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The Third Day: the daily preview

Roger Federer eyes his toss.
by Ronald Atkin
Tuesday 26 June 2012

There was a stirring of excitement when the draw was made last week for the Gentlemen's Singles at the 2012 Championships as the names of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut appeared adjacent to each other, appetisingly destined for a second round clash. These two, as probably even those who dwell in the remotest parts of the Amazon Basin are aware, were involved in a marathon at Wimbledon two years ago which stretched to eleven hours over three days. Shattering every record for tennis endurance, the All England Club placed a plaque on the wall of Court 18 to commemorate the feat.

Speculation about the possible need for another plaque, or whether to have the St John Ambulance Brigade on standby marathon duty, was stilled when Isner succumbed (in five grinding sets, naturally) to a Colombian left-hander called Alejandro Falla who had last won a match at Wimbledon back in 2007.

Mahut, who battled through to the second round, also in five sets, now faces, not Isner as everyone had hoped, but someone who ended last season with a best-ever ranking of 74. Even so, Mahut needs to beware as he bids to reach Wimbledon's third round for only the second time in seven attempts, since it was Falla who so nearly overturned the mighty Roger Federer in the first round here two years ago after taking the first two sets and serving for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set. It could be another marathon, but in Isner's absence it will be like salt without the pepper.

Bearing in mind what so nearly happened to him in 2010, Federer is probably happy that any repeat of the Falla scare would not be a possibility until the quarter-finals should the South American linger that long. Instead he gears up to face Italian opposition in the Centre Court opener today in the shape of the 68th-ranked Fabio Fognini, someone who managed a measly two games in their only previous clash, five years back in Canada.

The third-seeded Swiss has come out of the starting blocks impressively as he pursues a seventh Wimbledon title which would see him pull level with the tournament's modern-era record holder, Pete Sampras. It's early days, of course, but to have dropped a mere three games in three sets in the first round and now to be squaring up to what looks very much like a routine day at the office must sound like sweet news to the Federer camp.

Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, top seed and a most happy fellow after waltzing through to the second round without really unveiling his best stuff, may find today's Centre Court opposition a little more demanding. It comes in the shape of a 20-year-old American called Ryan Harrison, who lives in Bradenton, Florida, where his father Pat is a coach at the famed Nick Bollettieri Academy.

Ryan, who began playing at the tender age of two, is blossoming promisingly and according to Bollettieri, Djokovic may find Ryan a bit of a handful. "Ryan has got all of the weapons," he predicts. "It could be a hell of a party".

In the Ladies' Singles the top seed and favourite Maria Sharapova comes up against a Bulgarian, Tsvetana Pironkova, in today's second round on No.1 Court. Ranked 38 in the world, Pironkova has not managed to dent Sharapova's armour in three previous clashes, losing in straight sets every time despite taking a couple of those sets to a tiebreak.

There seems little reason to expect a change of fortune. But a word of caution. Pironkova, as Sharapova's eagle-eyed coach Thomas Hogstedt will have noted, marched into the quarter-finals here last year after a semi-final showing in 2010 by downing Venus Williams.

Tougher examinations will await Sharapova, quite possibly at the quarter-finals stage where she could meet the unseeded Kim Clijsters. One of the 11 Grand Slam champions who started this year's event, Clijsters has won three US Opens and one Australian title but never got further than Wimbledon's last four.

Having ousted a former world number one and the 18th seed Jelena Jankovic in the first round she now comes up against a Czech, Andrea Hlavackova and is rewarded with a Centre Court appearance.
The good news for home fans is that a British girl Heather Watson has sashayed into the second round and will be confident of going further against an American, Jamie Lee Hampton, who stands only three places higher than Heather in the rankings, 100 against 103.


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