Monday, June 21, 2010
Falla finds a claim to fame
By Kamakshi Tandon, ESPN.com
Alejandro Falla is a name that most people's eyes skip over on a draw sheet unless they happen to be searching for hit singles by Lady Gaga.
But not Roger Federer, who keeps finding Falla's name next to his own at tournaments these days. The two have played three times during the past two weeks, with Falla serving for the first set before losing 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4 at the French Open and Federer dominating their Halle, Germany, encounter 6-1, 6-2.
Their latest battle was the most titanic yet, kicking off proceedings on Centre Court at Wimbledon in memorable fashion. Federer battled back from two sets and triple break point down to win 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-0.
"Everybody wants to play Federer, but three times in one month is a lot," Falla said ruefully.
Clearly, Falla has learned a few things along the way.
Falla is a 26-year-old left-hander from Columbia who comes from a typical tennis background and came up through the ranks in a typical way. His father teaches tennis in Florida, and he trains with a team that has worked with several Colombian pros. His world ranking is No. 60, hovering around the career high he reached earlier this year. But now, he has a definite claim to fame.
On Monday, there was a hush across Wimbledon as Falla pushed six-time champ Federer closer and closer to the brink of defeat with some wily serving and daring forehands to go with his favored backhand. If the ATP's website had a list of top trending topics, Falla would have topped it from the time he took the first set -- out of nowhere -- in 1 hour, 48 minutes until the air went out of his balloon in the fifth set 2 hours, 48 minutes later.
"Probably the most important for me is that every match I played him has been better for me," Falla said. "I've got to keep working because I have to improve still a few things. But I'm happy because I play very well today."
In that case, Federer had better watch out the next time they play.
After getting thumped in Halle on Federer's favorite grass-court surface, Falla noted that Federer had troubled him time and time again by slicing the ball to Falla's forehand. So when he saw Federer's name beside his own again at Wimbledon, Falla rounded up Sergiy Stakhovsky for some quick, last-minute practice on dealing with that play. "It worked perfect for me," Falla said.
In an interview with ESPN.com after their match at the French Open, Falla said he had a checklist of things he wanted to do:
• Play aggressively
• Move his legs, because usually when you're nervous you don't move your legs and you start missing a lot
• Keep him just playing from the baseline, go to his backhand
• Be aggressive with the return
And more than anything, "You have to take any chance you have against Federer or [Rafael] Nadal or these guys, you have to take because they're not going to give you more than one or two chances."
That's what Falla couldn't do that day, and that's what he couldn't do on Monday, going down in Wimbledon history as one of the great near misses rather than one of the great upsets.
But he's taken heart from his performances. "I think today is a special day for me in tennis, even if I lost that match," he said Monday. "Not [many] can say, 'I was serving for the match against Federer.'"