Britain’s Sarah Beth Grey triumphed over both her health and an opponent at Wimbledon Qualifying in Roehampton on Tuesday, after the 26-year old’s on-court career hung in the balance 4 months ago because of a heart abnormality, and now edging out Australia’s Olivia Gadecki, 5-7 7-5 7-6 [10-7].
To come back and in one of my first tournaments to be in Wimbledon qualifying, I’m just over the moon. Sarah Beth Grey
Grey, who benefits from the LTA’s NTC Access programme, providing cost-free access to courts on all three surfaces, coaching, trainers and the LTA’s tournament bonus scheme, came through the marathon encounter in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying after 2 hours 42 minutes.
A routine ECG test in February picked up an abnormal heart rhythm with potentially dangerous consequences, leaving Grey in limbo.
“It’s amazing, especially because at the start of the year, I didn’t know if I’d be stepping on court again with the health problems I had with my heart,” she said. “I have to thank the LTA and their medical team for finding the problem, and they have been great helping me to get back on court.
“To come back and in one of my first tournaments to be in Wimbledon qualifying, I’m just over the moon.
“It was a big shock to begin with because in the last year or so, I felt I was in peak fitness of my career so far.
“To be told that something is not right with the heart, they picked up an abnormal heart rhythm which was potentially dangerous so they had to investigate further.
“At one point they weren’t sure which way it was going to go, it wasn’t looking too good to carry on but thankfully, they did a procedure and they were able to fix it.”
That procedure is known as a cardiac ablation, effectively scarring tissue in the heart to block irregular electrical currents.
Grey was never comfortable against her Australian opponent in a match that swung one way and then the other.
In the first set she broke back when Gadecki was serving for the set, only to drop serve immediately, and then went down a break in the second, only to fight back to take it to a decider.
It looked as though she was going to run away with it when she broke and served for the match at 5-3 but Gadecki broke back, with Grey then having to save break points at 5-5 and only pulling away to win the match in the closing stages of the match tiebreak.
She goes on to play Switzerland’s Lulu Sun in the second round of qualifying.
Meanwhile, Britain’s 14-year old Mimi Xu made her debut at Wimbledon qualifying after winning the 18 & Under Junior National Championships and becoming the Junior National champion in April.
The big-hitting teenager, who trains at the LTA’s National Academy in Loughborough, was eventually beaten 6-4 6-3 by American Hanna Chang.
“It probably wasn’t my best tennis but it was a step in the right direction so I’m happy with that,” said Xu after the match. “It was about embracing it. I really enjoyed it.
“There were always going to be a few nerves in the process leading up to it, but you have to accept that you are going to be nervous and find ways to conquer that.”
Elsewhere, former Grand Slam junior champions Daria Snigur and Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva kicked off their Wimbledon qualifying campaigns with wins, while Nadia Podoroska and CoCo Vandeweghe were also among Day 1’s victors.
No 7 seed Snigur was the girls’ winner at SW19 in 2019, and has continued to hit milestones on grass this year, the 130th-ranked Ukrainian qualifying for her WTA main draw debut in Nottingham two weeks ago, defeating Suzan Lamens from the Netherland, 7-5 6-1, to reach the second qualifying round.
Snigur got off to a slow start, falling behind 5-2 in the first set against the Dutchwoman, but once her flat strokes started finding the lines, the 20-year-old motored, saving a set point and roaring through 11 of the next 12 games.
Jimenez Kasintseva, the 31st seed and 2020 Australian Open junior titlist, was an efficient 6-3 6-3 winner in 78 minutes over Barbara Haas from Austria in the first professional grass-court match of her career as the 16-year-old Andorran had little trouble in adapting her thumping groundstrokes to grass.
No 21 seed Nastasja Schunk, last year’s junior Wimbledon runner-up, progressed 6-1 6-4 over Miriam Kolodziejova after the 18-year-old German made her Grand Slam main draw debut last month as a lucky loser at Roland Garros, where she took Simona Halep to three sets in the first round.
Former Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska won her first match in 10 months, taking out No 19 seed Asia Muhammad from the USA, 6-3 6-3, in an hour and 29 minutes.
The Argentine has been battling multiple injuries that have sidelined her since last year’s US Open, and her ranking has fallen to 177 from a career high of No 36 last September.
Also making her return to the Grand Slam stage was former US Open semi-finalist Yanina Wickmayer, who defeated 13th seed Julia Grabher, 6-4 7-6(4).
The Belgian returned from maternity leave this February, having given birth to daughter Luana last April.
Wickmayer, 32, is playing her first major qualifying competition since Roland Garros 2020, and is ranked 603 after reaching the Netanya ITF W25 final last month.
The longest match of Day 1 was won by No 12 seed Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, who held off 17-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova from Czech Republic, 2-6 6-4 7-6, in exactly 3 hours.
Both players were making their Wimbledon qualifying debuts, but it was the Frenchwoman who dominated proceedings with her forehand and touch.
Two of the Top 3 seeds also required match-tiebreaks to advance, with American CoCo Vandeweghe, seeded 2 and a two-time Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2015 and 2017, only just pulling through, 5-7 6-1 7-6 against unranked 16-year-old wild-card Ella McDonald.
Vandeweghe saved a match point serving at 4-5 in the third set and, in the breaker, the British teenager saved 6 match points in a row from 9-2 down before sending a volley long on the 7th.
In the last match of the day to finish, No 3 Mirjam Bjorklund from Sweden ended Italian Sara Errani’s career-best grass-court run, 6-4 6-7(7) 7-6.
Errani, a former World No 5, had reached her first grass-court final last week at the Gaiba WTA 125 event and saved 2 match points in the second-set tiebreak, but Bjorklund proved more resilient at the end.
Also holding off comebacks were No 16 seed Fiona Ferro from France, who missed 5 match points in the second set but ultimately closed out Japanese 20-year-old Moyuka Uchijima, 7-5 6-7(5) 7-5, in 2 hours and 35 minutes, ultimately sealing it on her 10th match point.
Elsewhere, Katarina Zavatska from Ukraine advanced 6-3 6-7(5) 7-5 over 17-year-old British wild-card Ranah Stoiber despite losing a 5-2 lead in the second set.