Roger Federer (CH) bt. Damir Dzumhur (BIH) 6-1, 6-3, 6-3
Andy Murray (GB) bt. Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-4
As much as Centre Court might not want to consider the prospect, there will come a day in the not-too-distant future that neither Roger Federer or Andy Murray will be present in the Wimbledon draw. Wimbledon is, of course, far too great an institution to take too big a hit from this set of circumstances. But nevertheless, it will be a wrench. Federer is, in spite of Murray’s heroics in 2013 and (at Roger’s expense) in the 2012 Olympic gold medal match, very much the King of Centre Court. Here he has won seven Singles titles and played tennis of such skill, power and artistry than none who saw it will ever forget. Murray, meanwhile, is the latest in a long line of British Hopes, following in the footsteps of Tiger Tim Henman, Jeremy Bates and Roger Taylor; players all who always rose to the occasion of playing a Grand Slam on home soil.
It is a mistake to ascribe all the Murray Mania to nationality alone, though. I have always sensed that the support is one of genuine appreciation for ability rather than the blind affection invested in Tim Henman’s cause. Murray can be something of a truculent and ornery sort, hardly the stuff that Plucky British Sporting Heroes are made of. But at the same time, Murray’s playing ability is from the drawer above as well. Yesterday he faced Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin on a Centre Court so hot that even Sepp Blatter would have had second thoughts about playing a world class sporting event there. Kukushkin has played on the show courts before at Wimbledon, against Federer and Rafael Nadal, and as such was not the least bit overawed by the prospect. He played well, too. As soon as Murray broke his serve, Kukushkin would respond in kind. To lose in three sets is, on paper at least, tough on the Kazakh player, who gave Murray plenty to think about over those two hours. But therein also resides the crux of the matter: in previous years, perhaps even during his glorious 2013 campaign, it was the kind of match where Murray would have lost a set. It was not a comprehensive or dominant performance from the British number 1, but none less impressive as a result.
Before Murray, Roger Federer gave another recital against a rather outclassed Damir Dzumhur. Federer increasingly inspires an air of hushed awe, as befits anybody who can very legitimately claim to be the greatest of all time in their chosen activity. One imagines Mozart would have received a similar reception had he ever participated on The X Factor. The Swiss wasn’t stretched at all yesterday, but Federer being Federer he was electrifying to watch anyway, running through his repertoire of shots – including (like last year) more serve and volley play, surely a consequence of his coach Stefan Edberg’s influence – to a purringly appreciative audience. None hits the ball as crisply or cleanly as Roger Federer, nor gives such an impression of unflappability. He may yet still have a Grand Slam in him, and if so it’s as likely here and now as it is anywhere. Wimbledon 2015 is Federer’s 63rd consecutive Grand Slam tournament, a stupendous record and one which speaks for his fitness, conditioning and professionalism. But it is absolutely not why we’ll miss him when he’s gone.
Petra Kvitova (CZ) bt. Kiki Bertens (NL) 6-1, 6-0
Heather Watson (GB) bt. Caroline Garcia (F) 1-6, 6-3, 8-6
Duan Yingying (PRC) bt. Eugenie Bouchard (CDN) 7-6(3), 6-4
Tuesday in the first week of Wimbledon traditionally sees the reigning Ladies’ champion open proceedings on Centre Court. This year the honour fell, for a second time, to Petra Kvitova. A great ceremonial honour and a nod to tradition appreciated by players and commentators alike it may be, but blink and you’d have missed it. Stop to swat a wasp away from your strawberries and it was the second set. Kvitova didn’t lose a point on her serve throughout the opener, and Kiki Bertens Wimbledon had gone for a Berten in just 34 minutes. When your tournament lasts less time than the flight you had to take to get there, you know you’re having a bad day.
Britain’s number 1 woman player Heather Watson was having a bad day on Monday. Her body language screamed frustration as she flustered and blustered her way through a 1-6 first set loss to the French 32nd seed Caroline Garcia. By the time she had regained some composure and taken the second, SW19 had run out of daylight, necessitating a second day’s play. But yesterday, a fired-up Watson made no mistake, aside from losing a point to a code violation for potty mouth. I’m not even sure where a young British tennis hopeful would learn words like that. Annabel Croft wouldn’t have said that even if she had dropped a bowling ball on her foot.
Perhaps such outbursts are understandable under that kind of pressure and in that kind of heat. Whether or not that is a sufficient excuse for last year’s beaten finalist to fall at the first hurdle to a qualifier is another question and one that it now falls on Eugenie Bouchard to answer. Bouchard was magnificent at Wimbledon in 2014, carrying with her the genuine promise of the arrival, finally, of a new superstar in women’s tennis. But at the top level of any sport, the margins are so slim that momentum becomes almost as crucial as ability or technique Sadly for Bouchard, she seems to have lost hers for the time being and it was a sad sight to see. Her game looked rushed, forced and strewn with errors, not least on her service. In the end, the Chinese player looked good value for her win and yet another seed in the women’s draw goes to the wall. Talent like Bouchard’s doesn’t just go away, but clearly there is a little something else missing from her overall approach at the moment. I hope that she gets it back, because the women’s game is crying out for a new star who can consistently challenge at the top of the game. Serena Williams won’t be panicking just yet, on today’s evidence. Unless someone has signed her up for a freestyle rap battle with Swearin’ Heather Watson, in which case all bets are off.