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Alix Ramsay Reflects On The Tennis • Week One At Wimbledon 2019

We seem to have been here before. The wreckage of the first week of Wimbledon lies all around us, five day old headlines about young superstars who have crashed and burned on the fickle grass of Wimbledon.


And there, standing in his pristine predominantly whites, is Roger Federer. Not a hair out of place, not a bead of sweat on his brow. Untouched by the chaos all around him.


On Saturday, he won his 350th grand slam match. It was a new record for the Swiss GOAT – no man or woman has won that many matches at the majors in the history of the sport. Of those, 98 win have come at Wimbledon, the most recent being his efficient and exceedingly entertaining dismantling of Lucas Pouille 7-5, 6-2, 7-6.


It was not simple but once he had got his backhand into some semblance of working order and fired up his forehand, the whole business took just a little over two hours.


“I’m very happy how it’s going so far,” he said. “I thought it was a good match with Lucas today. Of course, I hope it’s going to take a special performance from somebody to stop me, not just a mediocre performance.


“I’m happy that I’m able to raise my level of play. Also there was a great run of games midway through the second, also after winning the first. I like seeing moments like that in a match for me.”


He might like it but you can be sure the other bloke doesn’t. Pouille was doing his best to stay shoulder to shoulder with Fed, and he was making a pretty good fist of it, too. But then Fed set off on a run of five consecutive games that won him the first set and ripped the heart out of the second. Even in the third set, when Pouille was flinging all but the kitchen sink at his tormentor, Fed would not give an inch.


As Boris Becker kept saying: ‘He won’t step back from the baseline even if he has to keep hitting half volleys from there. He is keeping up the pressure.’


Oh, my, was he keeping up the pressure. But, then again, that is what he has been doing for the past 15 years. If you push him, he doesn’t budge, he just pushes back. And pushes harder.


With this fact in mind, Fed did not find it surprising at all that he, Rafa and Djoko were all safely through to the second week with barely a scratch on them while the younger lads were back at home nursing their wounded pride.


“The panic can set in quickly on this surface,” he said. “I think the surprises were definitely there that first day with Stefanos and Sascha and everything, Dominic.


“I do believe it’s nice to have experience on this surface. I don’t know if age calms the nerves. I’m not sure.


“At the same time we know how hard it is to beat Novak, how hard it is to beat Rafa here. Me, as well. I have a great record here. We obviously also have better draws because we’re seeded, and we’re away from the bigger seeds earlier. Our path to the fourth round is definitely not as hard as maybe some of the younger guys on the tour, as well.”

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France during their third round match at the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, Britain, 06 July 2019. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO COMMERCIAL SALES

In other words, the Big Three are really rather good and the others have a long way to go to catch up. Who knew?


But staying at the top year in, year out takes a special sort of champion. The young guns are just trying to learn how to win one of these big, shiny trophies; Rodge has cracked the code for doing it to a band playing. And for that, he will give himself a gold star.


“I think being at the top requires more hunger,” he explained, “because in the beginning every number higher you can get, it’s like, Oh, my God, I’m 50, I’m 25, I’m 13. It’s just so exciting. It’s easy to stay motivated.


“But to be at the top, obviously it’s also motivating because you can win tournaments. It’s a totally different ball game. I think you need both. But I think staying at the top requires a lot of dedication, sacrifice and all that. I’ve done well, so I’m proud of myself there.”


Looking at the rubble and dust around Fed – and Raf and Djoko, for that matter – it hard to see anyone stopping them from getting to the semi-finals. Then Rodge and Raf will have to resume their rivalry in the bottom half of the draw and Djoko will be waiting for the winner in the final.


These younger lads – they have so, so much still to learn.

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