There wasn’t too much to separate two 30-somethings on Court No.2 on Saturday afternoon.
In a match rich in quality and loaded with serving power (there were 32 aces in total), Tommy Haas and Feliciano Lopez reminded us all again, as if we needed it, that they possess grass-court games as good as anyone on their day.
He may be in the twilight of his career at 35 but Haas, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2009, is enjoying the form of his life and making up for lost time in a career, which has often, sadly, been interrupted by injury.
Lopez, who won in Eastboune in the pre-SW19 tune-up event, is one of few Spaniards who actually relish the challenges of an English summer.
In only the fourth meeting between these two, with their last encounter on this surface going Haas’s way in 2004 in Halle, the German began the match questioning his footwork and looking at the baseline beneath him, regularly whacking his trainers with his racket.
As he struggled to find his footing early on, Lopez didn’t need a second invitation to take advantage.
The former world number 15 broke Haas’s serve in the third game of the match and that was all he needed to tie up the opening set 6-4.
At the beginning of the second set, Haas, the No.13 seed, refocused, started again and grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck.
With his serve on song, he presents a difficult challenge for most who cross paths with him on grass, and it proved that way. Once he gained an early break in Lopez’s first service game, the former world number two raced into a 5-1 lead.
Lopez, a thrice quarter-finalist at the All England Club, did irritate Haas by gaining a consolatory break in the seventh game but there was to be no fight back as a challenge call confirmed the Spaniard’s backhand was long in the next game, handing Haas the set, 6-2.
The third set almost started in a similar vein. Haas pressurised the Lopez serve but the Spaniard staved off two break points with excellent volleying at the net.
Neither player gave an inch over the course of the next eight games. However, given the important stage of the match at 5-5, Lopez’s serve failed him when it mattered most.
A challenge confirmed his first serve down the tee was out, and with a slight break to his rhythm, it affected him as he dumped his second serve into the bottom of the net to give Haas a two-sets-to-one lead.
The United States-based German player was carrying all the momentum but it was Lopez who wasted three golden break point opportunities in the seventh game. Haas, no doubt relieved the match was still on serve, forced the 31-year-old to serve to stay in the match at the two hour, 22 minute mark.
Haas played two gutsy points when it mattered, to take him to within a single point of victory and he claimed his chance, forcing Lopez to miscue a forehand into the tramlines.
Cue, Haas’s fist pump and jump into the air.
If he is to progress further at Wimbledon he will have to get past world number one Novak Djokovic in the fourth round on Monday, a player he lost to only a few weeks ago in the French Open quarter-finals and beat in Miami in straight sets in March.
Ahead of his last 16 clash, Haas said it is nice to see different faces in the draw at this stage of a Grand Slam: “You know, might be nice for some fans to see some different faces, but I'm sure a lot of them are probably going to realise they miss some of the familiar faces. It's sort of like a different situation.”
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