A fascinating first day at The Championships as spectators and tennis fans celebrated the return of Wimbledon action after losing their favourite tournament to the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the cancelation of the event last year by the AELTC.
I don't know why I keep on being asked. I want to keep on playing. I enjoy it and I can still play at the highest level. Andy Murray
There was certainly plenty of action across the board – some of it very unexpected.
For instance, seeing the defending champion, Novak Djokovic officially open the proceedings by losing the first set to British teenager Jack Draper and the one player expected to give the Serb trouble in the later stages of The Championships, Stefanos Tsitsipas, crash out.
The Greek’s premature and surprising exit however, is good news for the world number one who is eyeing a sixth Wimbledon crown and 20th Grand Slam title to draw level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s overall tallies of majors, for it means he has lost the highest seed, at No.3, he would have potentially had to face on his side of the draw.
The day itself started with threatening skies and soggy conditions forcing a five-hour delay on the outside courts but thankfully, the two main show courts have retractable rooves and they were quickly pressed into action justifying the investment made in them over the past few years.
The 6,500 spectators allowed into the 1,234-seater Centre Court, provided an atmosphere which was welcome to players who had missed their usual audiences and fans; and they gave a standing ovation to Professor Sarah Gilbert, one of the key scientists behind the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, who was a special guest in the Royal Box.
Also honoured were some NHS staff, nurses, members of London Transport and Hannah Ingram, the daughter of Captain Sir Tom Moore, who drank in the atmosphere, waving vigorously at the crowd.
The crowd also rose to welcome Djokovic and Draper in tribute to finally seeing normal service being resumed, albeit only partly with some Covid restrictions still being imposed.
At Wimbledon for instance, this year players are confined to a hotel ‘bubble’ in central London but despite the restrictions, there have been two virus-related withdrawals — Britain’s Johanna Konta and former men’s doubles champion Frederik Nielsen, both having been identified as having had close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.
“This is not unexpected. It’s terribly sad for the players but it’s something we plan for. We have protocols in place,” said All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton.
“The bubble makes it really tiring week by week,” commented 22-year-old Tsitsipas on the situation.
“It’s certainly very difficult when you know mentally, you’re going to go from one bubble, being in that bubble two and a half weeks, maybe even more than that, like close to a month, to be honest.
“Just like two weeks later you still have to undergo the same procedure and the same thing again. It’s just not easy. It’s a challenge on its own already.”
Djokovic, who is well known for his anti-vaccine stance, was asked what he thought about Professor Gilbert being in the Royal Box, responding by simply saying he didn’t know who she was!
So one year after the 2020 tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, defending champion and world number one Djokovic claimed a 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-2 victory over Britain’s 253rd-ranked Jack Draper, in front of the woman who had made the return to normal life possible!
Not long later, on Court No1, the third seed Tsitsipas, beaten by Djokovic in the French Open final just two weeks ago, slumped to his third first round defeat in four visits to the tournament, a 6-4 6-4 6-3 loss inflicted by American Frances Tiafoe, ranked 57.
No excuses from the Greek star who readily admitted he hadn’t had enough matches on the grass and wasn’t fully prepared to meet the onslaught from Tiafoe who enjoyed his moment.in the sun!
Tsitsipas, weary of life in the tennis bubble, admitted it had been a struggle.
“There have been times that I was much more motivated than this. But that’s no reason for me not to play well,” he said.
Then later that evening back on Centre, Andy Murray, the 2013 and 2016 champion, won his first Wimbledon singles match since 2017 with a 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-3 victory over the 24th seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, in what proved to be an emotional and edge-of-seat affair. Leading by two sets to love and 5-0 in the third, and holding two match points, the Briton completely lost his way to allow the Georgian back into the match.
A break to allow the roof to be closes as darkness drew in, regenerated him sufficiently to take the match in four to the delight of the crowd who had stayed to support him.
“I keep on being asked will it be my last match or my last Wimbledon,” he said on Monday.
“I don’t know why I keep on being asked. I want to keep on playing. I enjoy it and I can still play at the highest level.”
And long may that continue as he proved he can still beat higher ranked players despite carrying a steel hip.
Play on the outside courts started so late that 32 of the full day’s scheduled 64 matches were suspended overnight.
But some results were recorded with two seeds joining Tsitsipas and Basilashvili in the exit lounge of the singles draw.
Jannik Sinner, the exciting Italian teenager who has risen quickly up the rankings to be seeded 19, lost his opening round match against a tough Hungarian opponent Marton Fucsovics 5-7 6-3 7-5 6-3 in what proved a roller coaster of a match.
Sinner’s inexperience was exploited by Fucsovics but despite the defeat, the youngser still managed to impress with his resilience and fighting spirit over the two-hour and 45-minute match.
Also out is the Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, seeded 30, who was outlasted by the American ranked 114, Denis Kudla, 5-7 4-6 7-6(4) 6-4 6-3, who had profited by competing at the two Nottingham Challenger events in preparation for Wimbledon, defeating Dan Evans in the first of them when her reached the final losing to Tiafoe, and then reaching the last eight in the second.
On the plus side there were victories for Britain’s No.5 Liam Broady who took out Marco Cecchinato of Italy 6-3 6-4 6-0.
The 27-year-old had not won at SW19 since 2015, having lost in the first round in 2016 and 2018 and not qualified in 2017 and 2019, but on Monday he looked very much at home.
Broady broke the Italian’s spirit in the second set when Cecchinato was unable to break the Brit who simply romped home in the third with no real resistance being offered.
Also through is Andrey Rublev, the fifth seed from Russia, who came from behind to defeat Argentina’s Federico Delbonis 4-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 after two-hours and 15-minutes.
Rublev, this year’s Halle losing finalist, was in trouble in the opening set where he made 12 unforced errors but once the Russian tightened up his game he took control, losing his serve just once in the subsequent three sets.
The other winners of note on Day One include Roberto Bautista Agut, Kevin Anderson, Karen Khachanov, Vasek Pospisil, Andreas Seppi and Jiri Vesely.