STUART FRASER

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TALKING BALLS 027 Ė TUESDAY 29TH JUNE 2010
By Stuart Fraser

Best first week ever at Wimbledon?

Every four years, Wimbledon competes with the World Cup for newspaper space.  Itís always a tough battle with the greatest show on Earth.

A battle made slightly easier though in 2010 after quite possibly the best first week ever at Wimbledon.  There was no shortage of drama for those at SW19 and for those watching at home.

Itís tradition for the defending menís champion to open play on Centre Court on the first day, and so Roger Federer stepped on court just after 1pm to take on world No.60 Alejandro Falla, a man little known amongst the British public.

These occasions are normally a procession for Federer to ease himself into the grass and show off his shot making against an inferior opponent.  In fact, each time he had previously stepped onto the Wimbledon grass as defending champion for his first round match, the Swiss had never lost a set.

How different it was this time.

Falla took the match to Federer from the start and no one watching could scarcely believe their eyes when the Colombian went two sets up.  Memories of George Bastlís famous victory against seven-time champion Pete Sampras in 2002 came flooding back.

There were two big moments in the match though that Falla will remember for the rest of his life.  With Federer serving at 4-4 in the third set, Falla had three break points at 0-40 and he will rue the netting of a volley that would have put him 5-4 up.

Federer squeezed out the hold and promptly broke Falla in the next game to clinch the third set and get the comeback underway.

Falla refused to fold though and an early break in the fourth set set him up to serve for the match at 5-4.  It was the situation he should have had in the previous set.

But as is often the case, the lower ranked player got tight and Federer seized, breaking back before going onto clinch the set in a tie-break followed by a bagel set to clinch the match.

What drama, and we had only just seen Centre Courtís first match of the fortnight.  However, it was nothing compared to the drama we would see out on Court 18 just two days later.

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut is a first-round match that would really only appeal to the fans with prior tennis knowledge.  I doubt that those who go to Wimbledon for a glass of pims and some strawberries would have picked this match out as one to see on Tuesday evening.

Yet, at just before 6pm on Wednesday with the score locked at 29-29 in a deciding fifth set on the matchís second day, it became the most popular match at SW19, even overshadowing the matches on the show courts.  People were leaving their Centre Court seats to come outside to witness history.

Records were being broken all the time, whether it be most games in a match, highest amount of aces or the longest match duration.  It was like a special tennis edition of Record Breakers.

Both players showed massive mental strength.  As the clock moved closer to 9pm on Wednesday evening, Isner and Mahut were still hitting the spots and executing their plays perfectly.

It was outstanding stuff, especially considering that just a week before, Mahut had won a deciding set 24-22 in qualifying against Alex Bogdanovic.

In the end, it was Isner who prevailed on Thursday, breaking Mahutís serve at 30-40 to win the deciding set 70-68.  Did any of us ever think there would be a scoreline like that in modern day tennis?  Do any of us think that there will ever be a scoreline like that again in the future?

It was an 11 hour and 5 minute epic that will never be forgotten, and it was nice to see a presentation made on court after the match to the umpire and both players.  Credit to Mahut for taking part as it canít have been easy.

Itís a shame the Queen didnít manage to catch any of the action on Court 18 on her visit to Wimbledon on Thursday.  Whilst itís easy enough to get her a seat on Centre Court in the Royal Box, I imagine the logistics of getting her a pew on an outside court are not as simple.

Still, it was great to see her make an appearance at Wimbledon for the first time in 33 years.  There are plenty of anti-monarchists around these days, but judging by the reaction she got from the public at the All England Club, she is still adored by many.

After meeting some players on the Members Lawn, some lunch was had before she took in Andy Murrayís second-round match against Jarkko Nieminen.  Iím sure she enjoyed the comfortable straight sets victory for the Brit.

After meeting both players on the clubhouse balcony, she departed Wimbledon.  Although it was a visit of just under four hours, it was an intriguing moment which added to the drama and theatre of the first week.

And the drama continued on Friday evening, albeit in a negative manner, back out on Court 18 when Victor Hanescu was caught on camera spitting towards fans during his match against Daniel Brand.

Having squandered four match points in the third set, the match went into a deciding fifth set in which Hanescu was 3-0 down when the ugly scenes developed.

Whilst spitting is not condonable, it was disappointing to hear of alleged verbal abuse by some fans in the crowd towards Hanescu.

The tennis court can be a lonely place at times, and it appears that the pressure of the situation coupled with a leg injury was just too much for the Romanian who retired shortly after the spitting incident.

As the news broke that four spectators had been arrested by police, the story made the major headlines on the radio and television news channels.  Perhaps not the sort of major tennis story we want, but it was another major Wimbledon story nonetheless.

And so we head into the latter stages of Wimbledon 2010 wondering what more drama is yet to come.  Murray winning his first grand slam perhaps?

More grass court action in Manchester

Whilst just about all eyes are on the action at Wimbledon, itís also worth noting that there is a grass court Futures taking place in Manchester this week featuring several British players.

This, interestingly, takes place on the week that we found out Leon Smithís first British Davis Cup team.  It was no real surprise that James Ward, Jamie Baker, Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski were the four chosen to take on Turkey at Eastbourne next weekend.

Both Ward and Baker are competing in Manchester this week which will provide them with some good practice ahead of the crucial Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 tie.  With Baker seeded No.1 and Ward No.2, the ideal result would be a Baker V Ward final.

Some of the other Brits including Dan Evans and Josh Goodall will have other ideas though.  Both appear to have fallen out of favour as British No.11 Alex Ward was named as the reserve in Smithís team after his impressive grass court form at the Nottingham challenger where he reached the quarter-finals.

However, after his first round loss in Wimbledon qualifying, he is now over in Norway competing in Futures events on hard courts.  Perhaps not the best preparation for a grass court Davis Cup tie but I suppose he is only a reserve and may not be needed in Eastbourne.

Injuries can easily happen though.  Look at what happened to Baker just days before the tie in Lithuania.

A tough return for Muster

You may remember a couple of weeks ago, we mentioned Austrian Thomas Muster was making his comeback to the Challenger circuit at the age of 42.

Well, it wasnít exactly a joyous comeback for the former French Open champion as he went down 6-1, 6-2 to Irelandís Conor Niland in the first round of the Braunschweig challenger in Germany this week.

Muster is still to play in the doubles though.  He partnerís Jaan-Frederik Brunken against Treat Conrad Huey and Brian Battistone.

Not only is it a match worth checking out to see Muster again, itís also worth a look for Battistoneís unique serve using a two-handled racket.  Check this out if you havenít seen it before: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQYOW1DlydU

Silly season for press conferences

Wimbledon always seems to attract the silliest press conference questions and Iím not sure why to be honest.

Is it because journalists who normally do football are sent to cover tennis whilst their No.1 sport is on its summer break or is the summer sun going to some of the journalists heads?

Itís always worth a look at the press conference transcripts on the Wimbledon website to find out what crazy questions have been asked. 

Imagine Andy Roddickís reaction when, just moments after being knocked out in the fourth-round, he was asked: ďSo tomorrow when you wake up, you think you're going to be pissed off, disappointed?Ē Roddickís answer was: ďI'm going to be thrilled. I mean, c'mon.Ē

Or think of Andy Murrayís face when he was asked: ďWhen are you planning to shave?Ē

Perhaps they should adopt Jo-Wilfried Tsongaís tactic.  Imagine trying to write a 1000 word article based on this press conference: http://www.wimbledon.org/en_GB/news/interviews/2010-06-22/201006221277202332690.html