LONDON (Reuters) - Spaniard Feliciano Lopez has not beaten Roger Federer in 13 attempts but he finally got one over him on Tuesday without even needing to lay a glove on the Swiss great.
Impressive as it was there was nothing particularly noteworthy about Lopez’s straight-sets win over Federico Delbonis but just by walking on court he stole away one of Federer’s many records.
It meant he took his run of consecutive appearances in Grand Slam tournaments to 66, taking him ahead of Federer’s 65.
The way the elegant left-hander, ranked 70, eased past Delbonis suggests a streak that began at the 2001 French Open could continue for the foreseeable future — even if his immediate Wimbledon prospects look in peril with Juan Martin del Potro waiting for him in the second round.
“When I was about to break the record, I thought, wow, I’m going to beat Federer at something,” the 36-year-old Lopez told reporters after his 159th Grand Slam singles match.
“It’s only a number. I’m really proud of my consistency. It’s not about the number of Grand Slams played. It’s about how many years I have been playing at the top level.
“This is the most important thing.”
Perhaps surprisingly for a player with such a thoroughbred grasscourt game, Lopez has never been past the quarter-finals at Wimbledon or indeed any other Grand Slam.
But he says still being able to compete with the ‘monsters and animals’ he has battled for so long means a lot.
“The most important thing is to stay healthy and to be able to compete against these monsters, because for me I played in the past against other monsters.
“After reaching my 30s it was important for me to stay fresh and healthy, just to challenge these animals, because the level overall is getting higher and higher in the last decade.”
Federer, bidding for a ninth Wimbledon title and 21st Grand Slam in total, paid tribute to Lopez’s feat of endurance.
“I haven’t spoken to Feliciano about it. I’m happy for him,” Federer said on Monday. “Feliciano and me, we go way back to the Junior European Championships under-16 here in Hatfield, all the way to today. That we can talk about breaking each other’s records, him breaking mine, it’s a great thing.”
Lopez, whose biggest title came last year when he won the pre-Wimbledon tournament at Queen’s Club, says there is no secret to his reliability.
“I think it’s the way I play, I don’t play so many rallies. Also my technique. I play quite easy, so I don’t make a huge effort in every single shot that I play,” he said.
“I haven’t suffered any big injuries in my career.”
Lopez’s first Grand Slam appearance came in 2001 when he got thrashed by Carlos Moya in the French Open first round.
He has used his classic serve-and-volley game against all the greats since on all the biggest stages so is well placed to talk about the evolution of men’s tennis during his career.
“I think it’s a powerful game now compared to 15 or 20 years ago when I started playing,” he said.
“Also there is no players now that they specialise in one particular surface. I think the game has become more from the baseline in most of the courts.
“When I started playing it was the clay court players and the grass court and the hard court players. Now everybody plays more or less the same style.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon