Would it be possible, in the future, to spot Roger Federer’s early-round opponents a set when they face him on Centre Court at Wimbledon? The experience of walking out to a packed house to face the eight-time champion in that arena seems to be enough to daze even a veteran opponent.
On Monday it was Adrian Mannarino who thrown into the maestro’s den. The Frenchman is 30 years old, has been on tour for a decade and has played on this court before, but he looked like the rawest and most anxious of rookies to start. Sixteen minutes in—if anything, it felt faster than that—he had lost the first set 6-0. The 60-second holds of serve; the attacking forehands taken on the short hop; the sharp-angle backhand passes hit while running the other way; the tricky little short slices—it was a Federer barrage.
But as often happens on Centre Court, the unheralded player settled down in the second set, began to show off his own game, and made it a match. Mannarino’s sliding left-handed serve into the ad court and skidding flat ground strokes finally gained some traction, and he finally recognized that he would have to move forward when he had the advantage in a rally. The games kept moving by quickly, but in the second and third sets Mannarino was holding his own on the scoreboard.
Strokes of Genius—the movie about the match between Roger Federer Rafael Nadal—premiered in New York City:
Still, did Mannarino believe he could do anything more than that? Serving at 5-5, he tamely slapped an easy forehand into the net—one of many he missed from that side—and was broken. When Federer held at love for a two-set lead, it appeared that his 16th straight win in the round of 16 at Wimbledon was academic.
Except that rather than relax with a seemingly insurmountable lead, Federer grew more agitated. In the third set, he slapped a ball high in the air after one miss, and blurted out what ESPN commentator Chris Fowler described a “naughty word” after another. He also faced three break points on his own serve—he has yet to broken in the tournament—at 3-4 in the third set.
But if Federer appeared to be getting uptight, it didn’t show in his play. He responded to this rare moment of pressure the way he always has, by regaining the initiative and hitting his targets with his serve. On the first break point, he hit an inside-out forehand winner; on the second, he hit a second-serve service winner down the T; on the third he hit an ace. The 6-0, 7-5, 6-4 victory was soon sealed. He has now won 33 straight sets at Wimbledon.
Federer hit 12 aces, won 90 percent of his first-serve points, broke serve five times and made 67 percent of his first serves—a healthy, and usually winning, number for him. The only positive the rest of the field might take from this performance is that brief, late spell of annoyance. You might not be able to beat Federer on Centre Court, and you might even not be able to break him. But it does still seem possible to bother him. That’s something, right?
Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.
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