Ready, Play. Wimbledon Championships Commence Today

Centre Court, Wimbledon (photo: @Wimbledon/Twitter)

LONDON/WASHINGTON, June 28, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Today, the Wimbledon Championships commence play. The All England Club welcomes back players and tennis fans to its famed grass courts in southwest London for the first time in two years. It’s been 715 days since the last ball was struck on Centre Court on July 14, 2019, when Novak Djokovic outlasted Roger Federer in an epic five-setter – 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) – that lasted nearly five hours and made history for being the longest singles final in Wimbledon history.

Last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Officials did the “right and responsible thing” rather than play behind closed doors. This year, spectators will be limited to a 50 percent capacity until the final two days of the Championships, when a full house of 15,000 spectators will be admitted for the ladies’ and gentlemen’s championship matches.

Now that the hiatus is over, a full complement of 64 matches — 32 men’s singles contests covering the upper half of the draw and 32 women’s singles contests featuring the lower half of the draw – are on Monday’s order of play, weather permitting. Precipitation is likely that would force the closure of the roofs on Centre Court and Court 1. However, the show will go on and the upcoming British fortnight is a promising one with plenty of storylines waiting to unfold.

Since Wimbledon 2019, while much has changed about tennis, some things haven’t. Djokovic’s status as a favorite to repeat as champion remains and so does the chase for a 24th major singles title for Serena Williams. Both she and Federer are 39, and while it remains to be seen if either of them can win another Grand Slam, they are still among the best grass-court players in the world – Federer has garnered eight Wimbledon titles and won 101 matches and Williams has won the Venus Rosewater Dish seven times. Federer will be making his 22nd Wimbledon appearance while this year is No. 20 for Williams. The Swiss icon will open against a familiar foe, Adrian Mannarino of France, whom he is 6-0 lifetime – including 2-0 at Wimbledon – while Serena will face Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. Both likely will command Centre Court status out of honor and respect for two of the game’s greatest stars.

Djokovic going after third straight major title

Meanwhile, Djokovic, 34, playing in his 64th Grand Slam event, begins defense of his 2019 Wimbledon gentlemen’s singles title against British wild card Jack Draper. The five-time Wimbledon champion will play the first Centre Court match as is customary of the previous year’s men’s champion at 1:30 p.m. British Summer Time. The Serbian has won this year’s first two majors and is a serious favorite to win Wimbledon, which would tie him with Federer and Rafael Nadal for most career Grand Slam singles titles won with 20. It’s plausible that Djokovic could sweep the majors and win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics next month, too.

“The level of confidence is pretty high [after] winning the two majors this year, playing very well in Roland Garros,” Djokovic said over the weekend a during pre-tournament Media Day press conference. “That tournament took a lot out of me, mentally and physically and emotionally. It also granted me with an incredible amount of positive energy and confidence that created a wave that I’m trying to ride.”

Other first-day Centre Court matches feature two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic against American Sloane Stephens and two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray of Great Britain facing Nikolaz Basilashvili of Georgia.

Featured on No. 1 Court on opening day will be women’s No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who plays qualifier Monica Niculescu from Romania; men’s No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece against Frances Tiafoe of the United States, and Poland’s Iga Swiatek taking on Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan.

Not all stars will be present at this year’s Wimbledon

Meanwhile, as Wimbledon returns, not all of the stars of tennis will be present. Among those missing will be Nadal, 35, a two-time Wimbledon champion, who announced shortly after bowing to Djokovic in the semifinals at Roland Garros earlier this month that he wouldn’t play after “listening to [his] body.” Also, Dominic Thiem, the only one besides the “Big Three” to win a major in nearly five years, at the 2020 US Open, is sidelined with a wrist injury, and also missing will be Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic.

On the women’s side, World No. 2 Naomi Osaka, winner of four Grand Slams, said she would skip Wimbledon to be with family and friends and to continue to safeguard her emotional well-being, which sparked controversy at the French Open. She declined to participate in mandatory press conferences and eventually withdrew after being fined $15,000 for shirking her duties following her first-round victory. Also, on Friday, World No. 3 and defending Wimbledon champion Simona Halep withdrew just before the draw was announcing, citing a calf injury that isn’t fully healed, and World No. 15 Jennifer Brady will be absent due to plantar fasciitis.

Gauff shocked the tennis world with upset of Venus Williams

Two years ago, American teenager Coco Gauff made global headlines when she beat her idol, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, in the first round en route to reaching the fourth round at age 15. Now, she’s back seeded 20th. Gauff, who will play British wild card Francesca Jones on Tuesday, is one of six American women who are ranked in the WTA Top 30. There is a total of 21 U.S. women in the ladies’ singles draw, most of any country, including Venus Williams, now age 41.

As Wimbledon’s reopening marks a symbolic return to the summer tennis calendar, it’s also worth remembering that as players make their way onto Centre Court, which was first opened by King George V on June 26, 1922, they see the immortal words of Sir Rudyard Kipling: “If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same …”

Ready, play.

News & noteworthy: Konta ruled out of Wimbledon

British No. 1 Johanna Konta was withdrawn from Wimbledon Sunday evening after having been classified as a close contact of a positive test for COVID-19. A member of her team presented with COVID-19 symptoms Sunday morning and tested positive. Konta will have to self isolate for 10 days.

The 31st-ranked Konta, who was seeded 27th, will be replaced in the women’s singles draw by lucky loser Wang Yafan of China, ranked 123rd.

What they’re saying

“Quotable …”

What they’re writing

Danielle Rossingh of Forbes on two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova:

Monday’s Wimbledon order of play

What they’re sharing on social media

Barbora Krejcikova / A wonderful start to my Wimbledon singles premiere

Hubert Hurkacz / #Hardwork with @FelixTennis