Six—time champion Roger Federer flirted with one of the biggest potential losses of his career before recovering to overhaul Colombian Alejandro Falla 5—7, 4—6, 6—4, 7—6 (7—1), 6—0 to survive into the second round at Wimbledon on Monday. The huge effort was Federer’s first recovery from two sets to love down since the Miami final against Rafael Nadal in 2005.
“I got lucky out there,” said Federer. “Ive lost a lot of matches this year I should have won. This was one I should have lost. “But I came through. It was a tough loss for him, an amazing one for me.” The success prevented the third first—round loss by a defending champion in the event’s 124—year after Lleyton Hewitt in 2003 and Manolo Santana in 1967.
Federer, winner of six of the previous seven editions, last lost in the first round of Wimbledon in 2002 against Mario Ancic. He was last beaten in a Grand Slam first round at the 2003 French Open by Luis Horna of Peru.
The 16—time Grand Slam champion failed to show the consistent spark which has characterised his past performances on the grass. He saved four break points trailing by two sets and at 4—4 to scrape to a 5—4 lead before hanging on to claim the must—win set a game later.
On four occasions, the top seed stood five points from ignominious defeat. Falla even served for victory leading 5—4 in the fourth set.
After winning the third, Federer’s form still failed to immediately lift as he struck three double faults to lose serve in the opening game of the fourth set.
Falla, ranked 65th, failed to crack, serving up a love game for 4—2 in the fourth set. Federer missed on a break point chance in the eighth game to trail 3—5 on a backhand error.
But the Swiss heroically set up two break points after following in a drop shot and sending a winner to the open court. Falla served an ace to save the first but returned long to lose his break, 5—5.
But even as he looked to be getting back onto safe ground, Federer had to save a break point in the next game before winning with a stunning drop shot, 6—5 only to see Falla take it into a tiebreaker.
The Swiss finally began to find his touch with a runaway 7—1 tiebreaker which levelled at two sets each after almost three hours.
With his rhythm picking up, Federer began the fifth set with a break as his opponent’s confidence looked like starting to subside.
The top seed raced to 5—0 as a thundering centre court crowd cheered his comeback effort against a man who play the best match of his career and whose best showing to date was a Lyon semi—final three years ago.
Federer closed out a dramatic day as he served out the victory and lived to continue the fight for a record—equalling seventh Wimbledon title, the pair walking off to a standing ovation.
The Swiss and the South American have played twice before in the past month, with Federer winning in the French Open second round and 11 days ago on grass in Halle, Germany, where he lost the final to Lleyton Hewitt.
Before Monday, Falla had broken Falla in only one game in four matches.
“I’ve not been behind two sets to love in a Grand Slam in maybe six years,” said relieved Federer. “It was a shock and not something I was prepared for, “But you use your experience and it pushes you through. I managed to pull it off. I was playing decent but he came up with good shots — all credit to him.
“I had a few chances in the first set, I struggled and he played well. He neutralised me from the baseline and put me under a lot of pressure.”
Three-time finalist Andy Roddick rushed through over Rajeev Ram 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, while German Florian Mayer upset Croatian 11th seed Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).
Lleyton Hewitt, 2002 champion and 15th seed, recovered after losing the opening set to Argentine Maximo Gonzalez 5-7, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.