Late on Day 1, former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin upset her compatriot, 7th-seeded Coco Gauff, while Elina Svitolina ended Venus Williams’ hopes of a deep run at The Championships, both in dramatic fashion.
Grass is inherently going to be slippery,. You're going to fall at some point. It was just bad luck for me. I started the match perfectly. I was literally killing it, then I got killed by the grass. It's not fun right now. I felt like I was in great form coming into this tournament, and great form in the match.It's all very shocking at the moment. This is sports. I'm hitting the ball well. Hopefully I can just figure out what's happening with me and move forward. Venus Williams
Kenin knows all about playing on big courts on big occasions, having won the Australian Open in 2020, and she took her match against Gauff under the closed roof of No 1 Court in her stride.
The American suffered a slump since winning her maiden Grand Slam title, enduring injuries, illness and loss of form, but she is battling back, and came through 3 rounds of qualifying without dropping a set.
Once ranked as high as No 4 in the world, Kenin’s current position is 128, which belies her status as a recent former Grand Slam champion, and the form that she is capable of producing, but the latter was in plain view against the 19-year old prodigy on Monday, whom she handily beat, 6-4 4-6 6-2.
“This means a lot,” Kenin said later. “I feel, like, this year has been not necessarily lows, but I feel, like, it’s a come-back year for me. I feel, like, I started off the year well, I was playing well. I had a good feeling that this year would be a good year for me.”
For Gauff, who fought to the very last ball, it was more of a missed opportunity than a shock result.
“I knew that with three wins under her belt from qualies, I knew she was going to be playing with confidence,” Gauff said afterwards. “It’s always possible for somebody to get back to that level. She’s still on the younger end of her career. I think with how she played today, it shouldn’t be too long.”
Kenin, a Moscow-born Floridian, flew out of the gate with a barrage of ground strokes, taking the ball early on the rise or at the top of the bounce, and clattering them away for winners to force her opponent onto the back foot.
It was the confident display of a player who already had 3 wins under her belt on the grass, including a 6-3, 6-3 win over Taylor Townsend in the final round, and she struck first, breaking for a 2-1 lead, before protecting that lead to close out the opening set without facing a single break point on her serve.
Despite having already been 4 years on tour, Gauff is still a teenager, and she continues to develop her game into a more aggressive style, while her speed around the court is already well among the game’s best.
She understands that defence alone will not win championships, which is how she took Kenin into a third set.
Serving at 2-0, 40-40 in the second, Gauff won a gritty point that saw her recover from a mid-point slip and fall to fire a forehand winner.
She closed out that game with a clean ace to lead 3-0, one of 12 she fired in the match, and, after striking just 8 winners in the opening set, Gauff more than doubled those in the second to 18.
Gauff could not sustain her level, though, and Kenin took advantage with consistent, clinical ball-striking.
Serving to consolidate an early break, Kenin saved 3 break points to hold for 3-1 in the decider, and while Gauff’s best chance to break came on her third break point with a chance of a backhand pass, she misjudged her distance and lunged at the ball, giving Kenin a chance to put away an easy high volley.
It is the first time Kenin has won 4 consecutive matches, at any level, in almost 3 years, and she is projected return to the world’s Top 100 at the very least.
“I am super happy,” Kenin told the No 1 Court crowd after Gauff had left the arena. “Coco played a tough match, and I knew I had to play my best match to win.”
Referring to her 33 unforced errors, Gauff said later: ”I think I didn’t really put too much pressure on her.
“I felt like she could make a ball on the court, didn’t have to be as good, and I wouldn’t do much with it. That’s what happened. If I played too passive, she has a game where she can hit aggressive shots, especially off the backhand side.”
Gauff was one of 4 seeds to bow out on Day 1 at Wimbledon, along with 15th-seeded Liudmila Samsonova (l. Ana Bogdan), No 24 seed Zheng Qinwen (l. Katerina Siniakova) and No 31 seed Mayar Sherif (l. Rebeka Masarova) also suffering early ends to their grass season.
Meanwhie, on Centre Court, Svitolina made a remarkable come-back after a shaky start to defeat 5-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, 6-4 6-3, in the first round on Monday.
Williams, who is 43 years old, slipped on the grass of Centre Court, screaming in pain as she fell to the ground by the net after putting away a backhand volley, clutching her right knee, which was already strapped.
“Grass is inherently going to be slippery,” Williams said afterwards. “You’re going to fall at some point. It was just bad luck for me. I started the match perfectly. I was literally killing it, then I got killed by the grass.
“It’s not fun right now. I felt like I was in great form coming into this tournament, and great form in the match.
“It’s all very shocking at the moment. This is sports. I’m hitting the ball well. Hopefully I can just figure out what’s happening with me and move forward.”
Although Williams managed to continue after receiving a visit from the trainer, Svitolina maintained her composure and broken her again in the 5th game, before the Ukrainian held on to take the opening set.
Williams faced an uphill battle in the second, and she was broken in the first game, while she missed a break point opportunity in the next.
Svitolina, a former World No 3 who is currently ranked 76th, broke Williams one more time to secure a 4-1 lead.
While Williams, a former World No 1, showed impressive mobility and broke back to make it 5-3, she could not sustain her momentum, and Svitolina broke her again, concluding the match on a controversial line decision.
A ball by Svitolina was called out, but Williams continued playing as the Ukrainian called for a challenge, which showed the ball to be in, and umpire Marija Cicak declared the match to be over.
Both players looked surprised by the announcement, expecting the point to be replayed, but Cicak made a judgment call based on the line judge making the call quite late, which would not have impacted Williams.
The American was unhappy about the decision and declined to shake hands with Cicak.
When asked later why, she said: “I completely disagreed with the call. It was just that kind of day.”
Apparently a heat-of-the-moment decision, Williams has had skirmishes with umpires before over the course of her long career.
It just could be, though, the last thing she remembers at Wimbledon, which might prove to be her last.
As Williams left Centre Court, she received a standing ovation from the crowd and waved in acknowledgment, marking the end of her 24th appearance at the All England Club, a record in the Open era.
When Williams made her debut in 1997, 53 players in the 2023 draw had not been born yet, and Svitolina was just 2 years old at the time.
Speaking after Monday’s match Williams admitted it had been a scary injury during the match.
“I’m not sure what I’ve done,” Williams said in her press conference. “I’m going to have to investigate it tomorrow. It’s late today. But it was quite painful.
“I think what makes this one hard to process is I’ve had so many injuries. I’ve been missing from tour for quite a while. This is not what I want for myself. This kind of fall, I didn’t do anything wrong. I just went for the ball. There’s nothing I can really do about it.
“Those kinds of things are hard to process emotionally, mentally and physically on the court. I just couldn’t figure it out today. It was just real challenging. I’ve played through a lot of injuries and won a lot of matches injured. It’s almost a specialty of mine. I just couldn’t figure it out today.”
Williams will hope the injury isn’t serious as she will want to play at the US Open at the end of August.
As for Svitolina, a 2019 semi-finalist, she improved her career head-to-head record against Williams to 4-1, and advances to a 2nd-round match against No 28 seed Elise Mertens, who beat Slovakian qualifier Viktoria Hruncakova, 7-6(2) 6-2.
The Ukrainian is playing her first Wimbledon since 2021, having been pregnant with her daughter, Skaï, during The Championships last year.
On her return to Centre Court, Svitolina broke Williams 4 times, hit 28 winners to just 15 unforced errors, and also struck 8 aces.
“It was a special day for me today to play on Centre Court,” Svitolina said. “[It] couldn’t be more special to play, also against such a great champion as Venus is. Just really happy I could get a first win on Centre Court.
“She tried, and the champion she is, she fought, she gave her everything. I thought [the injury] was really, really serious. So I was really happy for her actually that she could stand up after and didn’t take a medical time-out. She just was checking how the knee is. And then we continue playing.”