LONDON - Roger Federer admitted he had struggled early on when South African Lloyd Harris came out firing in his first round match against the tournament's second seed on the Centre Court at Wimbledon on Tuesday afternoon.
Eventually after losing the first set, Federer finally found some of his true form and ran away with the match in four sets with Harris hampered by a calf injury he picked up.
“He kept me nervous for a set and a half. I struggled early on – felt a bit frozen, my legs weren’t going and it was a bit heavy out there,” Federer told the BBC as he came off Centre Court.
“Lloyd was hitting big and things were happening very quickly. Then I got into the match, but it took a big effort. Mentally I knew it was a long way to the finish-line for my opponent.
"This is where experience kicks in. I really had time to figure out - it was all about managing the nerves. I was disappointed not to play better from the get-go, but credit to him for swinging big.”
After Monday’s day of shocks, the Centre Court crowd was audibly antsy when Federer found the world No 87’s scorching serve too hot to handle during the first chapter.
That mattered more at 2-3 when the Swiss first couldn’t deal with a fluked return to his own serve, and then pushed a backhand into the net to give the break.
Those with long memories may know that Federer has not fallen at the first hurdle in any Grand Slam since Roland Garros 2003 – Luis Horna as the victor on that occasion – and last stumbled at Wimbledon in the first-round to Mario Ancic 17 years ago.
Surely it could not happen this time against the world No.87? Perhaps, as Federer has twice lost at Wimbledon to players ranked lower.
Ancic was No 165, while Sergiy Stakhovsky was No 116 when he dismissed Federer in the second round back in 2013.
But in the second-set Harris, the 22-year-old South African, saw his winning percentage off his first serve slump from 78 percent in the opening set to 33 percent, not least because Federer began playing more like… well, Federer.
The Swiss wrapped that one up in 22 minutes, and when Harris needed medical treatment to his left calf after losing the third stanza, it was clear the end was nigh.
Step forward Harris, on whom the majestic handle was optimistically bestowed by his Davis Cup teammates when he first made the South African squad in his late teens, having defeated a series of older and more experienced compatriots.
Clearly, the jolly band of wags who devised the moniker simply hadn’t planned for the day when Harris would find himself playing, of all people at all places, Federer on the Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Having lost in the first-round of qualifying at both Eastbourne and Halle, not only had Harris never won a tour level match on grass, he had not so much as even played one before this; although he did win a qualifying joust in Antalya two years ago.
Not an ideal scenario when facing an opponent who came into this contest with a career total of 95 match wins at Wimbledon alone, having just collected the 19th grass court title of his career at Halle.
Moreover, Harris has just two tour level wins to his name in 2019, one of which was his sole Grand Slam match victory to date, at Roland Garros last month.
Against the 20-time Grand Slam champion it didn’t bode awfully well, so his opening set adventures were all the more creditable.
Actually it’s been a good year for Harris. He won the Launceston Challenger and broke into the top-100 for the first time, coming into this match on a career-high ranking.
Harris will have learned much from playing one of the all-time greats in the first round here – not least that in the court of Federer, there is room for only one monarch.
African News Agency (ANA)