LONDON, July 1, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The 133rd edition of the Wimbledon Championships began under partly cloudy skies, with a hint of sunshine, and just a few, non-threatening clouds overhead on Monday. No need to close those retractable roofs on Centre Court or Court 1 just yet. With play running on schedule throughout opening day of the British fortnight, it afforded fans lucky enough to snag a ticket with an opportunity to see many remarkable matches – including some major upsets – not only on the show courts but also across the lush green grounds of the All England Club, too.
While former Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka (a surprise upset) and Simona Halep (who hobbled to victory) were in action on Day One of the Championships – a tournament featuring so much depth throughout the entire draw – all attention was focused on an early-evening match for the ages between Venus Williams, five-time Wimbledon singles champion – and, at age 39, the oldest competitor in the ladies’ singles draw – and schoolgirl Cori “Coco” Gauff, at 15 the youngest player in the Open Era to advance through qualifying into the main draw.
It was Venus Williams, along with her younger sister Serena Williams, 37, who fueled the dreams of Gauff, a remarkable teenager from Delray Beach, Florida, who the night before she won her final qualifying match was awake late taking a high school science exam. While that exam result remains unknown, against Williams she passed her biggest exam with honors. By the end, it seemed as if it was a passing of the generational torch.
The No. 313 Gauff won the generational game over the 44th-ranked Williams, 6-4, 6-4, in one hour and 19 minutes on Court 1. With her victory, the tearful-but-happy Gauff became the youngest player to win in the first round of the ladies’ singles since another American, Jennifer Capriati, achieved the feat in 1991. Gauff gave a tremendous performance in her Wimbledon main draw debut. She played calm under pressure, showed a great serve and moved about the court with much agility and grace.
After Gauff impressively won the first set 6-4 in 33 minutes, it became apparent to everyone that she looked like she belong belonged at this level. Her composure was solid and she showed she had the tools to beat Williams, shaping points in so many different ways from a variety of offensive and defensive positions. Gauff broke to go ahead 3-2 in the second set, and despite surrendering the break back to Williams (who would level the set at 4-all), the teenager broke back to go ahead 5-4 thanks to a couple of forced errors. Then, serving for the match, Gauff finally put it away on her fourth match-point opportunity when Williams netted a forehand return.
Gauff finished with 18 winners against just eight unforced errors. She converted all three of her break-point opportunities against Williams. Meanwhile, Williams committed 26 unforced errors and hit four double faults that spelled all kinds of trouble for her.
Afterward, Gauff was all smiles during a post-match interview with the BBC. She said, “This is the first time I ever cried after a match, after winning. I had to tell myself to stay calm. I’ve never played on a court so big, but I reminded myself that the lines on the court are the same. Everything around it might be bigger, but the lines are the same. After every point, I reminded myself to just stay calm.”
Gauff was asked what Williams, her idol and role model, said to her as they walked off the court together. She said to me, “Congratulations and to keep going and good luck. After the match, I thanked her for everything she did. I told her I would not be here if not for everything she did. I told her how inspiring she was to me. I always wanted to tell her that. Now, I had the guts to.
“I never thought this (beating Williams) would happen, so I am living my dream right now. Not many people get to say that.”
During her brief post-match press conference, Williams praised Gauff, saying, “She played so well. I actually didn’t play well. It was a contrast on both sides. … It was a good match for her.”
ESPN analyst and tennis Hall of Famer Chrissie Evert added this about Gauff: “She had it as a junior; there’s no reason it can’t translate into pro tennis. Her consistency helped her. Every part of her game was on today. … I think we’ve seen a new star born.”
Next, Gauff will face Magdalena Rybarikova. The No. 139 from Slovakia took out No. 10 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 6-2, 6-4, in just 70 minutes in the day’s first casualty of fallen seeds. Sabalenka hit eight double faults, committed 28 unforced errors and was broken four times by Rybarikova. She was outpointed 63-47.
One and done for Osaka
Reigning U.S. Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka of Japan lost for the second time in 11 days to 24-year-old Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan. This time on Centre Court, Osaka fell 7-6 (4), 6-2 against the 39th-ranked Putintseva, who now is 3-0 against the World No. 2. Last month, Osaka lost to Putintseva in a grass-court tune-up event in Birmingham.
“That’s amazing actually,” Putintseva said after her stunning win, in which she hit 15 winners against just seven unforced errors. “I’ve never played on this court before. I’ve never been on this court, it was a little surprising the shape. It’s more round than the usual square. But I think I did a good job out there. I was fighting great.
“Honestly, every year I’m feeling better and better on grass. I still feel clay is my better surface but I’m feeling more confident on grass.” Next, Putintseva will oppose 81st-ranked Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, a 6-2, 7-6 (3) winner over No. 64 Iga Swiatek of Poland.
Prior to Wimbledon, Osaka, 21, said of rising to World No. 1 earlier this year “mentally it was way more stress and pressure than I could have imagined.” During her press conference, Osaka, whose 34 winners were overshadowed by her 38 unforced errors, admitted she didn’t play well, but “wasn’t surprised” by how well Putintseva played. Visibly dejected by her loss, Osaka cut her interview with the media short, telling the moderating she “was about to cry.”
Keys, Kenin win quickly
No. 17 seed Madison Keys of the United States was the first player to win in the main draw on Monday. Her 6-3, 6-2 win over Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand took just 61 minutes and it was soon followed by fellow American No. 27 Sofia Kenin’s win over Astra Sharma of Australia, 6-4, 6-2. The Americans’ string of victories was broken, however, when Great Britain’s Heather Watson, ranked No. 122, defeated No. 165 Caty McNally, 7-6 (3), 6-2. Later, 34th-ranked Danielle Collins and 85th-ranked Madison Brengle gave the Americans a couple of additional first-round victories. Brengle defeated French Open finalist and 16th seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-4.
“Coming into the grass, I wanted to be 100 percent ready,” said Keys, who did not play any grass-court warm-up tournaments. The American hit 23 winners, including six service aces, and outpointed Kumkhum 63-45. “I’m encouraged to be a part of the mix of players who have a chance at winning. The depth of players makes it interesting and entertaining.”
Around the All England Club
• No. 7 seed Simona Halep of Romania overcame an injury to her left ankle to pull out a gritty 6-4, 7-5 win over 36th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, in an hour and 41 minutes, in the first match on reconfigured Court No. 1.
“I’m really happy,” said the 7th-ranked Halep during an interview with the BBC following her first-round win against Sasnovich, who reached the Wimbledon fourth round a year ago. “I had to stay focused. My leg could be an issue later in the tournament, but I hope not. I slide a little bit on the court and couldn’t control it. I felt pain behind the knee and in my foot so I need treatment now and will see how it goes.
“My main goal here is to be positive in every match. It’s all about the attitude. In this match I showed I can fight to the end and never give up. If I do that in every match, I am very happy.”
Halep was effective in winning points on her second serve – 21 of 30 (70 percent) – and she broke Sasnovich four times during the match. Although Halep hit just 18 winners and 16 unforced errors, Sasnovich was undone by her 34 unforced errors. Halep outpointed her opponent 81-68. Next, she faces countrywoman 53rd-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu, a 6-4, 6-4 winner over No. 72 Jessica Pegula of the United States.
• No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova advanced over No. 101 Zhu Lin of China, 6-2, 7-6 (4) in one hour and 22 minutes on Court 2. Pliskova hit six aces and won 81 percent (30 of 37) of her first-serve opportunities. She hit 26 winners against 18 unforced errors and broke Zhu four times in 10 tries. Pliskova outpointed Zhu 73-61.
• No. 12 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia needed just one hour and 19 minutes to win 6-3, 6-4 over Kristie Ahn of the United States.
No. 14 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark advanced over Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain by retirement, ahead 5-4 in the first set.
• No. 20 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia advanced over No. 298 Shelby Rogers of the United States, 6-0, 3-6, 6-4.
• No. 23 seed Caroline Garcia of France lost to 50th-ranked Zhang Shuai of China, 6-4, 6-0 in just 66 minutes.
• No. 24 seed Petra Martic of Croatia came back from a set down to beat 67th-ranked Jennifer Brady of the United States, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
• No. 28 Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan defeated 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 6-2, 6-2.
• No. 29 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia was bounced in 66 minutes by Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 6-3, 6-1.
• No. 31 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece defeated 90th-ranked Bernarda Pera of the United States, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Other winners included: Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, Polona Hercog of Slovenia, Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic, Dayana Yastrzemski of Ukraine, Marie Bouzkova of Czech Republic, Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, Margarita Gasparyan of Russia, Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, Anastasia Potapova of Russia, and Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.
By the numbers
Among active players at Wimbledon, none has played more main draw singles matches than Venus Williams, who made her 106th appearance on Monday in a losing effort to Cori “Coco” Gauff. Next is Serena Williams, who will play in her 104th singles match at Wimbledon on Tuesday. The sisters have distanced themselves from the next closest, third-place Maria Sharapova, who will play her 60th Wimbledon match on Tuesday.
What they’re saying
Eighth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine on nine different players winning the past 10 majors: “It’s wide open for the girls these days. Everyone’s been talking about it. I think it’s interesting for the fans and for everyone – even us. You never know what to expect from the first round. Everyone is ready to beat you when you step on the court. You have to be ready for whatever comes.” The No. 8 seed Svitolina, looking recovered from recent injuries, defeated Daria Gavrilova of Australia, 7-5, 6-0, to move into the second round against 62nd-ranked Margarita Gasparyan of Russia.
Defending champion and fifth seed Angelique Kerber will start play on Centre Court against fellow German Tatjana Maria, ranked 65th, at 1 p.m. World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia, fresh from winning Roland Garros last month, will begin her quest for a second straight Grand Slam title as she plays her first-round match against 43rd-ranked Zheng Saisai of China in the opening match on Court 1 at 1 p.m.