David Nalbandian's meeting with Janko Tipsarevic yesterday threatened the prospect of Argy bargy on Court No.1, but thankfully all nine line judges made it back to their locker rooms unscathed. Instead, it was an umpire who struck back.
Pascal Maria landed an unwitting blow for tennis officialdom everywhere when he made a controversial overrule at deuce and 3-4 in the second set which deprived the Argentine of a break point and a badly-needed opportunity to haul himself back into the match. It further enraged the man who had been leading only the second grass court final of his career against Marin Cilic at Queen's Club a fortnight ago when he was defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct after kicking an advertising board, which struck a line judge.
While Nalbandian uttered profanities in Spanish and engaged himself in dialogue with Monsieur Maria, the scrupulously fair Wimbledon crowd declined the chance to regard him as a pantomime villain. Instead, when the man who 10 years ago shocked the world to reach the final at SW19 – he was even afforded the rare distinction of practising on centre court prior to his defeat by Lleyton Hewitt – eventually succumbed in a second set tie-break, en route to his 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-2 defeat, it was to a soundtrack of groans.
Nalbandian has played more matches here than any other Argentine. It is a venue which brings out both sides of his character, not least in 1999 when he both won the boys' doubles and defaulted in the semi-finals of the singles for arriving late for a match. At times yesterday, this old place seemed to be testing his temper once again. Drawing Tipsarevic, the Serb who has quietly risen to world No.8, in the first round was a torment in itself. Had Nalbandian held his nerve at Queen's, he would have been seeded and secured a far easier assignment.
The lush court was testing, with both men slipping occasionally as they parlayed from the baseline, as must have Nalbandian's inability to capitalise on his openings. He squandered eight break points on the Tipsarevic serve in the first two sets alone.
And then there was the umpire's rash decision to overrule a driven Nalbandian shot which Hawk Eye later showed to have hit the line. It left the Argentine calling for humans to leave such decisions to computers in future. "They have to be very sure, 100%," Nalbandian said. "I don't know why the rush to call at an important moment. Because when the ball bounced, Janko called a challenge anyway. They never do mistakes at 15-all. All mistakes are at deuce or break points. I thought I won the point. He said he overruled it, but the microphone was off so nobody heard it."
Nalbandian is still subject to police action for the events at Queen's – you might think the Metropolitan Police have bigger strategic priorities – but he said last night he was touched by the response he has had. "I don't know what they [the police] are going to do," he said. "Everybody understood that it wasn't a good thing that I did, but I was very unlucky as well. I have always had incredible memories here and I felt very good with the crowd today."
While Tipsarevic lives on in the competition, his countryman Novak Djokovic also made a polished beginning to his defence of the title against another illustrious veteran. Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former world No.1 and French Open champion, took just seven minutes to break the Djokovic serve, the third game of the match. But the success was illusory, and before we knew it the match was over 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 and the main talking points were the fact Djokovic has a poodle called Pierre for company and produced a junior golf club from his bag as a marketing ploy for manufacturers Head during the warm-up. "I was being creative, that's all," he said.
Also strolling through the top half of the draw – perhaps en route to their eventual semi-final meeting – was Roger Federer. The Swiss took even less time to complete a routine destruction of Spain's Albert Ramos, permitting the Spaniard just one game in each of three sets.
Afterwards, he made light of being forced to slum it on Court No.1, and gave a frank assessment of Andy Murray's chances of reaching the last four. "He wants to first get through the first round, like all of us," Federer said. "With his talent and his game, everything's right there for him."
A good day for Federer and Djokovic continued with No.6 seed and 2010 finalist Tomas Berdych tumbling out after a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4) defeat by Latvia's Ernests Gulbis and No.11 seed John Isner falling to Colombia's Alejandro Falla in five sets.
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