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Willis fairytale is over: Federer beats qualifier in 3 sets

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LONDON — Roger Federer was not about to let this feel-good story spoil his own Wimbledon.

The seven-time champion – perhaps the greatest player of all time – showed little mercy Wednesday against Marcus Willis, a 772nd-ranked British qualifier who had never won a tour-level match until this week and has captivated the home nation with his improbable run.

Putting aside sentimentality and ignoring the carnival-like atmosphere, Federer won the first seven games and sailed to a 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 victory in a second-round match played under the Centre Court roof on another rainy day at the All England Club.

“It was very refreshing to play against an opponent like this,” Federer said. “I always knew it was going to be a completely different match than everything that I’ve played before here at Wimbledon.”

He compared it to the time he walked out to play Pete Sampras on Centre Court in 2001.

“`I remember how nervous I was and how big a deal it was,” Federer said. “You had nothing to lose and you could just go out there and enjoy yourself. Marcus did that wonderfully.”

While Willis savored the moment – smiling, laughing and playing to the raucous crowd throughout the match – there was never much doubt about the outcome.

“I was enjoying it out there,” Willis said. “If I’m playing well and competing with Roger Federer for a couple of sets, I’m doing the right things. I’ve still got a lot to learn, a lot of improving to do.”

“It sounds funny,” he added, “but I’m disappointed to lose. I went out there trying to win.”

Willis, a 25-year-old lefthander, was the lowest-ranked qualifier to reach the second round of a Grand Slam since 1988. He has been giving tennis lessons at a club in central England, and he was only recently talked out of giving up on his goal of making it on the pro tour by his girlfriend.

Willis made the most of his time on the most famous stage in the sport. He celebrated winners by spreading his arms wide, holding up a fist or gesturing to his friends and family.

Willis did give Federer some trouble with his unorthodox game, using a single-handed backhand slice, angled drop shots and lobs. But Federer never got rattled and played his usual grass-court game.

Willis never broke Federer, though he did have two break points. Federer converted five of his 12 break point chances.

Federer enjoyed the moment, too, letting Willis walk onto the court ahead of him, giving him a warm pat and embrace at the net at the end of the match, and walking off side-by-side with him.

“As I was playing, I was thinking about the match,” Federer said. “I was thinking, `This is definitely one of the matches I’ll remember,’ because I start forgetting some. I’ll remember most of the Centre Court matches here at Wimbledon, but this one will stand out because it’s that special and probably not going to happen again for me to play against a guy 770 in the world.”

Earlier, two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic won his 30th straight match at a major tournament, sweeping into the third round with a clinical 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Adrian Mannarino.

The win gave Djokovic sole ownership of third place on the all-time list for most consecutive victories in Grand Slam play. Only Rod Laver with 31 and Don Budge with 37 have won more in a row.

Asked whether he was surprised to reach the 30-match mark, Djokovic said: “No, not so much, because I do have lots of expectations for myself.”

“But I’m very grateful obviously for the fact I’m able to play on such a high level consistently in the Grand Slam tournaments that matter the most in our sport,” he added. “Definitely that is a stat that I’m very proud of.”

Djokovic hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match since falling to Stan Wawrinka in the 2015 French Open final. He hasn’t dropped a set so far this week as he bids for a fourth Wimbledon title, fifth straight Grand Slam championship and 13th major overall.

Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who reached the women’s final here in 2012, overwhelmed Kateryna Kozlova 6-2, 6-1 in just over an hour to move into the second round.

Radwanska used her clever all-court game to thoroughly dominate the 97th-ranked Ukrainian, who was making her main draw debut at Wimbledon and has never won a Grand Slam match. Radwanska won the first four games and was always in control

 

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

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LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.

Former No. 1 Kerber tops Ostapenko; into second Wimbledon final

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LONDON – It was clear right from the opening game of Angelique Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal how things were going to go. She was not going to dictate or control much.

She was, instead, going to employ spectacular defense and solid, steady play, while letting her opponent, Jelena Ostapenko, be the one to determine the outcomes of nearly every point.

It worked. The 11th-seeded Kerber reached her second final at the All England Club by avoiding too many mistakes and using a seven-game run to seize control for a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 12th-seeded Ostapenko on Thursday.

“These are the matches I was working for as a young kid,” Kerber said, “and to stand here again in the final at Wimbledon is great.”

Kerber is a former No. 1 and a two-time major champion, both coming in 2016 at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. That was also the year the German was the runner-up at Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in the title match.

She could find herself up against Williams yet again: The 36-year-old American was scheduled to face No. 13 Julia Goerges of Germany in Thursday’s second semifinal on Centre Court.

Williams took a 19-match Wimbledon winning streak into the day. She won the grass-court tournament the last two times she played it, in 2015 and 2016, before missing it last year while pregnant. Williams gave birth to a daughter in September.

The left-handed Kerber was mainly a passive participant in the early going against Ostapenko. That first game consisted of eight points: Three were unforced errors by Ostapenko, including a double-fault to begin the proceedings; the other five were winners by her, including a 100 mph ace to close the hold.

Five games in, Ostapenko led 3-2, and the numbers were still tilted toward her. She had 14 winners and 10 unforced errors, while Kerber had three winners and – this was key – zero unforced errors.

There were no drawn-out points in the early going, no lengthy baseline exchanges, essentially because Ostapenko wouldn’t allow it. The Latvian plays an aggressive brand of first-strike tennis that carried her to the 2017 French Open title as an unseeded 20-year-old.

Kerber, in contrast, bides her time, working the back of the court to get everything back over the net, often kneeling to get low enough to reach shots.

Eventually, Kerber’s style ruled the day. She went on a half-hour run in which she took the last four games of the first set and took a 3-0 lead in the second. Ostapenko’s strokes were missing and she grew increasingly frustrated, slapping a thigh after a miss or leaning forward and putting her hands on her knees after others. By the time she flubbed a backhand while falling behind 5-1 in the second, she dropped her racket and screamed.

It took Kerber two tries to serve out the victory, getting broken to 5-2. But unlike in the quarterfinals, when she needed seven match points to win, this time it required only two, with the match ending – fittingly enough – on a forehand by Ostapenko that sailed wide.

The final tally told the story: Ostapenko had far more winners, 30-10, but also far more unforced errors, 36-7.