Now, where were we? Ah yes, glorious forehands, glistening backhands, the whole wonderful, effortless and seemingly endless masterclass. Roger Federer was back on Centre Court, the scene of last year’s history-making triumph, already an immortal and aiming for something even more celestial.
The elegant, swellegant Swiss cruised to his record-breaking eighth Wimbledon singles title 12 months ago. No man had ever won that many before. Only Martina Navratilova has won nine and Federer was submitting his application for the most exclusive of private members’ clubs, with access-no-areas for the riff-raff on a mere half-dozen championships – the even more velvety rope behind the velvet rope.
His opponent in yesterday’s first-round match, Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, although swiftly despatched by a score of 6-1, 6-3, 6-4, wasn’t going to second the Federer application just like that. Lajovic won the opening game on his serve although would lose the next one to love. Federer was soon reeling him into the net and sending him scurrying to the baseline. The crowd might have wanted a keenly competitive match but if they couldn’t have that they would settle for a scintillating exhibition.
They’ve seen such displays so often over the years they could probably anticipate when their hero would scorch down the tramlines and when he’d soar across the court. This didn’t make yesterday any less enjoyable. We all have favourite movies we know off by heart. Romantic, sentimental, snugly familiar, completely dependable.
The welcome accorded to the 36-year-old champion was as big and warm as the sun overhead and didn’t just involve the female compatriot with the shaven bonce and the Swiss cross atop it. Perhaps unusually, he didn’t enter on a sedan chair. A mere 20 minutes later the faithful, fanning themselves against the heat with hats and pamphlets, were acknowledging the capture of the first set – achieved with the help of a delicious backhand on the run and a belting forehand to the baseline which Lajovic, ranked 57 in the world, challenged but probably deep down knew was good.
Federer makes tennis look easy but, maybe you didn’t know, he is mortal. Even he suffers from jitters. Before the match he talked about the “nerve-wracking” experience of opening such a “mythical” tournament. Playing on Centre, there was no chance to practice on the court beforehand, he said. Even his most ardent admirers must have snorted at this. Surely grass is grass. And he practically owns this arena.
The last time Switzerland and Serbia competed majorly at sport, in the World Cup only last week, there were rude gestures which got Swiss players fined and an angry claim by the Serbs’ coach that the referee should stand trial for war crimes. There was nothing like that here. When Lajovic, who Federer met and beat during last year’s procession, got on the board in the second set having lost the first three games there were sporting cheers of encouragement and they got louder when he claimed his second. Lajovic even made it to three but an unruffled Federer still increased his advantage, this set being won with a sizzling ace.
Though Lajovic improved on his serve and eked out four games in the third set, this was a stroll in the sunshine for Federer who wasn’t just beginning the quest for title No 9. The Wimbledon statisticians who might well be employed for the sizeable task of chalking up his incredible feats alone recorded the fact that this is his 20th consecutive visit to SW19, making him first man to achieve that feat. If he goes on to lift the cup it will be his 99th title. And bear in mind, he will have to win it. Not even Roger can just turn up.
Afterwards Federer repeated his concern about nerves although the anxiety he felt during the warm-up quickly disappeared. “I was really able to enjoy the match because I got off to a good start,” he said. “I returned well quickly, I felt my legs were moving and I was able to see what I needed to do to cause problems for Lajovic.”
A considerable chunk of the post-match chat concerned Federer’s new sponsorship deal. Well, it is considerable in itself – $300 million, according to one questioner. “It’s good you know my contract or you have no clue and you’re just saying something,” was the champion’s wry response.
The victory was witnessed by the entire Federer clan, including four-year-old twin sons Leo and Lenny. Their dad wants to keep playing until they understand what he does when he’s not chasing them round the garden and he admitted he’s not there yet.
“I mean, they know I play a lot of tennis, but they won’t know my ranking, what I’m actually trying to do really. But they know there is a trophy involved at some point if I play well.
“They get most excited about the trophies.”