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AP Photo/Tim Ireland
Tennis

Wimbledon: Federer tops Willis in David vs Goliath battle

AP Photo/Tim Ireland

Save for maybe Davis Cup events, Roger Federer probably can’t remember the last time he took the court and wasn’t beloved by the crowd. For as… fanatical, shall we say, as the Religion of RF is, it’s a testament to what he did and continues to do for the sport.

Even for Federer though, his second-round match was a unique experience, facing complete unknown Marcus Willis, a Brit whose story you’ve likely heard by now if you’re reading this. The lowest ranked player to win a Grand Slam match in nearly 30 years, Willis is a local guy ranked 772nd who had to win six matches just to get into the tournament.

The victor was never in question, as Federer was in semi-exhibition mode for much of his 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 win, at least until the end when he clearly wanted to pull away at 4-4. However, the ultimate example of David vs Goliath (the leader in the clubhouse for Greatest of All-Time against someone who’d never played an ATP level match before this week) was fitting on a day where tennis showed how it unfairly caters to its stars.

The French Open drew criticism — as it does every year, but particularly in this year’s drenched and soggy edition — for its inability to add a roof. What the critics miss though is that a lone roof solves nothing except for providing constant TV coverage. As rain sabotaged much of Wednesday’s play in London, Federer and Novak Djokovic coasted into the third round while many of the sport’s middle class aren’t even through the opening round:

Much like The Masters, Wimbledon is a sign of the past, of tradition, which cuts both ways. The history of The Championships creates an aura elevating the sport’s most famous matches (Borg-McEnroe, Federer-Nadal, etc.), but also shows a lack of progress. Men’s matches dominate women’s on the schedule for show courts, and players slip constantly on the slick grass, which is an antiquated playing surface for tennis if one really thinks about it.

At least having no roof at all leaves fortune up to chance. The existence of merely one roof simply extends the gap between the elite and the rank and file. In that sense, sports really are a metaphor for life.

Elsewhere on Wednesday:

— Djokovic was less than stellar in a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Adrian Mannarino, but we know the drill by now with Djokovic: the first week is often merely a chore for him. He rarely looks pleased, kind of like a kid having to eat his vegetables before eating dessert. Given that this isn’t the French, where he had a haunted history before finally prevailing, there’s little need to analyze his form at this point when it’s obvious he’ll raise his level when need be.

— Djokovic became the first man in the Open Era to win 30 straight matches at majors.

— Dominic Thiem avenged his loss in Halle to Florian Mayer, taking care of the German in straight sets, a very impressive and unexpectedly straightforward start to his tournament.

— Top contenders Aga Radwanska and Petra Kvitova rolled in their debuts. Kvitova lost just four points in the first set of her 6-0, 6-4 win over Sorana Cirstea.

— Belinda Bencic played her best match in months, dispatching Tsvetana Pironkova, one of the top unseeded players (especially on grass), to the tune of 6-2, 6-3. She stumbled a bit at the end, but considering her lingering back problems and lack of form since returning, Bencic looked much stronger than expected.

— Tomas Berdych and Sascha Zverev finished their rain-delayed matches, as did Bernie Tomic, who took a deciding fifth set off Fernando Verdasco.

— Johanna Konta finished off Monica Puig, making for an early exit by Puig, a sleeper on many brackets. Playing a seed first is tough, but she has to be disappointed given a strong lead-up on grass.

— The other big names all got delayed, including Sloane Stephens, who sits at the start of a first set tiebreak with Peng Shuai. Also, John Isner leads Marcos Baghdatis by a set but is down a break in the second, 7-6 (2), 1-3.

Thursday’s Marquee Matches

Weather permitting, Thursday’s slate is packed, thanks to the addition of unfinished matches.

Stan Wawrinka vs Juan Martin del Potro: The Argentine’s injury have sunk his ranking, allowing for this early meeting of Grand Slam champions. In a way, Wawrinka has been the player to fill the void left by del Potro as the powerful yet inconsistent contrast to the Big Four. Grass is Wawrinka’s most vulnerable so this one could be more competitive than it would be if held elsewhere. How del Potro’s compromised backhand holds up against Wawrinka’s heavy topspin will be a big test. Prediction: Wawrinka in 4.

Dominika Cibulkova vs Dasha Gavrilova: Perhaps the two “pluckiest” players on tour, shows of emotion will be on full display in this one. Cibulkova has had a great return from an Achilles injury, including beating Radwanska, Puig and Karolina Pliskova for the Eastbourne title last week. Prediction: Cibulkova in straights.

Nick Kyrgios vs Dustin Brown: These two might be the flashiest players in the sport, leading to a much-anticipated early round match. Brown’s chances are being overhyped, but the always-mercurial temperament of Kyrgios leaves the door open. Prediction: Kyrgios in 4.

(Note: Both men’s matches listed here were later left off Thursday’s order of play in order to keep future rest days balanced.)

Wimbledon: Federer tops Willis in David vs Goliath battle
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