Marina Erakovic's glassy eyes said it all. So did the steely determination in Roger Federer's voice.
They didn't share too much in common, but clearly they agreed. This Olympic tournament, plonked at a certain venue in leafy south-west London, is something special. Forget those soul-less, purpose-built venues of Beijing or Athens.
That made Erakovic's tame 6-2 6-1 first round defeat in just over an hour, to Canada's Aleksana Wozniak, so much tougher to stomach on a sunny morning. Her pained expression said it all. And the world No 46's voice cracked when she tried to put it into words.
"This only happens every four years and it will never happen at Wimbledon again, so that's why I'm really disappointed."
Wimbledon hummed with people, grateful for their second look in the space of a month. Centre court was packed with adoring fans who gave Federer a standing ovation for a regulation 6-2 6-2 win over Frenchman Julien Bennetau. Over on court 19, Erakovic and Wozniak played to around 40 people. Ivanovic versus Wozniacki may have drawn a few more.
Each had a smattering of supporters, some brandishing small New Zealand or Canada flags. Polite golf claps greeted each point. They were drowned out by the brash chanting of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie," and "We love you Lleyton, we do," from court 18 as Hewitt beat a little-known Ukranian in three sets.
So it was a big moment on a small stage for Erakovic. She was never in it, despite being ranked eight spots higher than the Canadian. She made error after error, 25 in all. "I came out against a player that was ripping some great shots and I just wasn't up to par today." Auckland beckons. She's had fun in the athletes' village but Erakovic hasn't been home since April and her grandmother isn't well.
To coin a phrase, Wimbledon was the same, but different. The white clothing was gone; national colours were in. Erakovic wore black and white; Serena Williams looked menacing in blue and white, with red on her head and wrists. Ball boys wore loud purple and red, each end of the court was glowing.
"The highlight for me is probably seeing Wimbledon in pink," Erakovic said, managing a smile.
But they were only cosmetic changes. The strawberries and cream, and crayfish sandwiches, were available in the media cafeteria (alas, they weren't free). The ivy still crept up the outside of centre court. And Federer was still king, as he was here a few weeks back. He addressed a packed media conference; an hour after Erakovic sat in a smaller room and chatted to three New Zealand reporters and one camera.
Wearing the red shirt of Switzerland, this title is massive for Federer. He hasn't won a singles gold, only the doubles four years ago. And his great rival Rafael Nadal is missing, through injury.
"It would be a dream come true. I got inspired by the 1992 victory by Marc Rosset out of nowhere really. That was huge news in Switzerland."
And the venue? "It was a big deal for us when the [London] bid was finally decided. Just that combination between Wimbledon and the Olympics has made it so special and unique. This is a really big thing."
They love him here, almost as much as their perennial semifinalist Andy Murray. If a random second round Federer victory gets the regulars this excited, they may lift the (retractable) roof when the medals are brought out this weekend.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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