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What the papers say

Roger Federer leaves Centre Court after his loss
by Clive White
Thursday 27 June 2013

Several of the newspapers hinted that it was the end of the road for Roger Federer as a Grand Slam contender after his surprisingly early exit from The Championships against Sergiy Stakhovsky of the Ukraine. Jim White, of The Daily Telegraph, thought it was more shocking than Rafael Nadal’s defeat on the opening day to Belgium’s unheralded Steve Darcis.

“If it was a shock to see a brittle and damaged Rafael Nadal depart from this year’s Wimbledon what are to make of a fully-fit Roger Federer stumbling out in the second round to a man ranked 116 in the world?” White asks. “Was this just an off day? Or did it signal a wider malaise? In the Slams this season, Federer has lost in a quarter-final and a semi. Were that the England football team it would be enough to signal a run on the souvenir T-shirts. But this is Roger Federer and those are not good results.”

Simon Barnes, of The Times, thought it was an appropriate time to bring to an end a magnificent career. He intimated that the serve-and-volley game of another tennis great – Pete Sampras – at its best might have been too much for Federer to handle.

“I had often wondered what would have happened if Federer had played Pete Sampras when both were at the peak of their powers,” he wrote. “Now I have some kind of idea.”

Barnes, however, still believed that Federer was one of the greatest sportsmen ever, if not the greatest. “He was master of the game itself, master of every nuance,” he says. “Tennis balls obeyed him as dogs obey their masters. He could be beaten, but not outplayed.”

Barnes went on: “He remains perhaps the greatest master of his sport any of us have seen, bestriding tennis as Bradman once bestrode cricket. Who can we compare him to? Michael Schumacher for dominance, but Schumacher had a machine to do the hard work. Lance Armstrong? Certainly not. Tiger Woods? Perhaps, but golf is a still-ball game and can’t be compared to a game that requires physical fitness.”

“There is always a reaction when great champions start to lose matches they would once have won in comfort. It seems like an insult to their own glorious past, to our own glorious memories. Come on, hang up your boots, the game’s been good to you.”

Steve Tongue, in The Independent, quotes Federer’s response to that. “What do you do after something like this? You don’t panic at this point, that’s clear, just go back to work and come back stronger, really. It’s hard to do sometimes but usually I do turnarounds pretty good.”


James Lawton, of The Independent, covered Ernests Gulbis’s match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in which the latter retired through injury while trailing two sets to one. Gulbis, he noted, had been named after Ernest Hemingway, the author, by his wealthy parents. “In Gulbis there is a quality which reminds you of one of the favourite themes of Hemingway’s friend F Scott Fitzgerald,” writes Lawton. “It was about the fact that the very rich are different from the rest of the people. They have a certain aloofness, a belief that they can always live on their own terms. Everyone agrees that, at 24, Gulbis is a critical case of under-achievement, given the level of his natural talent.”

Giles Smith, of The Times, seemed a little surprised that Tsonga was the one to retire given that it was Gulbis who had been the one at full stretch. “By contrast, Tsonga’s most perilous moment of exertion had come when he unsuccessfully chased a narrowly angled drop shot round the umpire’s chair and deep into his opponent’s half of the court,” says Smith. “But that seemed to be a matter of well-managed momentum, rather than anything else, and the Frenchman had entirely escaped rupturing himself on both the waste bin and the fridge on the way through.”


With reference to Wednesday’s numerous retirements, Smith, with tongue firmly in cheek, asks the question: “After Black Wednesday, will the anxious call go up for a safer, rubberised Wimbledon? It wouldn’t be surprising.”

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, one of the victims of injury, refused to blame the All England Club courts in his column for the the Daily Mail. The Frenchman has played on numerous courts at the club, including the practice area at Aorangi Park, and seemed well placed to voice an opinion.

“Although my event has ended in a sad and frustrating fashion, all I can tell you from my experience is that the playing surfaces are great, just as they have always been,” he writes. “Of course I am sorry that some of my fellow competitors have had falls and injuries, but I honestly believe that people are trying to make too much out of this.”


Calls to reduce the men’s Grand Slam events to the best of three sets did not gain support from the Latvian Ernests Gulbis. On the contrary. James Lawton in The Independent quoted him on the subject: “I wouldn’t like just three sets in a Grand Slam. You don’t need any easy way to win it. If you can’t make it, you can’t make it. Sorry, stay at home and do something else. Grand Slams should be five sets – blood, fight, and five sets all the way until somebody is dead. It can be a little bit inhuman but it’s the game and you should not change it.”


Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph thought that after his victory over Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu, the No.2 seed Andy Murray “could not have been handed a clearer path to the final than if he had been told to walk his border terriers and come back next Sunday”.


For Alyson Rudd, of The Times, Maria Sharapova’s unexpected elimination by the Portuguese Michelle Larcher de Brito was a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. “We saw the full gamut of tennis from her,” she writes. “She double-faulted, she hit the lines, she was imperious, she was stretched and ultimately found wanting. When she plays well, Sharapova is all long limbs and impossible to pass. When she is off form, she looks as if she is in a costume drama restricted by a tight corset.”


Eleanor Harding and Tom Kelly in the Daily Mail, citing quotes from Virginia Wade in a feature in Country Life magazine, says that Britain’s last Wimbledon singles champion thinks today’s players are “robotic”. “That’s the one thing that has rather gone from the game,” they write, quoting Wade. “They’re all so good now, so robotic. And so fit.

“We were extremely fit too, but we weren’t as strong. Bjorn Borg would spend five hours on a court practising. Now, it’s more like two hours on the tennis and two hours in the gym, and that’s taken an element of raw talent out of the game.”

The Mail writers also quote Wade on a criticism of Britain’s Laura Robson, although Wade has predicted at the Championships she believes the British teenager is going to do “something special” here. “She’s tall, she’s got a big, flashy game and she’s already shown she can beat the best,” they quote Wade as saying. “But she can sometimes look as if she’s not in the right mood.”


Nick Bollettieri, the American coach, in his column in The Independent, comes to the defence of Australia’s Bernard Tomic, who plays the American James Blake today in a second-round match. “Winning that first round five-setter against Sam Querrey was important for him. I know he is angry about his dad not being let in but if he can concentrate on the court then he can go far. I call him the sleeping giant. He looks dozy and you never quite know what to expect but then – wham! – his opponent is lulled and Tomic bites him on the a***.”


The eclipse of the former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt by the dreadlocked Dustin Brown, who used to use a camper van to ferry himself to Challenger tournaments around Europe, has been one of the Championships’ true Cinderella stories. Jonathan Liew, in The Daily Telegraph, reveals that after the German’s four-set defeat of the famous Australian he tweeted from the locker room: “Did all that just happen? A Rasta man run di world!”


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