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Wimbledon: Roger Federer-Alejandro Falla as it happened

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By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 6-0 Falla
Sympathy from the crowd as Falla somehow fetches a volley back, only to see it disappearing back past him before his follow-through is even complete. A brutal forehand cross-court seals the deal, and Centre Court is on its feet - wonderful start from Alejandro Falla, stirring comeback, fantastic first match. Three hours and 18 minutes, and if you saw that coming you're a better man than me. The players clasp hands and shake their heads, cheers ringing in their ears, sling bags over shoulders and stroll off. Appetites whetted?

* Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 5-0 Falla
It's all falling apart for the plucky underdog (TM). His legs have gone, his spirit battered and bruised, and Federer dissects what remains of his game with the cold-hearted ruthlessness.

Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 4-0 Falla *
Ace, return into the net, crashing first serve, netted return. Beads of sweat beads march down the the Falla nose, and the end is upon us.

John McEnroe on BBC TV: "It's taken a long time but finally Federer has the lead here. Who'd have thought it would have taken three hours?"

* Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 3-0 Falla
Federer tucks a stray strand of hair back behind his hairband, blows softly on his fingertips and crouches low. That drop-shot has been a weapon all day long, and it takes him to another break point - saved on the stretch with a well set up overhead by Falla. A flicking backhand catches the Colombian leaden-footed to set up another - saved with another - before the tension is broken by a stray ball battering into the body of an unlucky line judge. Falla goes wide into the right-hand tramlines to offer up another break point - taken with a devastating backhand drive down the line. Falla's brave resistance may just have been broken for good.

Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 2-0 Falla *
It's coming easier and easier for the six-time champion now, the serves smoother, the drop-shots more devilish still. Hold in half the time, and the crowd are right behind Federer now - they'd backed Falla all the way to the brink, but the response from Roger has won over even the most upset-hungry spectator.

* Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 1-0 Falla
Roger jogs off for a courtesy break of his own, and Falla is left alone on his chair to contemplate the might-have-beens. Does he have any still-could-be's left in the locker? Not on the evidence of this - Federer comes out of the, ah, traps at pace, climbing into the Falla serve, nagging with slices, tormenting with forehand foils. Break snatched away - is that the beginning of the end?

FOURTH SET

Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 Falla
Now then. Chants of "Roger! Roger!" break out around the rapt stands. Can this really be the first match on the first day of the first week? Federer is the first to pounce, forcing an error from Falla on the forehand and then another to double the volume of those cheers. Dear oh dear - wide wide wide from Falla, and suddenly he's staring at 5-1. Expectant hush around Centre - broken by throaty roars as Falla duffs a backhand into the net. Federer must seem twice the size of a normal man now from across the divide - whippy topspin, Falla nowhere, and we're into a fifth.

Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 6-6 Falla
Mirka has her hands clasped together in supplication, her forearms resting on the polished balustrade at the front of the Royal Box. When Falla goes long to bring up 30-30 her prayers seem to be answered, and when Federer steps into a backhand with court wide open the set seems gone, only for Falla to sprint cross-court and whip a forehand down the line. Tie-break!

Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 6-5 Falla *
Neither man will lie down, neither can grab the killer hold. Federer seems to have the set at his fingertips, but Falla keeps crunching those forehands and chasing down those topspins. Somehow he fights his way through to break point, only to flail into the tramlines with options either side. Roger now - that is an unbelievable drop-shot to produce at this stage of this match, so much disguise on it that it might as well be wearing a false nose and moustache. Now Falla must hold to stay in the set.

* Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 5-5 Falla
The biggest single game of Falla's career. Can he stay strong? Oh, nervy - flapped into the tramlines, thunked into the net. 0-30, and Federer licks his lips. Better power on the serve, and Fed can only flail into the tape. Federer again - oh, he's dinked in a dropper - Falla sprints in, somehow gets his racquet under the ball and flips it cross-court, but Roger has anticipated and is there on the stretch to push the volley into the open spaces. Break-back point - exchange of slices, then cautious forehand topspins, then WALLOP - crunching forehand from Fed that almost sets fire to the turf. He's pulled it back from the brink...

Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 4-5 Falla *
It'll come down to the Falla serve, and the Falla mental strength - Fed holds in the blink of an eye. Here we go...

* Federer 5-7 4-6 6-4 3-5 Falla
Falla having so much joy here with the sliced serve to Federer's backhand. With monumental effort the reigning champ drags himself to a break point, but he just can't cope with those low-slung sliders - Falla wriggles off the hook, and he's a game from the biggest upset at Wimbledon in a generation.

Federer 3-4 Falla *
Mirka hunches forward in her chair, mirroring the body language of thousands of others all around her. Her beau takes a deep breath and pulls Falla from side to side, dragging him to distraction before applying the coup de grace with a flicking-wrist forehand.

* Federer 2-4 Falla
Three errors from Federer so shocking that you're tempted to pinch yourself. It's like he's been possessed by the spirit of Alex Bogdanovic - tossing away points with baffling boo-boos, staring up at the skies as if searching for an answer up there in the cotton-wool clouds.

Federer 2-3 Falla *
Bright sunshine now over Centre Court, the grass glaring bright and the white net-cord standing stark. Federer hangs on, his forehand somehow looking mediocre in comparison to Falla's battering ram. Federer glides to his chair, chasing yet chastened, and draws a giddy whoop from a gaggle of wide-eyed ladies by removing his sodden shirt and replacing it with a box-fresher.

* Federer 1-3 Falla
Ridiculous one moment, sublime the next - Federer's swinging from one extreme to the other, and he stares at his racquet strings with something approaching horror. Woeful wafter long, sensational forehand-volley combo, but the Falla forehand is a thing of wonder at the moment - serve held again, and the chances are starting to run out for the champ.

Federer 1-2 Falla *
Federer has never come back from two sets down at Wimbledon to win. Generally he hasn't had to, and when he has, Rafa was standing on the other side of the net waiting for him. He gets a foothold in the set at last, but absolutely nothing is coming easy for him at the moment. Packed on Centre Court, rammed on Henman Hill.

* Federer 0-2 Falla
Falla's a huge U2 fan, I'm told, but from the look of that game he's very much found what he was looking for, possibly in that locker-room toilet cubicle. Another crunching backhand, the backswing truncated, the result devastating - he's held onto the break, and this remarkable match takes another unforeseen turn.

Federer 0-1 Falla *
Falla trudges off for a courtesy break, head bowed, and you could forgive him for shutting the cubicle door and repeatedly punching the wall like La Motta/De Niro in Raging Bull while shouting "0-40! 0-40!" again and again. Strange re-start from Roger, double-faulting with uncharacteristic mis-timing, and almost by stealth Falla has a break point. Devilish forehands - he's got Roger on the run here, and he just needs to put away this overhead - oof, feeble, and Federer is back in the poi... no he's not, that's a sensational forehand winner. Falla, ready to be written off by all around, has stolen another break...

THIRD SET

Federer 6-4 Falla
Now it's Falla's turn to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, tightening up and listing at 30-30. He scampers round to a forehand and blasts it long - he'll challenge it, but that looked long to me - yup, by three inches, and Federer suddenly has set point. First serve wide - he'll challenge that too, but it'll do nothing but illustrate his own nervousness. Federer in control, fizzing a backhand cross-court - oh, wonderful forehand whipped into the corner! Deuce. Falla now - no no, all that good work wasted with a limp backhand into the net. Roger clambering all over him now, and he steps into a backhand - bang, hammered cross court, and a man with arm extensions couldn't reach that one. Federer has snatched the set - is that the match with it too?

Federer 5-4 Falla *
Falla is blazing, firing bombs left right and centre - 0-15, mistake, 0-30, rapier forehand - three break points! Hands being stuffed into mouths all around - big serve, one saved. Big serve, weak volley from Falla - another saved. This is the one - Federer, staring into the abyss - Falla.... nets! This time he grabs control of the point, dragging Federer around the court, pulling him into the net with a cunning dropper - Fed stoops forward to flick it up, Falla reflexes it back and Fed is there to smash away an instant backhand smash. In that moment has he saved his championship skin?

* Federer 4-4 Falla
Anything you can do, mutters Falla - rapid-fire hold of his own, and we're inching towards a tie-break...

Federer 4-3 Falla *
Has the balance started to shift? Love hold for Fed in the time it takes to type this sentence. Not a single person moving in the crowd. Bladders can wait.

* Federer 3-3 Falla
Gutsy, gutsy serving from the Colombian. He's clearly struggling, the world no. 65, but adrenaline can be a wonderful pain-killer. Should Fed steal this set, however, you'd have to look at a five-set comeback win with fresh eyes.

Federer 3-2 Falla *
Federer has his arms hanging limply by his sides, a pictionary illustration of bafflement. He noses back in front as Falla starts to labour, and you wonder what effect this injury is starting to have on the challenger - the trainer is poised to run back on at the changeover, and the elbow will sink deep into the back of the leg again. Hamstring area , it looks like, and that's a nightmare on this green-topped lush grass court.

* Federer 2-2 Falla
The service speed is down again - Falla had been landing them consistently around the 120 mph mark, but they've dropped back down to 109 mph, and Federer can take full advantage. 0-30 and trouble for the upstart - but that's dismal from the once-imperious Fed, clattering a forehand into the net and then booming another so long and loopy that it draws gasps of astonishment from the crowd. Is that the first strains of the Frog Chorus I can hear?

Federer 2-1 Falla *
Federer finally shows a flash of the old magic, creaming an elegant forehand down the line with the precision of a laser-cutter. Falla's limping again, I fear - yup, the trainer will be summoned again, and as Roger buries his regal head under a towel, the Columbian lies prone with the trainer's elbow working deep into the powerful muscles of his left leg.

* Federer 1-1 Falla
Let's see how the Falla groin will hold up - there's a certain bite lacking from his serve all of a sudden, but whether that's the injury, the tension, the sight of Federer down on one metaphorical knee like a battered boxer taking a count... the groundstrokes are still snappy, though, the angle still there and the whip on that forehand.

Federer 1-0 Falla *
Uproar on Centre. What's this, though - the trainer has come on for Falla, and it looks like he's having problems with his groin. Not now, Alejandro, surely... Federer holds, but the Swiss has a mountain to climb. Last defending men's champ to go out in the first round? Hewitt, back in 2003, but it's only happened twice in history...

John McEnroe on BBC TV: "It is just astounding to believe that the defending champoion is a set away from losing in the first round. To be quite honest it is not the worst I have ever seen him play - this guy is outplaying him."

SECOND SET

Federer 4-6 Falla
The pressure hangs heavy in the Wimbledon air as Falla bounces the ball once, twice at his feet and prepares to serve. Ach, what's he doing? Overhead, begging to be put away, but he changes his mind mid-swipe and lets it bounce before putting it wide. Break point... saved! as Fed goes long. Solid serving now, and that'll be set point - oh, wonderful running backhand pass from Fed that dips onto the line like a swooping swallow. Tension shackling both players now like poison ivy - mistake, counter, mistake - another set point after Fed fluffs another forehand into the divider. Falla forces Fed wide - he's at the net, Fed in Tooting - simple volley into the wide open spaces, and he's done it! Falla leads defending champion Roger Federer by two sets - I can't believe what my eyes are telling me...

John McEnroe on BBC TV: "Falla's obviously in the zone and Roger has to figure out a way to get out of it - whether it is to up his intensity or change his tactics. To Falla's credit he seems to be doing everything well. This is getting a little bit desperate for Roger now and he will not want to go two sets down."


Federer 4-5 Falla *
Anger courses through the champion's veins. That's a huge serve, up around the 130 mph mark, as fast as he ever lets them go - and that's a brutal kicker, right down at 90 mph but spinning and spitting like a Warnie leg-break. He stays alive - can Falla now keep his head strong to seal the second set?

* Federer 3-5 Falla
It could, you know - Falla, nine and nine on tour this year, is hitting forehands like the Fed of old. At 40-15 he's cruising, only for the reality of the situation to suddenly grab him round the throat and start shaking. That's a nervous error, his shoulder seeming to tighten, and at 30-30 Federer smells a sniff. He waits for another error on the next point, content to stay in the point, bit that won't work - not against Falla today. Crashing forehand, and then another - he's held onto the break, and now Fed must hold serve to save the set...

Federer 3-4 Falla *
On one side of the net, Falla; on the other, Fallible. Error follows error from Federer, and to gasps of astonishment from all around, he slips to 15-40. Falla is always in the point, dipping topspin forehands over the net, drilling backhads - Roger's netted again! He used to make those forehands in his sleep - the break has gone, the first set has gone. Extraordinary scenes, and Centre Court agog. It couldn't happen, could it? Could it?

* Federer 3-3 Falla
There's a shot at 40-30 Falla that seems to sum it all up - Federer is running onto a mid-court forehand, the ball sitting up with 'hit me' written all over it, and he drags it into the net. It's all Falla can do not to rub his hands with glee.

Federer 3-2 Falla *
Seven years since Roger lost the first set of his opening match at Wimbledon. It's like watching Paul McCartney in 1972 - some of the old melodic magic is still there, but the unquestionable genius of previous years has gone. It's no Frog Chorus, not quite yet, but neither is it Yesterday.

* Federer 2-2 Falla
Curiouser and curiouser - three consecutive backhand errors from Federer, finding the net with a lame flapper with successive shots and then wafting way wide. Mirka hunkers down behind her outsized shades; Mama and Papa Fed grimace and beetle their brows.

Federer 2-1 Falla *
Falla's only ever beaten a top ten player twice in his career, and not since 2007 - how long can he keep this level up for? Federer holds with an easy one at last, but he looks almost bemused - it's as if he's climbed into his Bentley, turned the ignition and found a Mini Metro engine under the bonnet instead.

* Federer 1-1 Falla
Falla's starting to enjoy himself out there - Fed can't get a foothold on his serve, and that's the easiest hold of the day. Roger's shirt sporting some dress-shirt style ruffles down the front - albeit muted - but they're not the only thing that's ruffled about him today.

Federer 1-0 Falla *
Let's have a look at the stats from that first set - Roger hit 15 winners compared to Falla's 11, but he also made twice as many unforced errors. Dear oh dear - another there from Fed, double-faulting with a shake of that shaggy mane, and when Falla whips another one of those double-fisted backhands cross-court it's 30-30. Better serving snuffs out the sparks, but there's a buzz of consternation around Centre - what's going on in the champ's mind?

FIRST SET

Federer 5-7 Falla
How will the six-time champ respond? Brilliantly, at first, tearing into Falla with ravenous rage, and that's a woeful backhand volley from the underdog - 0-30. Much better volleying this time, giving Fed no chance with a forehand dropper, and forcing an error to give himself an unthinkable set point. Big serve, he's in control of the point - Roger is scampering, and that forehand is sailing wide, wide... wide! Falla has the set!

Federer 5-6 Falla *
This wasn't in the script - Fed goes long with a regulation backhand, and when a whippy forehand pass leaves the champ leaden-footed, Falla has two break points. Oof - so close on the first, second-guessing a Rog smash but putting his reply onto the tape - but he's all over the Federer second serve now, pulling him this way and that before casually putting away the backhand winner. He's broken - one held service game away from a shock set lead...

* Federer 5-5 Falla
Throaty roar of approval as Falla responds with vim - he races to 40-0, keeps the head steady when Fed piles on the pressure at 40-15 and goes to his chair with a spring in his step and a glimmer of a smile on his chops.

Federer 5-4 Falla *
Now will come the test for Falla. Roger's only lost the first set once in his last seven opening matches at SW19, and Falla will now have to hold to give himself a chance of messing up that record.

* Federer 4-4 Falla
I think it's comedienne Miranda Hart. What do you mean, who? Like to see Sir Jackie's expression when he sits down next to her at afternoon tea. Loose from Fed, slicing a backhand into the tramlines and pacing around the baseline with loose-limbed anger.

Federer 4-3 Falla *
Crash - brutal ace down the middle. Bang - another acer, out wide this time. Falla finds a backhand return to the next one that's so sweetly hit it almost knocks Roger off his feet, but he might as well whistle Dixie at the next one. Sir Jackie Stewart in the Royal Box, but who's that a few seats back from him?

Federer * 3-3 Falla
Lars Graff in the umpire's chair today - he's the one with the swept-back black hair who looks like one of Al Capone's angrier henchmen. He sneers with disdain at another challenge, but Falla's called that one right - level pegs, and we have a match.

Federer 3-2 Falla *
The most successful current player on grass? Not Fed, doncha know, but Lleyton Hewitt. As if to cock a snoop at his conqueror in Halle, Fed races through his service game with all the stress of a man asleep in front of Antiques Roadshow.

Federer * 2-2 Falla
Falla trying to mix things up on the serve again, but he's getting drawn into a groundstroke duel - Fed wastes a challenge on a line-judge call and sniffs in dismissive fashion, but then forces a forehand error to set up his first break point of the tournament. Falla adjusts his white cap, fires down a thumper of a first serve and then whips a backhand cross-court to get to deuce. Hello - that's even better, a backhand drop-volley at full stretch that climbs just over the net before dying a death on the lush turf.

Federer 2-1* Falla
Federer, floppy hair held back by the usual broad headband - oh, that's a delightful forehand, the racquet speed frightening, the effect on Falla like a snake-charmer's whistle on a python. Hold on - his shoes are monogrammed. Almost makes up for the chunky cardie, but not quite.

Federer * 1-1 Falla
Sliced serve out wide from Falla, competing at his sixth Wimbledon, and those are nice Nadalesque tactics. Fed drills a dreamy forehand deep and comes in to punch away a backhand volley, but Falla lands another meaty first serve to bring himself level. Respectful rather than racy atmos around Centre at the mo - think Joan Baez in concert at the Carnegie Hall in 1965 rather than Beatles at Shea Stadium.

Federer 1-0 Falla *
Mrs Mirka Fed up there in the VIP slots too, and she allows herself a cheeky smile as her beau blasts his way to 40-0 with silky serving. That's nice from the leftie, forcing an error with a rapacious forehand, but when another bites net the game is bagged.

* denotes next server

1307: Not quite a full house yet, and the sun's just slipped behind an obstinate cloud, but I'm nit-picking.

1303: Some background for you as the two players warm up - they've met four times previously, with Roger winning every one. They met in the second round here at Wimbledon six years ago (6-1 6-2 6-0) and at both Roland Garros and Halle this summer. It's a big ask for the Columbian world no. 65, in short.

1300: Here we go - the door to the players' locker-room is opening... and it's a white cardigan, high-collared, sleeves rolled up in the style of Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Touch disappointed with that, to be honest. Centre Court rises for King Roger and Alejandro Falla.

1258: Roger's mum and dad there in the Royal Box - Lynette and Robert, if you want to introduce yourself later. The happy couple reportedly met on a pharmaceutical business trip, as is so often the way.

1257: And now some more, slightly louder in volume, for the line judges, dressed as ever like guests arriving for one of Jay Gatsby's infamous swinging soirees.

1256: Excited applause from the arrivistes around Centre as the ball-boys and girls trot out, caps pulled low and hands clasped behind backs

1254: My cash is on a sleeveless thin-knit jumper - what the fashion supplements refer to as a gilet, and what my mum calls a tank-top.

1251: Maybe he'll be sporting a pair of cream spats that he'll then yank off in one movement and wave round his head, in the style of a male stripper, to reveal budgie-smuggler shorts. Monogrammed budgie-smuggler shorts.

1250: Monogrammed blazer. Cable-knit cardie. Bling-a-ding-dong gold-piped tracksuit. What's Roger got up his sleeves - or rather, on them - this year?



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