Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerRoger Federer (SUI)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: Roger Federer defeated Alejandro Falla to reach the second round of the Olympic Tennis Event but he didn't have everything his way.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion needed three sets to overcome his Colombian opponent 63 57 63 after a match that seemed to be heading towards a routine victory for Federer turned into a more serious challenge when Falla took the second set.
At a set and a break up, Federer was poised for victory, but when Falla survived three break points on his serve at 3-5 he grabbed the momentum in the next game and broke the Swiss twice to level the match at a set all.
The pair traded breaks in the opening four games of the final set before Federer once more asserted his authority, but world No. 51Falla made him work for his victory in an entertaining match lasting 1 hour 47 minutes.
“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.”
Today was the first time Federer and Falla had played since their memorable encounter on Centre Court at the All England Club two years ago, when the Colombian forced his superstar opponent to recover from two-sets-to-love down in the opening round of Wimbledon. The lefthander from Bogota showed the same fearless approach in their rematch to delight the fans on a packed Centre Court.
Federer took the only break of the first set in the eighth game and went on to win it in just over half an hour. More of the same seemed to be following in the second set as Federer broke in the seventh game and then moved to 5-3 up. Falla, although competitive, was unable to create a break point of his own. But everything changed in the next game when the Colombian clawed back from a 0-40 deficit to remain in the match, and at 4-5 he finally breached the Federer defences, clinching the break after successfully challenging a line call.
Federer pressurised Falla’s serve immediately, but Falla again survived from 0-40 down, matching him in rallies and growing in confidence. With Federer serving at 5-6 his opponent sneaked the break to win the second set 75.
The Swiss seemed to have the match back in his control when he broke in the opening game of the third set but there was no shaking off Falla that easily. He dug in and levelled for 2-2 when Federer sent a lob long.
As much as the crowd were cheering Federer – for many of them the unique experience of the Olympics at Wimbledon probably meant it was the first time they had seen the great champion play on the court he has owned for so long – they were clearly thrilled that his opponent was giving him a fight, and both players received huge applause as the match entered its closing stages.
When Federer got ahead again and broke in the seventh game his fist pump signalled that it was nearly all over, but still Falla scrambled for everything, pressing the Swiss to deuce on his serve in the next game but coming up short. The Wimbledon champion finally nailed the match with another break of the Falla serve to win the set and the match 63 57 63.
“I never stopped believing,” said Federer. “Kept on pushing. Even though he got back a break in the third set, that obviously also got my nerves going because the margins are very small at that point. I'm happy I found a way to tough it out really.”
The crowd rose to their feet to salute Federer, but also to acknowledge a great effort from Falla. Federer will face France’s Julien Benneteau in the second round.
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