Wimbledon: Jabeur Has Great Expectations For This Year’s Fortnight

Ons Jabeur (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, June 27, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

When Ons Jabeur of Tunisia walked out on No. 1 Court for her opening-round match in the 2022 Wimbledon Championships Monday afternoon, the newly-ranked No. 2 player in the WTA made history. She was the highest-ranked player from an African country in either ATP or WTA rankings history.

After reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon last year while ranked 21st, the personable North African has her sights on achieving greater results. And, after losing in the first round to Magda Linette of Poland at Roland Garros last month, the 27-year-old Jabeur is approaching this major event a bit differently.

“Going into the French Open, I really felt that pressure of everybody expecting me to do well,” Jabeur said Saturday during her Media Day press conference. “I wasn’t used to that. Just invisible player going to Grand Slams, doing well sometimes.

“But yeah, I tried to learn from that, not overplay, not play a lot of matches on grass, just prepare myself for the main goal. For me, the main goal was Wimbledon even before the year starts.”

In her 54-minute first-round match against No. 125 Mirjam Bjorklund of Sweden that began the day on Wimbledon’s second-largest show court, the No. 3 seed Jabeur took advantage of four service breaks and dropped just seven points on her serve en route to a comfortable 6-1, 6-3 victory to move into the second round.

A winner of two titles this year – at Madrid on clay in May and at Berlin on grass earlier this month – Jabeur took command of her match early. She outpointed Bjorklund 57-32 and showed why she’s a contender to be reckoned with. By the end, Jabeur hit 11 winners to 14 unforced errors compared to three winners and 20 unforced errors by Bjorklund. She did all the right things well and made the right decisions – even pleased the crowd with her variety of slice and drop shots that kept Bjorklund off-balance and guessing.

“I’m pretty happy,” Jabeur said during her on-court interview after her victory, which advanced her to play against Polish qualifier Katarzyna Kawa. “It’s amazing to come back to Court 1. I enjoyed playing here last year. It’s a great start for me. I want to go as far as I can this tournament. Losing just four games is a start.”

Jabeur was asked if expectations placed on her after reaching the 2022 quarterfinals coupled with a Top-5 ranking are higher this time around. “For sure,” she said. “Today, I achieved my highest ranking. It’s really amazing to be here, to come back to Wimbledon, to play in one of the greatest tournaments that I like. I’m happy to be back and hopefully I’ll go further than the quarterfinals.”

Later, in press, Jabeur was asked about dealing with pressure. She said: “[On court], last time I was thinking about pressure, it didn’t work very well for me,” she said. “I’m trying to handle it. The learning, obviously, I’ve never been in this situation before. I was joking with [Novak] Djokovic. I told him, ‘Give me some of the touch to win Wimbledon.’ I was stealing it.

“It’s great. I’m going to take each match at a time and see what’s happening. Obviously, I want to turn that great pressure into great things on the court. Like I said, I just want to be like a great leader.”

Djokovic wins 80th career match at Wimbledon

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic took the traditional Opening Day spot in the first match on Centre Court Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. sharp. Overall, Djokovic played sharp, too.

With the roof closed, the six-time champion Djokovic moved a step closer to winning his fourth straight Wimbledon crown after he defeated 81st-ranked Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and 27 minutes for his 22nd straight win at the year’s third major.

The victory was Djokovic’s 80th at the All England Club in 90 career matches, which made him the first man or woman to have won at least that many matches at each of the four Grand Slam tournaments. In his first match since losing to Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinal round at the French Open, Djokovic also improved his first-round win-loss record at Wimbledon to 17-0. The Serbian came into Wimbledon with 20 major titles won, tied with Roger Federer but two behind Nadal, who won his 22nd Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros earlier this month.

“I’ve said this a few times before but this court is truly special for me,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “It’s always been the court where I dreamed of playing and winning. All my childhood dreams came true here on this court, in this tournament. It’s an absolute honor and pleasure to come back to Centre Court at Wimbledon. … I’m glad I was on the winning side today. Thank you for coming out and supporting both players.”

The 35-year-old Djokovic put together a solid portfolio of statistics in support of his victory even thought it took a while for him to get his rhythm going. He fired 15 aces, won 86 percent of his first-serve points, converted four of eight break points and struck 31 winners to 29 unforced errors. Kwon countered with 31 winners to 26 unforced errors and broke Djokovic twice in six tries. Djokovic outpointed Kwon 112-94. Next, the World No. 3 will play No. 79 Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia, who defeated No. 91 Kamil Majchrzak of Poland, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-5.

Alcatraz aces first-round test against Struff

World No. 7 Carlos Alcatraz struck 30 aces and amassed 73 winners during his four-hour and 11-minute, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over 155th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany on No. 1 Court.

Struff compiled 23 aces and hit 62 winners himself, but it was not enough to keep the 19-year-old Alcatraz, a winner of four ATP Tour titles this season, from advancing to the second round at Wimbledon for the second straight time.

After beating then-World No. 7 Andrey Rublev at the 2022 French Open, Struff was attempting to gain his second Top 10 win at a major. The German No. 8, who twice has reached the third round at Wimbledon, was absent from the European clay season due to a right foot injury.

“I feel pretty good,” Alcatraz said, beaming a big smile after his win. “He played really well, I played really well. I still don’t know how I served 30 aces. It’s a weapon I used today. For sure, I won with my serve.”

Asked what it meant to win a first-round match in five sets for the second consecutive year, Alcaraz thought about the question for a moment. Then, he replied: “I guess like to play on grass. I don’t want to leave the court.”

Around the All England Club

• Centre Court also featured the brightest and best among British players as Emma Raducanu, who won last year’s US Open at age 18, defeated Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 41 minutes followed by three-time major champion Andy Murray, who won Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016. The 52nd-ranked Murray defeated No. 74 James Duckworth of Australia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, in two hours and 43 minutes. The match began with the roof open but it was closed after the third set due to darkness. Murray slammed 15 aces and added 34 winners. He outpointed Duckworth 122-99.

“It was amazing to be back out here again with a full crowd,” Murray said during his on-court interview. “Amazing atmosphere. Obviously I’m getting on a bit now, so I don’t know how many more opportunities I [will] get to play on this court, so I want to make the most of every time I get to come out here now. Glad I managed to get through it and hopefully get another match on here in a couple of days.”

Meanwhile, the victory by the No. 10 seed Raducanu was her first on Centre Court and it came in her debut on Wimbledon’s biggest stage. She outpointed van Uytvanck 75-63 in back of hitting 13 winners while breaking the Belgian’s serve four times. It was Raducanu’s first Wimbledon match since retiring in the fourth round last year and the victory improved her first-round win-loss record in majors to 5-0.

“It’s an incredibly special feeling to be coming back here to Wimbledon,” Raducanu said in her on-court interview after beating the 46th-ranked van Uytvanck.

• Two other former Grand Slam champions were in action on Day 1. No. 15 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, who won Wimbledon in 2018, defeated No. 120 Kristina Mladenovic of France, 6-0, 7-5, on No. 1 Court, while Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, who received a wild card entry into the one major that has alluded him, lost to  No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, on Court 2.

• Twenty-year-old qualifier Maja Chwalinska of Poland, who a year ago took an indefinite break from tennis due to depression, is back and she garnered her first career Top-100 win, a 6-0, 7-5 victory over No. 79 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic to advance to the second round against No. 28 seed Alison Riske of the United States. The 170th-ranked Chwalinska, a left-hander from Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland, finished with 17 winners to 25 unforced errors and outpointed Siniakova 65-48.

• Third seed Casper Ruud of Norway won for the first time at Wimbledon but had to endure two lengthy rain delays and a tough opponent, No. 39 Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain. Ruud advanced with a 7-6 (1), 7-6 (9), 6-2 win after two hours and 44 minutes on Court 12. It was his first win at Wimbledon in his third appearance and it was also his 150th career ATP Tour victory. Ruud’s second-round opponent will be No. 112 Ugo Humbert of France, who rallied to beat No. 77 Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

• Among the other seeded men who advanced were: No. 9 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, No. 20 John Isner of the United States, who accumulated 54 aces; No. 22 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, and No. 23 Frances Tiafoe and No. 30 Tommy Paul, both of the United States. The highest seed to lose was No. 7 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.

• Among the other seeded women who won were: No. 2 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, No. 24 Elise Mertens of Belgium, No. 26 Sorana Cirstea of Romania and No. 29 Angelina Kalinina of Ukraine. Meanwhile, No. 7 Danielle Collins of the United States, No. 22 Martina Trevisan of Italy, No. 23 Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil and No. 31 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia were all upset.

• Men’s No. 14 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia pulled out of Wimbledon on Monday after disclosing he had tested positive for COVID-19. He was replaced in the draw by 123rd-ranked lucky loser Nuno Borges of Portugal, who will face No. 55 Mackenzie McDonald of the United States in the first round.

Monday’s Wimbledon results

Tuesday’s Wimbledon order of play

For a good cause

Even though Poland’s seventh-seeded Hubert Hurkacz bowed in five sets to 37th-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (8), after saving four match points during the three-hour and 28-minute rollercoaster of a match on Court 3, he hit 21 service aces – all for a good cause.

By the numbers

• There are six seeded American men, the most at Wimbledon from the United States since 1993, when there were also six – but only 16 seeds instead of 32 today.

The six seeds in 2022 are: No. 11 Taylor Fritz, No. 15 Reilly Opelka, No. 20 John Isner, No. 23 Frances Tiafoe, No. 29 Jenson Brooksby and No. 30 Tommy Paul.

The 1993 seeds? No. 1 Pete Sampras, No. 3 Jim Courier, No. 7 Ivan Lendl, No. 8 Andre Agassi, No. 12 Michael Chang and No. 14 MaliVai Washington. All but Washington are in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

• A total of 17 players – 10 men and seven women – are making their Grand Slam debuts this week at Wimbledon. They include: Zizou Bergs of Belgium, Alastair Gray of Great Britain, Hugo Grenier of France, Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland, Lukas Klein of Slovakia, Nikola Kuhn of Germany, Ryan Peniston of Great Britain, Alexander Ritschard of Switzerland, Tim van Rijthoven of the Netherlands and Andrea Vavassori of Italy.

Also, Maja Chwalinska of Poland, Catherine Harrison of the United States, Mai Hontama of Japan, Ylena in-Albion of Switzerland, Sonay Kartal of Great Britain, Yuriko Miyazaki of Great Britain and Laura Pigossi of Brazil.

• The first rain delay of the British fortnight came about 40 minutes into the opening day of the tournament. Light rain started falling at the All England Club about 11:40 a.m. local time and it affected play on 15 outer courts. However, with retractable roofs on Centre Court and No. 1 Court, play on those show courts started on time. Later, rain delayed play for an hour and 10 minutes, which further backed up play on the outer courts. By the end of the day, 10 matches were cancelled and rescheduled for Tuesday.

• The award for the first winner at this year’s Wimbledon fortnight goes to American Alison Riske. The No. 28 seed needed just 66 minutes to defeat No. 113 Ylena In-Albion of Switzerland, 6-2, 6-4, on Court 10.

“Quotable …”

“I think I showed a couple weeks ago that there was still good tennis left in me. I mean, I beat a guy in the top five in the world, you know, was neck-and-neck with [Matteo] Berrettini, who is one of the best grass-court players in the world before the injury. I played well against [Nick] Kyrgios, as well. The first set was a good level. And I’ve been doing pretty well in practices. Yeah, I know the tennis is in there; I just need to bring it out during the event now.

“Yeah, obviously having Ivan [Lendl] on my team helps. We’ve had a lot of success in the past. We know each other well. He still believes in me. There’s not loads of coaches, you know, people out there that have done over this last period, and he has. That definitely helps me.”

Andy Murray, 35, of Great Britain, during his Wimbledon media day sit down with reporters, on why he believes there’s still some good tennis left in him.

“One of the reasons I like to play here is the crowds, to be honest with you. No matter what the ranking is, they always support me. Last time, I played Venus [Williams], everyone was cheering for [her]. At the end, they were cheering for me, which is great. They’ve helped push me through a lot of matches and I hope I see you for the next two weeks here.”

– World No. 2 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, asked how much joy she attains from playing in front of big crowds at Wimbledon.

“This [Centre] court has given me everything. I owe a lot to this court. I love it with all my heart and have a lot of passion for it. I’m as dedicated as really anybody out there. I’m not one of the youngsters anymore. Things change, but the love and flame for this court still burns in me. Of course, at this stage of my career, I always try to play my best tennis at a Grand Slam and deliver the best tennis on this most significant court in the history of our sport. What can I say? Now that I’ve [reached] 80 [Wimbledon wins], let’s get to 100.”

– World No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, during his on-court interview, on what playing on Centre Court means to him.