Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerSteve Darcis (BEL)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: Steve Darcis provided the biggest upset on Day 1 of the Olympic Tennis Event as he knocked out world No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the opening match on Centre Court.
Darcis, the world No. 75, was giving up 69 places in the ranking stakes, but the Belgian didn’t seem to let that affect him as he dismissed Berdych 64 64 in 1 hour 26 minutes. It stretched his unbeaten record against the Czech player to 2-0, following his win in their only previous senior match at a Challenger event in 2009.
One break of serve was all Darcis needed to take the first set and it looked like he was heading for a comfortable victory when he led 5-2 with a double break in the second, only Berdych still had some fight left in him. The former Wimbledon runner-up reduced the deficit to 5-4 and had further break points to draw level, but he couldn’t convert and Darcis dug deep to close out the match.
“I think this is maybe the best victory of my career,” said Darcis, who had never previously defeated a Top 10 player. “It was amazing to step on the court, to see all the crowd. Of course, it was different, it was the Olympics. It's also another atmosphere. It was great. You play tennis to play those matches, to play on those courts.”
Roger Federer, who won a record equalling seventh Wimbledon title a few weeks ago, was nearly the subject of another shock defeat later in the day on Centre Court, but the world No. 1 steadied himself to defeat Alejandro Falla 63 57 63. The Colombian had given Federer problems in the past, almost beating him at Wimbledon two years ago, and so it proved again as he fought hard to take the match into a third set before eventually succumbing to the Swiss maestro.
“Well, obviously it was pretty much up‑and‑down, a rollercoaster match like it was a few years ago,” said Federer. “I'm serving for the match. He got tough and I got nervous. It was a tough set to lose for me, particularly in the situation I was in, feeling good and confident about me serving it out.”
There were contrasting fortunes for the Argentine men on No. 1 Court. Veteran David Nalbandian opened proceedings by losing to No. 7 seed Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia 63 64, while the Tower of Tandil, Juan Martin del Potro, was in impressive form during his 64 61 victory over Ivan Dodig of Croatia, a match that lasted just 68 minutes.
In the battle of the sizes on No. 2 Court, 6’ 9” John Isner overcame 5’ 6” Olivier Rochus 76(1) 64 with only one break of serve in the match, which went the way of the American in the second set. Other winners on Saturday included Spain’s Nicolas Almagro and France’s Gilles Simon.
Serena Williams strengthened her claim as the favourite to win her first Olympic singles gold medal by hammering former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 63 61 on Centre Court. The first set was relatively close with just one break for the American, but her own serve was the difference between the two players as she notched eight aces and no doubles faults. Three breaks in the second set brought the Serb’s Olympic dreams to an abrupt halt.
"I was a little nervous in the first set, but I think once I got relaxed, I played a little better," said Williams, who won the Wimbledon title for a fifth time earlier this month. "I actually think I played solid. I felt the ball well. I missed a few shots, but at least I was going forward."
Caroline Wozniacki needed three sets to come through her first round clash with Anne Keothavong. The Brit took the first set on Centre Court, much to the delight of the home fans, but they weren’t able to cheer their player onto victory as the Dane, supported by her professional golfer boyfriend, Rory McIlroy, battled back to win 46 63 62.
There was more joy for Keothavong’s doubles partner, Elena Baltacha, who reached the second round on her Olympic debut by defeating Hungary’s Agnes Szavay 63 63. Fellow Brits Laura Robson and Heather Watson will both begin their singles campaigns on Sunday, as will Andy Murray in the men’s event.
Aussie No. 1 and the No. 5 seed for this tournament, Samantha Stosur, who has never been at home on the Wimbledon grass courts, crashed out of the women’s singles at the hands of Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 36 75 108. Meanwhile, Li Na of China suffered the same fate when she lost to Daniela Hantuchova of Slovak Republic 62 36 63.
Last year’s Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova almost went the same way, but the Czech left-hander got over the disappointment of failing to serve out the match in the second set against Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine to eventually prevail 64 57 64. Also on target with wins were Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer, and Italy’s Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta.
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