On a surface he rules, at a tournament he owns, against an opponent he dominates, Federer found himself in serious trouble Monday: He dropped the first two sets against 60th-ranked Alejandro Falla of Colombia, then was a mere three points from losing in the first round of Wimbledon.
"I had Federer against the ropes," Falla said later.
Eventually, the unheralded Falla succumbed to some jitters. Six-time Wimbledon champion Federer called upon his experience, summoned his customary excellence, overcame the daunting deficit and pulled away for a 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-0 win in the event's opening Centre Court match.
"You definitely feel, you know, uncomfortable, because if you're used to being down the whole time, your whole life, it's something that's kind of normal. For me, it's not normal to be down two sets to love, especially at Wimbledon and early on in Grand Slams. It's something I'm not quite used to," said the top-seeded Federer, who hurt himself with seven double-faults. "But still, I was able to find a way. That's most important right now. Doesn't matter how I felt out there. Didn't feel great, that's for sure."
Had Falla finished off Federer, it would have been one of the most stunning upsets in the history of tennis - perhaps the most stunning, taking into account the participants, the setting and the round.
Not sure? Consider the players' resumes entering the day: Federer was 92-13 for his career on grass, including 76-2 since 2003; Falla was 7-11.
Federer was 51-5 for his career at Wimbledon, with those six championships and a record seven consecutive finals appearances; Falla was 3-5 and never got past the second round at the All England Club.
Federer was 199-28 with a record 16 titles in Grand Slam action and reached the final at 18 of the past 20 major tournaments; Falla was 11-14, making it as far as the third round at a Slam only once.
All of that is why this match was the talk of Day 1 at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament, with players gathering around televisions in the locker rooms to catch a glimpse.
"I don't think anyone expected it," said No. 5 Andy Roddick, a three-time Wimbledon runner-up who beat Rajeev Ram of Carmel, Ind., 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, later Monday. "Everyone was pretty surprised, especially when it became very, very real there in the latter stages."
The seeded men who exited were No. 11 Marin Cilic, No. 17 Ivan Ljubicic, No. 20 Stanislas Wawrinka and No. 30 Tommy Robredo. No. 3 Novak Djokovic appeared on his way to joining them, but he came back to beat Olivier Rochus of Belgium, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
There was one surprise of significance in the women's draw: Fifth-seeded Francesca Schiavone of Italy lost to 47th-ranked Vera Dushevina of Russia, 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-1, making Schiavone only the second reigning French Open women's champion to lose in the first round at Wimbledon in the 42-year Open era.
The only other time a French Open champ bowed out in her opening Wimbledon match was in 2005, when it happened to Justine Henin.