard of Martin Klizan vulnerable, was afforded the Centre Court status, where he at least obliged and filled the late afternoon at Wimbledon with drama and struggle, his forte.
The contrast in the matches of the two was striking and it might be Nadal who comes away more greatly rewarded after he fought to contain Klizan, a lefty like himself. Nadal dropped the first set when a shocking volley was followed by a double fault. Klizan defiantly stood out wide daring Nadal to hit his favourite serve way beyond the tramlines and the 28-year-old blinked. Klizan served out to ensure the Spaniard would chase him for the first hour or more.
But where Nadal's opponent, ranked 51, was dangerous and wil iny, Federer's first victim Paolo Lorenzi went tamely and to type, three swift sets 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. A better player would have asked him to sweat more for the win but Lorenzi, also 32 years old but four months younger than the champion and ranked 83, just didn't have the tools.
In the third set Lorenzi won his service for 3-1 and immediately put his hands in the air and smiled at the crowd proving the point that in a thrashing you can still experience transient but good feelings. And Lorenzi wasn’t paying for the lesson.
With Stefan Edberg in his corner, Federer is looking for freshness to capture an 18th Grand Slam, which would put him alongside Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. He has also been mixing up his game and trying to play serve volley as well as back court. But tradition has been to build slower grass courts and the serve volley game has been nearing extinction.
Revivalist Federer accepts that he will be passed by opponent’s ground strokes as part of the process. But it’s not a blind decision. He knows that to approach the net he needs a good hand. He’s doesn’t do it with a pair of twos.
“I think it is okay. It’s mental,” he said. With that thinking the appointment of the timeless Edberg, who won twice at Wimbledon in 1988 and 1990, is a sharp one, a clever advisor to have in his corner.
“I remember still now how I played in 2001 when I made it to the quarters here. I served and volleyed 80 per cent on the first serve, 30 to 50 per cent on the second serve,” said Federer.
“It was normal. I even did some in 2003 when I won here first. Then every year I started doing less because the game started changing on the tour, I think it could be that little extra piece to the puzzle that could bring me through, to have that extra option. I’m going to see who I can do it against and who I can’t. If I can’t I’ll rely more on my baseline . . . it’s easy to serve volley at 40-0. But can you do it at 15-30?”
He has almost always had the answers as has Nadal, who turned an unsettled start into a full-blooded assault on Klizan after his early effrontery. In tennis you can’t exactly put your hands up and surrender but there is a point where the match irrevocably turns and you are beaten with two sets to play. So it was.
In the second set Klizan had three break points in the third game. In the holding of his serve Nadal’s game picked up and the whipped balls began to find their mark. He fist-pumped and jumped in the air and discovering his power broke Klizan for 1-1. His win came but not without a cameo turn from Irish Umpire Fergus Murphy in the fourth set. At 4-2 up and serving for 5-2, Murphy called Nadal for a 20-second time violation as he bounced the ball. Amid jeers from the crowd, Nadal fluffed his serve and Klizan broke back for 4-3.
Delayed not derailed, Nadal took the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, his first win on grass in two years, his 700th victory at Tour level. He’s up and running.