Rain wrecked the schedule on the outside courts on Tuesday at Wimbledon, where just about an hour’s play was completed before the covers came on, never to be removed again on Day 2 of The Championships, and leaving Katie Boulter, amongst others, with unfinished business.
Maybe that’s why I was nervous because actually I really like Roger [Federer]. When I was younger, I was always watching him play. It was really special. The year after to be again on this court with the same crowd, it was really special. First matches, I think they’re always tough I would say mentally to get to the rhythm of the tournament. So hopefully the next match is going to be easier. Elena Rybakina
Boulter was watched by the Princess of Wales out on Court 18 as she took on Australia’s Daria Saville, whom she lost out to in their only previous meeting in the Adelaide Open last year.
The British No 1 came into Wimbledon in great form, having won her first WTA title last month at the Nottingham Open, and the match was to be a closely fought affair when the opening 3 games lasted some 19 minutes, with Boulter breaking Saville to lead 2-1.
The Australian fought back to break Boulter’s serve to go in front 3-2, and, as dark clouds formed overhead and play carried on, both doggedly held on until the Brit levelled at 5-5.
Saville re-asserted herself and pushed back in front to lead 6-5 in the first set, when heavy rain brought an end to proceedings on the outer courts at Wimbledon and play was suspended.
Blessed with two retractable roofs, a full day’s play was possible on Centre Court and No 1 Court, and defending champion Elena Rybakina opened her 2023 Wimbledon account on the former against America’s Shelby Rogers, a notorious giant-killer at the majors.
The Kazakh needed a set to find her bearings, but won through convincingly enough, 4-6 6- 6-2, in front of her childhood hero Roger Federer, who was watching from the Royal Box sitting next to the Princess of Wales.
Federer is an 8-time Wimbledon and 20-time Grand Slam champion, and he was being honoured by the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Rybakina’s nerves were clear to see, double-faulting on the opening point of the match and immediately going a break down to the World No 49, sending statisticians scrambling: she would have been just the second Wimbledon women’s defending champion in the Open era to have lost in the 1st-round, Steffi Graf in 1994 the only other one; except she wasn’t.
Rogers was able to save a break-back point at 2-1, and then produced some fine hitting that enabled her to take the set-up advantage, but that was as good as it got.
In that first set, Rybakina committed 2 double-faults and won just 4 of her 15 second-service points, while she also had the same number of winners as unforced errors, 11 of each.
The American had prevailed in 2 of her 5 previous with Rybakina, so she had given the No 3 player in the world plenty of trouble before, and perhaps an upset could have been on the cards, but the second and third sets told a different story, as the Kazakh tightened up her serve, totalling 9 aces, and dropped 5 combined points over the final two frames in which she struck 20 winners to just 7 unforced errors.
Rybakina simply kicked into gear and raced away with the second set, breaking serve twice to take it in 29 minutes, and an early break in the decider proved key, allowing the No 3 seed to move safely into the 2nd-round.
“It was really tough for me today, I was pretty nervous, I cannot even hide it,” Rybakina said. “The double fault said it all in the first game of the match. I am really pleased to get to another round.”
The 24-year-old, who fired 12 aces, acknowledged in her on-court interview that her nerves had impacted her performance.
“Maybe that’s why I was nervous because actually I really like Roger,” Rybakina said afterwards. “When I was younger, I was always watching him play.
“It was really special. The year after to be again on this court with the same crowd, it was really special.
“First matches, I think they’re always tough I would say mentally to get to the rhythm of the tournament. So hopefully the next match is going to be easier.”
After a disrupted summer, suffering from a virus she picked up in Paris that forced her to withdraw from the French Open and Eastbourne the week before Wimbledon, Rybakina said that she has now recovered.
“I am feeling much better,” she said. “Hopefully this win gives me more confidence for the next round.
“Of course, maybe I’m missing a bit some things, here and there, because we didn’t put enough hours or maybe the hours we wanted to do,” Rybakina added. “But overall I feel good. I think with every match, I’m going to just also get in physically more ready for all the matches.”
If she makes it as far as the semi-finals, she is projected to face an Australian Open rematch with No 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, who beat Hungary’s Panna Udvardy, 6-3 6-1, in her 1st-round match played later in the day, also on the Centre Court.
From Belarus, Sabalenka is playing Wimbledon for the first time in two years, having been among those to miss last year’s grass court season in the UK due to the ban on Belarusian and Russian athletes, which was subsequently lifted in 2023.
“I didn’t realise how much I missed this place until this match,” Sabalenka said. “I really love Wimbledon. I have great memories from two years ago. I made semi-finals.
“I’m always enjoying my game here at Wimbledon, enjoying the atmosphere. It was really tough period for me last year. I was just super happy to be here this year. Since then I really enjoyed every second today on court, enjoyed the atmosphere.”
Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open beating Rybakina in the final, swept past her 24-year-old opponent in their evening meeting, 6-3 6-1.
It took the World No 2 just 37 minutes to take the first set, using the power of her serve and in her ground strokes to outpace Udvardy, who, by the second set, could not stay with her and went down after only 25 further minutes.
In the end Sabalenka won in 62 minutes against a player with limited grass court experience.
The 25-year-old from Minsk is motivated to add to her maiden Grand Slam and is a firm contender for the title on the grass.
“I didn’t realise how much I missed this place until this match,” she said on court. “Thank you for everyone coming and supporting, it really means a lot to me.
“It was a great match, I was trying to do my best in every point, I was enjoying the experience. I think I missed this place a lot, that is why I played my best tennis today.
“I mean, I feel great. It is really good to be one of the favourite at this beautiful tournament and I will try my best to make sure I reach as far as I can at Wimbledon.”
Sabalenka, who is part of the unofficial ‘big three’ in the women’s game, along with World No 1 Iga Swiatek and Rybakina, is happy to be back challenging again, and will face Varvara Gracheva of France or Italy’s Camila Giorgi for a place in the last 32.
On No 1 Court, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, last year’s Wimbledon finalist, made a solid start to her campaign with a swift 6-3 6-3 win over Poland’s Magdalena Frech, whom she dispatched in just 76 minutes.
Jabeur has struggled to build momentum during an injury-hit season, and her preparation for the grass court major was far from ideal with early losses in Berlin and Eastbourne, but the 6th seed showed her calibre against Frech.
“I always feel so great to come back here,” said Jabeur, who lost to Elena Rybakina in last year’s final. “Last year I had an amazing run and hopefully this year it will be a little bit better.
“I walked into the locker room and there was Elena’s photo with the trophy, so that didn’t help at all,” she joked. “But it’s amazing to come back here, just the atmosphere, the grass is so beautiful and I love connecting with nature.”
Jabeur has won 4 singles titles on the WTA Tour, as well as reaching 11 singles finals, but has yet to win a Grand Slam event, although she has come close, finishing as the runner-up at both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022.
She is the first Muslim and Arab player, male or female, to reach a Grand Slam final, and is determined to become the first Arab to win one of the majors.
After narrowly missing the opportunity to break the 70th-ranked Frech early with 2 wayward drop-shots, Jabeur got her nose in front in the 5th game, thanks to clean hitting, and she raced through the opening set.
The 28-year-old moved with ease and displayed a stunning range of shots that included drops, lobs and scoops to overwhelm Frech, and go 3-1 up in the second.
“I’m just trying to enjoy my time, enjoy playing tennis, doing some cool drop-shots and see what’s going to happen,” said Jabeur, who hit 33 winners, but also made 29 unforced errors with her high-risk style. “It reflects my character. I like to joke around a bit.
“I hate routine… I like to entertain the crowd with cool shots, so maybe I’ll keep doing that.”
Frech grabbed a break against the run of play before drawing level, but Jabeur, who had needed 3 sets to overcome the 25-year-old at Indian Wells this year, ensured there would be no late drama under the No 1 Court roof.
Jabeur restored her advantage as Frech sent a shot long, and closed out the contest on serve to set up a meeting with either unseeded Belgian Ysaline Bonaventure or Chinese qualifier Bai Zhuoxuan.
‘Ons’, which in Arabic means ‘a delicate touch or removal of fear’, was one of the lucky players to get her match finished with some 70 cancellations due to rain on the day.
“Yes, I think it was a good start for me,” said Jabeur. “Just I, obviously, love starting on Court One. It’s amazing. I feel lucky that I played on Court One, especially today.
“I had my matches cancelled before, when I was playing on the small courts. Yeah, again, I feel lucky today that I played on Court One. It’s a shame that the weather is like this.”
More matches were cancelled on Tuesday than on any other Wimbledon day since 1991, which is in stark contract to the 15-day French Open thats was rain free, and 87 now will need to be rescheduled.