Friday 23 February 2018

Imperious Federer on song to dismiss rumours of his demise

Kevin Garside

As hard as he tried, Fabio Fognini could not quite dispel the idea that Wimbledon would be better served by excluding Roger Federer from the first week of competition, or at least until the seeds kick in.

Sorry, competition is not the right word, not for either party. Fognini, by virtue of his mortal gifts, could not get near Federer, who was in and out of Centre Court in an hour and 14 minutes. As the 6-1 6-3 6-2 scoreline suggests, this was not a fair fight.

Neither was Federer's first-round bout against Albert Ramos, which he won for the loss of just three games. This is supposed to be a champion in retreat. Seeded No 3, 30 years old, successive Wimbledon exits at the quarter-final stage were thought to be significant details pointing to the beginning of the end.

Only two men in the Open era have won this championship having passed 30 -- Rod Laver in 1969 and Arthur Ashe in '75.

Only an idiot would discount the possibility of a third. Perceived malfunctions on the Federer forehand have acquired an illusory quality. What were we thinking? The freak surrender of his opening two service points was as close as this match came to dynamic tension. The umpire was almost too embarrassed to call 0-30. Parity was not far away, followed by a familiar call in this precinct; game to Federer. That's better.

Fognini is a game chap, but what chance did he have? Federer was not without sympathy for his Italian foe, saying: "He tried hard. On grass, it's tough to get into the match when you are down. I was serving well. You're not going to get many chances throughout a set against me when I'm serving like that. You have to be patient."

There was a minor scare when Federer lost his balance and jammed his knee awkwardly into the turf. Elegance suffered momentarily and then he was back on his feet, plunder resumed.

The pursuit of a seventh Wimbledon title to equal the SW19 account of Pete Sampras is one of the fortnight's principal narratives. Pity Julien Benneteau, who beat Michael Russell 7-6 2-6 6-4 7-5 and will try to halt Federer in the next round.

At the close, Federer wrapped a consoling hand around the shoulder of Fognini. It was his way of saying sorry, chin up. Fognini smiled, gathered his bags and returned to the tennis chorus line to collect his loser's fee, up to £23,000 for the second round. Federer was counting seeds.

"The seeds might be coming my way," he said. "It will probably be more difficult but I have a day to prepare." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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