Monday June 21st, 2010

Before we get to your questions, let's discuss Roger Federer's massive scare in the opening round on Monday ...

As the defending Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer, in keeping with tradition, opened Centre Court on this, the first day of play at the 2010 event. His opponent was Alejandro Falla of Colombia, a journeyman whom Federer had beaten twice in the last month. The top seed was so confident that, in a rare spasm of cocky, he stated that his goal was to get off the court in time to watch Switzerland play Chile in the World Cup.

By the time Federer walked off the court at around 4:30 London time, the World Cup match was deep into the second half. And Federer narrowly had averted the greatest upset of the Open Era -- really, try and name a bigger one -- outlasting Falla 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0.

Federer hasn't won a tournament since Australia, but there's been a sense that he's lost a little intensity at the run-of-the-mill events (understandable at this point in his career) and will still emerge at the majors. That didn't happen at the French Open. And it certainly didn't happen through three sets today. He didn't play with conviction from the baseline. He didn't capitalize on break points (a problem all year). He didn't attack as much as he usually does on grass. His forehand seemed to lack punch.

And give Falla credit. Tons of it. He not only took the match to Federer, but also showed some real grass-court savvy, some real shot-making and some real nerves. How this player has never cracked the top 50 or won a solitary title is a mystery.

Then at two sets and 4-2, Falla faltered. It was as if he'd suddenly woken up and remembered whom he was playing. And the moment was lost. Federer found the range. Falla's body started betraying him. Two of the more underrated components of Federer's game -- his heart (was Mats Wilander watching?) and his fitness -- got him through. Federer was quick to admit this was a match he should have lost. But he didn't. That is why he's a champion and an entire tennis subspecies isn't.

Jon, I was startled to discover that the guy who's been in the final for the last seven years, winning six of them, is not your favorite to win! What's your rationale behind this strange pick? PS. I know Federer's results of late have been poor, but he did play the final in Halle, losing a very tight match he should've won. Nadal, on the other hand, lost decisively to Lopez, which shows that his recent success on clay will not necessarily translate as well to grass as many people think. -- Marcin Zielkiewicz, Warsaw, Poland

• We could frame this convincingly either way. Player A has won Wimbledon six of seven years; he is the defending camp; he is men's tennis' all-time leader in major singles titles (16) and had already claimed one this year. Who in their right mind would pick against this guy? Wait, Player B not only won the previous Major, but he is ranked No. 1. And he not only beat Player A in their last head-to-head encounter (and their last one on grass), but he's riding a seven-match Wimbledon winning streak! You'd be nuts not to pick him, right?

I ended going with Nadal. But if Federer should win again, it would surprise virtually no one (despite his shaky effort on Monday). Most of us, though, are in agreement that, in a perfect world, we get another Federer-Nadal final. It's been too long (18 months or so) since the two best players have met in a Grand Slam final.

As I wrote last week, I think the tune-ups confirmed two truths that have been easy to overlook in recent years. 1) The transition from clay to grass is not as easy as "Feder-al" makes it seem. Sure, Nadal lost to Lopez at Queens Club, but I wouldn't read too much into that, given that he'd played the French Open 72 hours prior. 2) There are a lot of good players out there. Federer comes out a little flat? Lleyton Hewitt, a former No. 1 and a past WB champ, is on his game? The match is only best of three? Presto.

Jon, trivia question: Is Federer the only man to start Wimbledon off on Centre Court seven years in a row? -- Kathye Tanner, Viera, Fla.

• Very nice. With Nadal out of Wimbledon in 2009, Federer took the honors.

Federer vs. Cilic Murray vs. Nadal Final: Federer vs. Murray Winner: Federer -- Joel Castro, San Juan

• Lots of you hitting me with your alternative picks. Here are Joel's. Let's see how we do.

The U.S. Open has a deciding-set tiebreak, the other Grand Slams do not ... Wimbledon has its own seeding system, the other Grand Slams do not ... I realize that the Grand Slams are "their own unique event" and not necessarily sanctioned by the ATP or WTA, but when the actual rules are altered for a specific tournament I don't see tennis benefiting at all, and instead just causing more of the usual confusion ... If there are any specific rules differences at the French or Australian Open please let me know (can't think of any off hand). Sincerely, a huge fan who still has hope for this great game ;) -- Danny Kochan, Toronto

• I love your sign off, but I disagree with the premise. First, apart from the surface obviously -- which is the biggest material difference -- the French is the lone major that doesn't use replay technology on line calls. Rain doesn't automatically halt play. There are three Sundays worth of play. And the crowd remains amused by "the wave," which went out of vogue in most places in the mid-80s. As for the Australian, until last year it was the only event that offered a retractable roof.

But to the larger point: I like these quirks among the Slams. The same way golf courses are designed differently or the dimensions of Fenway are different from the dimensions at Yankee Stadium, I rather like the absence of standardization. It gives each Slam a distinct feel. And again, consider the surfaces. Once you're playing one event on crushed brick and another on grass, the absence of a tiebreaker or a special formula for seeding are rather minor touches, no?

I still don't see the big deal about injuries. My favorite NFL team (you can guess it) has had its season ruined more than once when the quarterback went down with a knee injury. That's how it goes in sport. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometime you get hurt. As a fan you come to expect it. -- Todd D., Cincinnati

• Maybe as a fan of football -- i.e. a sport that entails men attired in helmets and pads colliding violently with each other -- you expect it. In tennis -- where combatants not only fail to make contact with each other but also are divided by a net -- it's shocking when a good two dozen players, otherwise eligible, are insufficiently healthy to enter the biggest event of the year. (Is this really what it's come to: comparing tennis' injury problems to the NFL?)

Rajeev Ram went to the University of Illinois, NOT Indiana. Your article stated that Roddick would take on the pride of Indiana tennis. I've seen Ram play a tournament outside of Chicago and I assure you he is the pride of Illinois!!! Laura Carlson, Chicago, Ill.

• But he came of age in Carmel, Ind. (which is sort of like the Malibu of Indianapolis). Illinois just got the spoils.

Speaking of Illini tennis, Mary Ann of Champaign, Ill. writes: "Don't forget that Kevin Anderson has wins over Chela, Llodra, Djokovic, Nieminen and has an interesting first-round match against Davydenko. Kevin has been slowly rebuilding his ranking and I think he is due for another breakthrough."

• New York readers: HSBC, "The world's local bank" and official Wimbledon sponsor, brings an authentic tournament experience to NYC with "HSBC presents Wimbledon 2010 at Rockefeller Center." To celebrate the first day of Wimbledon on Monday, June 21 from 12-1 p.m. ET, former world No. 1-ranked players Monica Seles and Jim Courier , played select fans on a specially-developed grass court.

Henry Su of Mountain View, Calif.: "Funny (Earl Strickler's question), I thought the designer of this year's Roland Garros poster was the official existentialist. If only David Foster Wallace were still with us, he would be a great choice for AELTC's poet laureate."

Rob D. of Philadelphia: "Hi Jon: As follow up to the Shots, Miscellany item comparing the 'Best of Belgium' to the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match, the Belgians win, as far as attendance: According to the New York Times, BJK-BR attracted a crowd of 30,492.

• In case you missed it, here's a great (and devastating) piece on the WTA culture.

• More Wimbledon tips: Rich Neville of Luxembourg writes: "Jon -- for the Wimbledon questioner, you should remind your readers that the resale of Wimbledon tickets is illegal and will result in your tickets being confiscated. As you rightly note, many people entering the gates with tickets are pulled aside and questioned about how they got their tickets. If you can't answer the questions about when the tickets were ordered or received they will confiscate your tickets. You also don't need to smuggle in food. Wimbledon will let you bring in a picnic (including one bottle of wine per person). My wife and I stood in the queue last year with two backpacks full of food and had no problem getting in and had a very nice meal to boot."

• Check outAndy Murray street magic.

• An offering from Nitin Bajaj of Hyderabad, India ...

Long lost siblings: Radek Stepanek and Gerardo Torrado (Mexico Soccer Captain at the FIFA World Cup 2010).

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