Thank God for David Beckham. The rain arrived early at Wimbledon yesterday, with none of the scheduled matches being completed. Faced with a lengthy stretch of airtime that needed filling nonetheless, the TV kids fell back happily on a World Cup match they could babble about, and babble they did. We heard and saw ad nauseum the lovely little chip shot that England’s David Beckham put into the near goal on a free kick against Ecuador, clinching a quarterfinal berth for his team. Then to cap the goal, Beckham threw up on the field. Even then he still looks beautiful. A tough act to follow. Anybody up for it?
Roger Federer stepped up to the challenge and walked out on court wearing a spiffy white blazer adorned with Wimbledon logos, his astrological sign (Leo, sign of the clothes horse), a Swiss cross and the letter F. Maybe he’ll add to it as the tournament goes along. Scalps, that’s what he’s going to start collecting.
Roger Federer provided the most eye-catching moment of the first two days, in the elan and efficiency with which he dispatched Monsieur Gasquet in straight sets. He looked smooth and unhurried, going for his shots from the first, and dominating – surprisingly – his opponent mainly from the baseline. His trips to the net were not that many, and they were judicious.
For all the people, myself included, who were looking forward to this opening match with much anticipation, and some trepidation, we can relax now. Roger’s game was as impeccable-looking as that white jacket. He went out and just dissected France’s Richard Gasquet in the opening set, 6-2. When the match was called because of more rain, the score was 2-1 in the second, 30 all with Federer to serve. They proceeded anew today, with Roger starting off by overhitting an easy forehand volley to give Gasquet a break point. That was the only ray of hope the Frenchman saw over the two days this match covered. Federer shut the door in Game Four, then swept through him with breathtaking ease, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
Before the start of Wimbledon, we all wondered how Roger Federer would be in his first matches. His draw was pretty tough, with Gasquet and Tim Henman looming in the second round. Further down the road he could possibly face Mario Ancic, one of the best grass court players around, then possibly Nalbandian or Blake in the semis. After losing a tough final at the French Open to Nadal, we wondered if Federer would look insecure. His week at Halle two weeks ago was another tough draw, and Roger found himself in more three-setters than he was probably expecting. Halle annoyed Roger, I feel, he thought he should have waded through the field in more convincing fashion. Gasquet had taken him to three tough sets in Halle, two of them tiebreaks.
But today, Tuesday at Wimbledon, Gasquet had no answers. Federer was seeing the ball too well, connecting too solidly and knocking off crisp shots up the lines off both sides. His serving looked only a tad less effective, as if Roger were still getting his range. But even the serving got nailed down as the match progressed. Roger started and ended the first set with aces. He already looks so ready that it’s scary to think of anyone making a dent in his game. He’s playing like this is Monday and Tuesday of next week, not this week.
In a pre-Wimbledon TV interview, Federer talked about how it took him about twenty minutes or so to put Roland Garros behind him. And he says this with such an easy-going demeanor you almost have to take him at his word. Should it have been such an easy match to put behind? Well, that’s another matter, perhaps. The attitude that allows Roger to move along easily is also the same attitude that may not be so passionate when he plays against the white heat of Rafael Nadal. But Roger looks very comfortable on grass now. He wanted to make a statement at Wimbledon, and has he ever. He needed to come out and show a rapier-like precision, and he did.
My co-writer Nina Rota and I are nearly in agreement on our Fantasy picks.
Here are my likely eight guys to emerge into the Round of 16:
Federer to face Ancic
Blake to face Nalbandian
Hewitt against Roddick
Agassi to face Tursunov
Yes, I am going for a big upset. I think Andre could beat Rafael Nadal in the third round, this Saturday. At first, I thought I was merely being judicious in my picks in this quarter of the draw, because I have picked Ljubicic too often this year, he needs a rest on this his worst surface. Davydenko is in that corner of the draw too, and he’s been picked often. Nieminen, Tursunov and Ginepri are the three remaining guys who have a chance of life here. Nadal I wanted to save for more of the hard court tournaments. Plus I really don’t know that he’s going to advance into the second week. I have my doubts. So yes, Tursunov may just make this the weirdest corner of the draw, but he is my pick here. I think Andre is the man who can take Nadal out.
And besides, wouldn’t we all love to see that happen on Saturday anyway?
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