On Monday, two years and minus two weeks since the last Wimbledon match, a voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “Good afternoon, welcome to Centre Court,”
An announcement welcomed “special guests” to the Royal Box, including a woman who created one of the COVID-19 vaccinations. This prompted the first of many standing ovations by spectators. Finally, the words “We’ve been waiting awhile for this” were spoken before Novak Djokovic was introduced. The opponent Novak Djokovic would beat 4-6-6-1, 6-2 and 6-2 with the assistance of 25 aces was Jack Draper, a wild-card entry from England aged 19 who is ranked 253rd.
In some ways, it was as if Wimbledon hadn’t left. It was as if the All England Club hadn’t decided to cancel the oldest Grand Slam tournament since World War II one year ago due to the pandemic. The crowd cheered loudly from the stands. Rain fell, so much that play on courts without roofs was delayed for more than 4 1/2 hours. At least 20 matches were also postponed until Tuesday.
Tennis was there, reminding us how unpredictable sports can be and the joy and sorrow that they can bring. Two Americans won the most important victories: Frances Tiafoe defeated No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was also French Open runner up. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas won 6-4,6-4,6-3 while Sloane Stephens, 2017 U.S. Open champion, beat No. 2 Wimbledon winner, Sloane Stephens. Petra Kvitova, 10th seed, 6-3.
Tiafoe was 0-11 against Top 5 ranked opponents.
“That guy is exceptional. Tiafoe spoke highly of Tsitsipas and said that he would do many great things and win many Grand Slams. Then Tiafoe smiled wide and said: “But not today.”
He and Stephens are the 34 Americans who have reached the singles bracket (21 women and 13 men), which is the highest number of Americans at Wimbledon since 1998 when there were 35. Qualifier Denis Kudla won on Day 1, knocking off No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 5-7, 6 (4), 7-6 (4); 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. 2017 U.S. Open runners-up Madison Keys. Danielle Collins. Lauren Davis.
Others seeded men who have lost: 19 Jannik Sinner from Italy and No. 27 Reilly Opelka from the U.S.
“Not playing last season was very, very disappointing. It feels strange that there was such an enormous gap between grass seasons. However, to have a crowd, and the size of our crowd today — I felt like it was back on track at one point,” No. 23 Keys beat Katie Swan, British qualifier, 6-3,6-4, without needing to break.
Keys stated, “It was very, very nice being back in a position where you felt an incredible crowd,” even though they cheered for my opponent and wanted her win. It was so refreshing to see people excited to watch tennis and have energy.
The coronavirus continues to watch the event.
Fans are required to wear masks on the grounds, but not while they watch a match, and must show proof that they have been fully vaccinated. All players and their entourages must stay in one London hotel. They are subject to regular testing and contact tracing.
The No. 1 seeded singles player in Britain, No. Johanna Konta (27), had to withdraw Sunday night after she was told by her team that one of their members had tested positive for COVID-19.
Djokovic, the top-seeded player, got off to a slow start as he tried to win a record 20th Grand Slam title. He also won sixth at Wimbledon.
Draper would not have been able to let the moment, the opponent, and the setting, stop him from being fazed immediately. After all, this was his Grand Slam main-draw debut. He won the first break to lead at 2-1, and he ended up winning that set by saving 7 out of 7 break points.
Djokovic fell onto his backside twice in the first set and lost his footing on the slick grass below the baseline. Since beating Roger Federer in 2019, this was Djokovic’s first singles competitive match on the surface.
Djokovic laughed and said, “To be truthful, I don’t recall falling so many times on court.” “Well, it’s quite slippery. Whether it’s because it’s closed or it was raining quite heavily the last few days, it’s something I don’t know.”
Draper won the opening set with a 125 mph service win after just 37 minutes. He raised his right fist and shook his racket.
The crowd cheered.
It was over two hours later.
Djokovic improved his game tremendously, moving from six winners and nine errors in the first set to 41 winners and 15 errors throughout the match.
He said, speaking on behalf of many, “I’m really happy” that the sport was back.