The first round of singles action is complete, and my tired eyes are somewhat relieved.
I watched more men’s matches than women’s on a jam-packed Tuesday – where press conferences were once again the breeding ground for viral footage, and Centre Court witnessed two consecutive retirements.
Washed down with personal opinion, here are the day’s biggest talking points.
IN THE MOST PHYSICAL BATTLES, MENTALITY IS STILL THE DEFINING FACTOR. (Related scoreline: Juan Martin Del Potro  d. Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-3 3-6 7-6(2) 6-4.)
If any match was to show just how pivotal a part of the game one’s mentality is, it was the first round collision between recently injured players Del Potro and Kokkinakis.
This one was always going to be a battle. There was no question. Del Potro spent three years sidelined with wrist injury before making a return last February, while Kokkinakis spiraled into depression during two years of turmoil that ended in May. Both men wanted this win badly, and their absences have instilled in them a passion and desire to fight harder than ever before for every point – and, consequently, every win.
For the opening set-and-a-half, Del Potro’s heavy shots had the distinct edge in proceedings. The Argentine has the sturdiness and force of an oak tree, and can thwack down balls from such a height that the recipient’s timing must be perfect at worst in order to compete.
Kokkinakis was not perfect in the opening stages. While he rallied intensely and tried to make inroads, his forehand – capable of real firepower – often let him down when he was on the front foot. The frustration was real, and Del Potro appeared firmly in the driver’s seat even as the second set remained on level terms: always the player to edge ahead as he carried the advantage of serving first.
But his opponent hung on in there even as he looked ready to drop off the cliff edge – enough so that the Aussie was able to pounce on the fraction of an opportunity. The match would then seesaw between the duo as each repeatedly shook off a mistake or capitalised on an opportunity, focusing only on the one point in front of them, whatever deficit they were facing.
The third set was the biggest display of this. Carrying momentum and racing around the court, Kokkinakis looked consistently controlled as he went up a break early on. But the 2009 US Open champion kept his head in every strike to level up – before his opponent again took up the warrior mantel: saving set points to hold for 5-5 and eventually force a tiebreak.
The Argentine’s mentality won him the 7-2 breaker. Kokkinakis’ stats on the set looked somewhat prettier: with 21 winners to nine unforced errors compared to Del Potro’s 18 winners to nine unforced errors. Nevertheless, two double faults in the tiebreak took a whack at his confidence. His more experienced foe was dialed in to land the sealing blows for a significant advantage.
Even then it was not over. When the bullet-like Del Potro serve is hammering down it is at least fearsome, at most impossible to combat. But there was a fierce look in Kokkinakis’ eyes and a fire in his shots as he saved match point after match point on the return in the final game of the fourth set, going for everything and never flinching.
He may have lost the match, but the Aussie consistently coming up with massive, biting serves under pressure – and wearing his heart on his sleeve in those closing stages – is what spectators will remember about his performance in the demanding three-hour-plus contest.
As this pair duelled on Court 2, Kokkinakis’ fellow Aussie Bernard Tomic – unseeded – was going down to no. 27 seed Mischa Zverev. That description hardly tells the whole story of the match-up. The 24-year-old was a winner in straight sets over the elder Zverev brother in Eastbourne last week, but succumbed in three sets on Tuesday.
When he came to serve to stay in the match, there was no doubt in my mind that the former quarterfinalist would get broken. It was not that he had been struggling to hang on throughout the set – because really, he had not. But the moment Tomic went down two sets to love, he might as well have thrown in the towel. The Aussie is the last person on tour to be known for his fight, and he looked at the mountain he would have to climb in order to get the victory – and he could not be bothered.
Had he hung on, he could easily have forced a tiebreak. And had he won that tiebreak, he would only have been one set from leveling. And if he had leveled, anything was possible.
That is why it is essential never to let your mind wander. Because you are always closer than you think. Every time Kokkinakis struggled through a service game in the second set, he was giving himself the opportunity to break the formidable Del Potro serve. And even if he could not manage it, an opportune tiebreak would have arrived.
It is vital to stay in the moment.
But on the subject of Bernard Tomic…
NO MOTIVATION. (Related scoreline: Mischa Zverev  d. Bernard Tomic 6-4 6-3 6-4.)
The never-ending saga of Bernard Tomic continues.
Since the louder, more talented and more interesting Nick Kyrgios emerged on the scene as an Aussie of controversial interest, the man who was once dubbed ‘Tomic the Tank Engine’ has never quite had the same appeal to the media. For people who enjoy highlighting the most minuscule of misdemeanours in dramatic headlines, this is something of a surprise. The 22-year-old Kyrgios has come on considerably over the past half year or so, and – as his forlorn departure from the Wimbledon first round at the hands of injury emphasises – the former breakout star does care about his tennis. He believes he can win, and he sure as heck wants to win. He cannot be bothered all the time, of course. There are still days when the Aussie walks onto court and is not feeling it and would rather be anywhere else. But at least at the Slams the hunger is there.
On the background of the tour, Tomic – whose loss streaks have extended – has not picked up wins to rival the magnitude of Kyrgios’, and even said earlier this year that he would “play tennis until he had earned enough money.”
It was back in January that the 24-year-old was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying:
“Tennis was so fun back in the day. At a young age you want to play for the joy, the competition. Now it’s a big business, and there’s just a lot of coin involved…”
He also said: “I still respect tennis 100 percent.”
After his lacklustre performance against Zverev, Tomic made a direct for the headlines with his most frank quotes in some time.
SPOILERS: Some things have changed since January.
In a press conference that went viral, the world no. 59 spoke openly about how he feels he currently lacks enough respect for the game.
Most importantly, he shared how – competing in the most prestigious event in the sport – he could not find the motivation to chase after the victory.
Beforehand, the Aussie’s failure to fulfil potential has been brushed aside. Perhaps there are those who still think he will come good. I, for one, know that he has the ability to achieve much more than he currently has done. And Tomic believes it himself. Just days ago, he was saying that his best tennis on this surface is top ten material.
Which is what makes it all the more concerning that the 6’5” right hander cannot find motivation in the Grand Slam event that heralds the most promise for him – especially after a decent showing in Eastbourne only last week. Frankly, Tomic seems to have no interest in tennis right now.
I am not here to criticise Tomic’s appearance in press. While I understand the outcry at his controversial statements, the guy was being completely honest. Do people want him to lie?
The issue here is how a talent like Tomic – who, like every other professional tennis player, has made sacrifices and worked incredibly hard to gain pro status – can lack desire at such a monumental event. And other comments that he made in press indicate a factor in his disinterest.
Asking Tomic whether he would consider giving back his prize money was an unnecessary question, at best, but the Aussie’s scatty response (which basically boiled down to ‘no’) was revealing.
“We all work for money,” he commented.
Except that the 24-year-old has basically admitted to letting the match go. Therefore he was hardly ‘working’. He was sitting waiting for the loss, and knowing he would walk away with £35,000 in his pocket.
For years, all the talk has been about equal prize money. How women should get paid as much as men, again and again, back and forth. But while many ranked outside the top 200 have a hard time making ends meet, the top of tennis is making life extremely comfortable for some. Laura Robson has not won a Grand Slam main draw match since the 2013 US Open, and she is yet to win a WTA main draw match this season. Yet thanks to a wild card entry, the 23-year-old was able to fall limply to the world no. 97 in round one of Wimbledon, and still return home £35,000 the richer.
Is it a wonder that she has barely improved over the past nine years?
If money is what motivates Bernard Tomic, it is no surprise that the Wimbledon title was not enough to tempt him. After all, he plans on playing ‘for another ten years’. And following that, he will ‘never have to work again’.
DEFENDING FINALIST. (Related scoreline: Angelique Kerber  d. Irina Falconi 6-4 6-4.)
There is a different feeling about Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon.
Before she rocketed to world no. 1 from nowhere, the German had picked up some of her best results on the lawns – including a run to the SW19 quarterfinals in 2014 that featured a defeat of Maria Sharapova. And last season she was at it again, taking down Simona Halep and Venus Williams en route to a final round loss to Serena.
The 2017 season so far for Kerber – given that she is the world’s top ranked player – has been nothing short of abysmal. The confidence which the previous year had instilled in her disintegrated as losses piled up – not helped by the new pressure she faced in the wake of her sudden success. By the time the French Open rolled around, her first round exit was more an expected occurrence than an upset.
Qualifier Irina Falconi – aged 27, ranked world no. 247 – might not be the best player to measure Kerber’s current form against. Nevertheless, the American – who is only 5’4” – is deceptively quick on her feet, and has good craft and control once she is up to a ball. Recently injured, she did not appear overly daunted by the renowned Wimbledon Centre Court.
Nevertheless, Kerber – while far from perfect – closed the win in straights, and looked more at ease than she did throughout much of the clay-court season. The faster pace of grass should aid her game as she looks to execute the low percentage angles and move her opposition around the court.
Compared to the past few months, at least, it’s a decent start.
CENTRE COURT CARNAGE! (Related results: Novak Djokovic  d. Martin Klizan 6-3 2-0; Roger Federer  d. Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3 3-0.)
Two former champions returned to Centre Court in quick succession. And each of them headed back to the locker room just as swiftly.
Slovakia’s Klizan – capable of firepower – and Ukraine’s Dolgopolov – carrier of lethal weapons – were interesting and promising first rounds draws for two of the fortnight’s leading title contenders (confirmed as such only after last week.) But their respective injuries meant that we never really saw the current states of either of the seeded players who took to court.
What can be assumed, however, is that this will become a positive for both players. Usually there is the question as to whether a player will get rusty.
Yet Novak Djokovic’s run to the Aegon International title mere days ago means he is likely welcoming some extra rest. And as for Roger Federer, the 35-year-old has said how he cannot afford to be engaging in regular five set encounters if he is to continue winning major titles. The Swiss star was hardly going to say it, but every little helps.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: I found Federer’s air and composure particularly impressive for the set of tennis he played on Tuesday. My main concern for the Australian Open champion was that he would pile the pressure (the lack of which had enabled him to triumph in Melbourne) on himself after skipping the clay-court season to be ready for the lawns. But having anointed himself heir to an eighth Wimbledon throne, Federer assumed the role. Dolgopolov was a dangerous foe, but the no. 3 seed did no go out there expecting a battle. He simply went out there to get it done as soon as possible.
And he is not going to mind having a helping hand in doing so.
FOR THE FULL LIST OF RESULTS FROM DAY TWO AT WIMBLEDON VISIT THE OFFICIAL TOURNAMENT WEBSITE.
Thanks for reading! Thoughts on Bernard Tomic’s current state? Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon chances after his recent title run? Let me know in the comments!