Fernando Verdasco never finds it easy at Wimbledon. Only two of his last nine contests at SW19 have been straightforward straight sets victories, and he was given another energy-sapping workout in the heat by Slovenian wildcard Grega Zemlja to the delight of his Spanish fans, still revelling in their football side’s win against Portugal which took them to the Euro 2012 final.
In truth, No. 17 seed Verdasco never looked like exiting the tournament in this match despite being far from his best as the baseliner desperately strived for form on the grass courts. A 7-6(4), 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3 victory in two hours and 56 minutes was a fair reflection on a match where Zemlja played his part.
The Spaniard will now face Xavier Malisse in the third round as he looks to equal his best ever Wimbledon of 2006, 2008 and 2009, although he still does not rate his game on grass.
“Wimbledon is very special, but being realistic, it's not like the best surface that maybe my game can adapt to,” he admitted. “I can try to use the slice more, but normally my shots are more with speed. Here with speed it's not really dangerous.
“The best thing about Spanish players is that we always try no matter which surface we're playing, and even if our game maybe is not the best for this kind of surface, we can still win. We just fight from the first ball to the last ball.”
Verdasco and his fans were certainly seeing double as he won the first two sets by identical scorelines in the tie-break. A tight affair was won on the vital points with Zemlja, conqueror of Britain’s Josh Goodall in the first round, double-faulting at 4-4 in the first tie-break, before a couple of inconsistent points in the second set.
But Zemlja, who was looking to become the first Slovenian to reach the third round at the All England Club, came back into the contest with an expert third set, breaking Verdasco to lead 2-0, courtesy of a sensational rally.
Charismatic Verdasco was in trouble, as he jokingly asked the umpire to change his line judges, after one call went against him and he was struggling to get to some of Zemlja’s inch-perfect forehand shots.
Verdasco crucially saved two break points at the start of the fourth set and then upped his game with Zemlja at 3-4. Verdasco won that game with a sensational backhand pass at 0-40 and closed it out to ensure his smile returned and the cheers of his contingent in the crowd continued.
Another seed in the shape of Marin Cilic found the going much more simple as he comfortably beat Lukasz Kubot 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-1 to set up a third-round meeting with Sam Querrey or Milos Raonic.
Cilic, winner at Queen’s, is fast improving on grass and despite a closely fought first set, the Croatian No.16 seed took the tie-break thanks to a dream backhand pass.
The pair then exchanged breaks in the first two games of the second set but it was a procession after that as Cilic’s better serving and all-round consistency helped him to sail through.
Kubot won just two of the last 13 games of the match, offering very little resistance, after Cilic had taken a 3-1 lead in the second set.
The 23-year-old Cilic could cause a number of top players problems on the evidence of this emphatic performance, as he looks to go one better than the fourth round which he made here in 2008.