For an anxious hour or so on Centre Court this evening it seemed possible that Spain’s hopes at the Championships, torpedoed 24 hours earlier by the exit of Rafael Nadal, might be sunk as the fourth seed, David Ferrer, shaken by a heavy fall, laboured to stay in contention against Martin Alund, an Argentinian ranked 101 and making his Wimbledon debut.
In the end Ferrer, just about as complete a professional as you will find in tennis, found a way to win 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in two hours nine minutes despite another disturbing crash to the turf midway through the fourth set which left him limping his way into the second round. Later, Ferrer conceded that his left ankle was painful but insisted he would be fit enough to contend his second round match on Thursday.
This match had been labelled a stroll on the grass for a man who earlier this month contested the French Open final and is appearing at his 11th consecutive Wimbledon, and after less than half an hour that is the way it was shaping up. Ferrer swept the first four games, and at that stage it seemed that the Spanish language might be all he and Alund had in common. Even when the Argentinian snatched Ferrer’s serve, celebrating with a flourish of the fist, the course of the contest seemed determined. Alund failed to hold serve at all in that opening set and Ferrer finished things off in 29 minutes with the most emphatic of aces.
In the second set Alund, hitching up his baggy shorts every time he received serve, struggled to stem the Ferrer avalanche until, on the first point of the seventh game at 3-3, the Spaniard crashed to ground near the back stop in pursuing a deep ball and lay motionless for several anxious seconds. Eventually he clambered to his feet and, shunning treatment, played on. It was perhaps an unwise choice as he was clearly shaken and Alund knew it. The debutant pounced, winning two service games to love and then breaking Ferrer in the 10th courtesy of a brace of Spanish double-faults.
Suddenly an opponent who had lost in the first round of qualifying on his two previous attempts to get into Wimbledon, was alert to the prospects of a monumental upset. He hammered away at the Ferrer backhand and was gratified to see it begin to crumble and also troubled the fourth seed by serving into the body. Alund led 5-4 but was never to get closer than that to the victory of his dreams. The prospect clearly unnerved, rather than inspired, him. He put in a poor service game at 5-5 and was broken when Ferrer ran down a drop shot and stabbed it away.
As Ferrer served out for a two sets to one lead Alund visibly flagged and two more service breaks early in the fourth set saw the Spaniard cruising towards a 4-1 lead. Then came the second tumble, which produced a loud Spanish swear word and several cautious moments checking that all was well before again shunning treatment. But it was clear Ferrer knew he needed to finish things quickly rather than risk the possibility of a fifth set and Alund obliged him with some loose shots.
Leading 5-2 and ready to serve for the match, Ferrer took a swig of water, jogged into position and did what a top pro does, closing it out with a pair of aces, the second of them at match point. He was limping noticeably as he accepted the applause of Centre Court but said, “I have a little bit of pain in my left ankle, but it’s OK. I am hurting a little bit now, it’s a bit inflamed but I think it is not important – I hope.”
Ferrer agreed that his game suffered after the first fall. “I tried not to lose my concentration but it’s difficult. Maybe I didn’t return very good in the second set, so I need to improve for my next match. If I had lost today it would have been because my opponent was better than me, not because of the fall. I can walk, I know it is not important.”
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all