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Federer scrapes through Wimbledon first round

Federer celebrates after winning the third set against Alejandro Falla

(swissinfo.ch)

In what was nearly one of the greatest upsets in tennis history, Roger Federer has won his first-round match at Wimbledon 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0 against 60th-ranked Alejandro Falla.

The Swiss defending champion and top seed had to instigate an extraordinary comeback, standing at one point two sets, four games all and 0-40 down. Falla also served for the match in the fourth set, but buckled under the pressure.

The 28-year-old from Basel is thus still on course for a record-equalling seventh title, but almost became only the second men's champion ever during the Open era to go out in the first round. In 2003 Lleyton Hewitt went out in the first round at Wimbledon to unknown Ivo Karlovic.

The previous time Federer lost in the first round at the All England Club was back in 2002, when he lost to Mario Ancic.

Federer had not lost a set in four previous matches against Falla, including a lightning 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 win in only 54 minutes at Wimbledon in 2004 and 6-1, 6-2 victory on grass in Halle, Germany, last week. The Colombian has never progressed beyond the second round at Wimbledon.

"I live another day," 28-year-old Federer said. "This one is one I should have lost. That's sometimes how grass-court tennis works."

Falla played brilliant tennis to take charge of the match early. The turnaround came in the fourth set with Falla serving for the match and three points from victory, when Federer broke for only the second time.

He played his best tennis of the day after that. It was the sixth time Federer has won after trailing by two sets.

"I definitely got very lucky today out there," he said.

Shaky errors

After winning the first two sets, Falla received treatment from a trainer during the next three changeovers for an upper left leg injury. But it was only when he served for the biggest victory of his career at 5-4 in the fourth set that his game unravelled.

Falla made shaky errors on the first two points, and a pair of deft forehands by Federer gave him the break. The Swiss ran away with the tiebreaker, taking advantage of four more unforced errors by Falla, and the disconsolate Colombian mustered little resistance in the final set.

There had been signs coming into the tournament that Federer might be vulnerable. He lost at the French Open this month in the quarterfinals, his earliest Grand Slam exit in six years. He dropped to No. 2 in the rankings behind nemesis Rafael Nadal.

Then at a Wimbledon warm-up event came Federer's second grass-court defeat since 2003, extending his drought of nearly five months without a title.

But no one expected so much trouble against a 26-year-old journeyman who has yet to win a tournament. There were stretches of stunned silence from the crowd, dumbfounded by the score. Fans also roared in appreciation of Falla's frequent winners.

"He played great," Federer said. "He was the one who put me in that kind of a score. I thought I was actually playing decent. Credit to him."

Wild shots

Federer searched for more than two hours to find his championship form. He slipped several times on the immaculate lawn and shanked shots, hitting one forehand so wild that Falla had to leap out of the way.

Trouble for Federer began at five-all in the first set. He had the first double-fault of the match on the opening point, then hit a poor volley and lost the next point.

Falla dropped a backhand volley onto the baseline for a winner for the first service break, then served out the set.

Falla broke again for a 4-3 lead in the second set, then served out the set in a long, tense game.

He lost serve to start the next set, though, and found himself on the verge of defeat with Falla serving at 5-4.

Then Federer's big surge began. Barely 30 minutes later, he kissed the line with his final shot for a winner and walked to the net to give Falla a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

Elsewhere...

Two Swiss ladies were less successful on Monday. Patty Schnyder, ranked 59, was humiliated 6-0, 6-2 by Chan Yung-Jan from Taiwan, ranked 83.

Twenty-year-old Stefanie Vögele, ranked 86, almost pulled off a coup against 27th-seed Maria Kirilenko from Russia, but eventually went down 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Switzerland's second-best men's player, Stanislas Wawrinka, who partnered Federer to Olympic glory in Beijing in 2008, also had a day to forget.

The 20th seed was beaten in five sets 6-7, 6-1, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 by Denis Istomin, ranked 70 in the world.

Switzerland’s third male player is Marco Chiudinelli (ranked 61), whose first opponent is Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov (ranked 43). Timea Bacsinszky (ranked 39) rounds off this year’s Swiss delegation to London.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

In brief

In 2001 Federer ended Pete Sampras's 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon in the fourth round of the tournament.

By winning Wimbledon in 2003, Federer joined Stefan Edberg, Pat Cash and Björn Borg as the only players to win both the juniors' and men's Wimbledon championships.

Federer won five consecutive men's singles titles at Wimbledon (2003-2007), a feat only ever accomplished by Borg.

Pete Sampras holds the record for the total number of Wimbledon wins in the modern era with seven.

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