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ROGER FEDERER received a standing ovation as he returned to Wimbledon to lead a celebration to mark 100 years of Centre Court yesterday.
Absent from the tournament this year for the first time since 1997 as he continues his recovery from knee surgery, the 40-year-old Swiss took the biggest cheer in a parade of tennis’s big cheeses.
Close to 30 singles winners including Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Venus Williams, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray stepped out to applause.
Federer has not played a match since losing to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals here 12 months ago but is still targeting a comeback, which looks set to begin at the Laver Cup in London in September.
Sue Barker and three-time champion John McEnroe presented the cringe-inducing made-for-TV show, which included “Peter Pan of pop” Cliff Richard, 81, reprising his famous 1996 rain-break singalong of Summer Holiday.
Organisers might have been apprehensive about the reception three-time singles champion Margaret Court, who has been widely criticised for her views on gay marriage, would receive but, this being Wimbledon, there was polite applause.
Notable absentees included seven-time singles champions Pete Sampras and Serena Williams and nine-time winner Martina Navratilova, who has been forced to stay away from the All England Club after testing positive for coronavirus.
In contrast to yesterday’s back-slapping and bonhomie, Saturday’s standout match was a stormy affair in the men’s singles between Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and unseeded Nick Kyrgios, the seemingly-always-in-trouble Australian.
Tsitsipas branded Kyrgios evil and a bully after their third-round match, calling for Kyrgios’s behaviour to be clamped down on after falling to a four-set defeat; the Australian referred to his opponent as “soft” in response.
During the court one encounter, Kyrgios demanded Tsitsipas be defaulted for hitting a ball into the crowd when he lost the second set.
Kyrgios, who was given a warning for swearing, argued furiously with the umpire and then the supervisor, but it was Tsitsipas who later received a point penalty for launching a second ball towards the wall in frustration.
Tsitsipas admitted deliberately trying to hit the constantly chuntering Kyrgios with the ball during rallies “just to stop” him. “Every single point that I played today I feel like there was something going on on the other side of the net,” said the 23-year-old.
“There is no other player that does this. There is no other player that is so upset and frustrated all the time with something. It triggers it so easy and so fast.
“I really hope all us players can come up with something and make this a cleaner version of our sport, have this kind of behaviour not accepted, not allowed, not tolerated, and move on better.”
Tsitsipas, who shared a frosty handshake with his opponent at the end, added: “It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does. He bullies the opponents.
“He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people that put other people down.
“He has some good traits in his character, as well. But he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”
Kyrgios played some breathtaking shots in his 6-7 (2) 6-4 6-3 7-6 (7) victory and looks a good outside prospect on his side of the draw. But as usual his behaviour overshadowed his tennis.
He said: “I’m not sure how I bullied him. He was the one hitting balls at me, he was the one that hit a spectator, he was the one that smacked it out of the stadium.
“I had no anger towards Stef today on the match. I don’t know where it’s coming from, to be honest. If he’s affected by that today, then that’s what’s holding him back. I just think it’s soft.”
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