Alcaraz Begins Wimbledon Title Defense With A Win And A Smile

Carlos Alcaraz (photo: Wimbledon video)

WIMBLEDON/WASHINGTON, July 1, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

The 137th Wimbledon Championships began Monday with pristine grass, a mixture of sunshine and non-threatening clouds, and plenty of strawberries and cream.

Oh, and there were 64 first round matches (32 men’s and 32 women’s) – half of both draws – spread about the grounds of the All England Club, with as many as 17 courts in action at one time. A wide variety of star power, British favorites, and up-and-comers on the Day One order of play gave everyone something to cheer about.

For the first time in 21 years, there was no Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray as defending Gentlemen’s Singles champion kicking off play on Centre Court. That’s something that hadn’t happened since 2003, when defending champion Lleyton Hewitt was booted in the first round by 6-foot-11 giant Ivo Karlovic and a hail of aces.

No worries, though, as 2023 Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, full of smiles and a newly-minted tattoo of the Eiffel Tower on his left ankle to celebrate his recent Roland-Garros title, welcomed play on Centre Court at 1:30 p.m. (London Time) sharp against fellow 21-year-old qualifier Mark Lajal of Estonia.

A favorite to repeat as Wimbledon champion, Alcaraz came in also trying to pull off a “Channel Slam” – winning the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back. If successful, Alcaraz would become just the fourth man in the Open Era to win four major titles aged 21 or under.

“Well, winning Grand Slams is difficult,” Alcaraz said in his pre-tournament news conference on Saturday. “Obviously changing from clay to a grass court, totally different surfaces, totally different game of play. Let’s say: I’m going to try.”

The World No. 3 Alcaraz looked sharp in his simple, all-white Nike attire as he walked out on court. He played pretty sharp, too.

With the roof open, the three-time major champion Alcaraz entertained the Centre Court crowd that included English football great David Beckham and British natural historian Sir David Attenborough in the Royal Box with a 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-2 victory over the 269th-ranked Lajal in two hours and 22 minutes. He mixed powerful groundstrokes with the element of surprise from his effective drop shots to record his 27th win of the season.

Although he was pushed by Lajal during the opening set, Alcaraz closed out his eighth straight Wimbledon win on his first match point by striking a solid, third-shot forehand winner. It was the last of his 44 winners on the afternoon. Alcaraz outpointed Lajal 108-83.

“He surprised me a little bit because I had not seen him play too much,” Alcaraz said during his on-court interview. “He is very young; he is my age. I am sure I am going to see him on the Tour and play him more often. I am really happy to get through and get my first win on Centre Court this year.”

Come Wednesday, Alcaraz will face 69th-ranked Aleksandar Vukic of Australia, who went the distance to defeat No. 45 Sebastian Ofner of Austria in an opener decided by a match tie-break, 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8), in three hours and 49 minutes on Court 7.

Stepping onto this court at Wimbledon is the most beautiful court that I have played on,” Alcaraz admitted. “I am still nervous when I play here. I practiced for 45 minutes on Thursday and it was the first time I have been nervous in practice and it is because it is for playing here.”

Sinner wins, sets up all-Italian blockbuster with Berrettini

Top seed Jannik Sinner of Italy overcame a strong challenge from Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann to win his opening-round match, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in two hours and 58 minutes on No. 1 Court Monday evening. The roof was closed after the third set to allow for enough light to finish the match.

Despite a dip in his third-set levels, Sinner made a strong recovery to win his Grand Slam debut as World No. 1 at Wimbledon.

“When you go a break down immediately it’s tough to recover but how I reacted in the fourth set was very positive and ending the match in a very positive way hopefully can help me to start the next round,” Sinner said in his on-court interview.

“It’s a huge privilege and honour to be in the position that I am and there is no better place than here to play my first Grand Slam as a World No. 1. It’s an amazing feeling, but every match starts at zero, zero and every opponent wants to win, as I do.”

Sinner fired 16 aces, won 79 percent of his first-serve points, hit 47 winners and outpointed Hanfmann 128-112. He benefitted from 38 unforced errors by his opponent and converted four of five break points while saving nine of 11.

Next, Sinner will face fellow Italian and 2021 Wimbledon semifinalist Matteo Berrettini. The former World No. 6, who is now ranked 59th, defeated No. 70 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 7-6 (3), 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, in two hours and 57 minutes.

“It’s a tough one for sure” Sinner said. “He played the final here and he knows very well how to play on this surface so it’s a big challenge for me.”

Gauff gains Wimbledon redemption, makes quick work of Dolehide 

No. 2 seed Coco Gauff of the United States made quick work of fellow American Caroline Dolehide, needing just 65 minutes to win 6-1, 6-2, on Centre Court Monday evening.

Gauff won 86 percent of her first-serve points, hit 15 winners to 15 unforced errors, converted six of 10 break points and outscored Dolehide 61-34.

“I’m really happy that I was able to get through today,” Gauff said during her on-court interview. “I’m a little bit emotional but it’s been a long year.”

The World No. 2, who was ousted in the opening round last year by qualifier Sofia Kenin, lost just three games against Dolehide – facing just one break point – and at one point of the match, she won eight straight games. Gauff won for the 33rd time this season.

In the second round, Gauff will meet 142nd-ranked Romanian qualifier Anca Todoni, who advanced with a 7-5, 6-1 win over 116th-ranked qualifier Olga Danilova of Serbia.

Dimitrov, Ruud advance quickly, comfortably

A pair of Top 10 stars, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and Casper Ruud of Norway, both made quick work of the opening-round opponents to advance to the second round.

First, the No. 10 seed Dimitrov defeated No. 56 Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, in an hour and 45 minutes on No. 2 Court by firing 16 aces, winning 92 percent of his first-serve points, hitting 45 winners and being successful in 17 of 18 net exchanges. He converted all four of his break-point chances and outpointed Lajovic 99-67.

Next, the 33-year-old Dimitrov, who is playing in his 14th Wimbledon, will face Chinese #NextGenATP rising star Shang Juncheng. The 19-year-old, who trains in the United States, defeated 106th-ranked qualifier Cristian Garin of Chile, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.

“The first Monday of the tournament you always feel nervous, that’s how it is,” Dimitrov said in his on-court interview. “It’s butterflies, you’re questioning yourself a little bit, which is normal. This is where the mental toughness comes in. … I’m very happy I won in three sets. On grass, you have to be ready every single point.”

Meanwhile, the eighth-seeded Ruud started rapidly with a 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 win over 234th-ranked Australian qualifier Alex Bolt in two hours and 13 minutes on No. 3 Court for his 40th victory of the season. It was just Ruud’s third career win at SW19 in five appearances. He’s never advanced past the second round.

Rudd struck 45 winners – including 18 aces – and saved nine of 10 break points he faced. He outpointed his opponent 116-95, although he was pushed to six match points before finally prevailing.

Next, he will play No. 94 Fabio Fognini of Italy, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win over No. 104 Luca Van Assche of France, a lucky loser, who replaced Dominik Koepfer of Germany.

“I feel good,” Ruud said in his on-court interview. “It’s nice to stand here now as the winner of the match. It could have been 5-5 or even 6-5 to him, so two tricky games to  the end, but I’m happy to win one of them and close the match.”

Raducanu back in winner’s circle at Wimbledon

British superstar Emma Raducanu made her grand return to Wimbledon Centre Court a successful one. Playing in the second match of the day on Centre Court, the 135th-ranked wild card defeated 98th-ranked lucky loser Renata Zarazua of Mexico, 7-6 (0), 6-3, in an hour and 57 minutes. She won on her second match point.

Zarazua was a lucky loser replacement for No. 23 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who pulled out of the tournament Monday morning due to illness. However, there was no stopping the 21-year-old one-time major champion Raducanu, who missed last year’s Wimbledon while recovering from multiple surgeries.

Raducanu finished the victory with 30 winners to 17 unforced errors, converted two of three break points and outpointed Zarazua 73-63. She showed she was both physically and mentally strong on court.

“It was an incredibly difficult match,” Raducanu said in her in-court interview. “It took a lot of strength to kind of get over the line. It’s amazing to play an opponent such as Renata. She wasn’t in the draw in the morning and then she’s on Centre Court. All props to her and thank you to everyone for helping me get through.”

Sabalenka withdraws with shoulder injury

Two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who was seeded third at Wimbledon, withdrew from the Championships just hours before her scheduled first-round match against Emina Bektas of the United States on No. 1 Court with an injured shoulder. The World No. 3 cut short a practice session Monday, then posted on her social media:

“Heartbroken to have to tell you all that I won’t be able to play The Championships this year. I tried everything to get myself ready but unfortunately my shoulder is not cooperating. I pushed myself to the limit in practice today to try my best, but my team explained that playing would only make things much worse. This tournament means so much to me and I promise I’ll be back stronger than ever next year.”

A semifinalist at Wimbledon each of the last two times she appeared there, in 2021 and 2023, Sabalenka was replaced in the draw by Erika Andreeva of Russia, who lost in qualifying play last week.

Sabalenka retired from her recent quarterfinal match in Berlin due to pain in her shoulder.

On Saturday, during her pre-tournament news conference, Sabalenka said on there was a posibility that she would have to pull out of Wimbledon, “But I still have my hopes. As someone who been fighting through a lot of different pains in the past months, I still have my hopes,” she said.

• Later Monday, Victoria Azarenka withdrew from Wimbledon with a shoulder injury. With the withdrawals of Sabalenka and Azarenka, coupled with the first-round loss of Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, the bottom half of the women’s draw is guaranteed two first-time semifinalists.

Around the All England Club

• Men’s fifth seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia advanced in under two hours with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 88 Aleksandar Kovacevic of the United States in the opening match on No. 1 Court to remain unbeaten in first-round play at Wimbledon. The World No. 5, a semifinalist last year, showcased his power by hitting 16 aces and striking 33 winners. He saved all three breaks he faced and outpointed Kovacevic 94-71.

It was a great match, to be honest,” said Medvedev, during his on-court interview. “The first match is never easy and there were moments in the match when it was not as easy as the score would suggest. So, I’m really happy with my level and I’ve still never lost on Court 1, so hopefully I can play a lot more matches on this court.”

Medvedev improved to 6-0 in first-round play at Wimbledon. Next, he will face No. 102 Alexandre Muller of France, a 6-4, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5) winner over 71st-ranked French qualifier Hugo Gaston.

• Three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, beginning his 18th quest for a Wimbledon title, opened with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 win over 248th-ranked British wild card Charles Broom on No. 2 Court.

• No. 40 Jordan Thompson of Australia defeated No. 53 Pavel Kotov of Russia, 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, in one of the longest matches of the day – four hours and six minutes – played on Court 10.

Thompson hit 13 aces, won 80 percent of his first-serve points and struck 64 winners to 46 unforced errors, compared to 11 aces, 50 winners and 49 unforced errors by Kotov. A total of 316 points were contested and Thompson outpointed Kotov 163-153.

The Thompson-Kotov tussle was later surpassed by Arthur Cazaux’s 5-set, four-hour and 34-minute victory over Zizou Bergs. The 98th-ranked Frenchman defeated No. 82 Bergs of Belgium, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8) on Court 4.

• In her first match at Wimbledon since 2019, 113th-ranked wild card Naomi Osaka of Japan picked up her first win at the grass-court major in six years with a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 victory over No. 53 Diane Parry of France. Twice down a break in the final set, the four-time major champion Osaka rallied to pull out the victory in an hour and 32 minutes on No. 2 Court. She finished with 34 winners to overcome 38 unforced errors and outpointed Parry 76-70.

“It feels like a dream,” Osaka said in her on-court interview, explained how it felt to be back at Wimbledon. “I know I haven’t played here many times, but I’m so grateful you guys came and cheered. I hope the match was fun for everyone to watch. I’m excited to be here.”

• Women’s No. 7 seed Jasmine Paolini of Italy and No. 9 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece were among the Top 10 seeds to advance to the second round. On No. 3 Court, Paolini defeated No. 55 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 7-5, 6-3, by hitting 34 winners and capitalizing on six breaks of her opponent’s serve to win. She outpointed Sorribes Tormo 75-60.

Meanwhile, Sakkari eased past 119th-ranked American qualifier McCartney Kessler, 6-3, 6-1, to win her 22nd match of the season. She outpointed Kessler 59-37.

“It felt a lot better than I expected,” Sakkari said in her post-match remarks. “Obviously, you know, I’ve been struggling a little bit in Grand Slams in the last couple of tournaments, you know, with first-round losses. So that was in my mind.

“But I feel like today I was brave and strong enough to just overcome that fear. I think it was pretty solid from a tennis standpoint.”

• Eastbourne champion Daria Kasatkina of Russia was back in action, just two days after winning her first-grass court title. Seeded 14th, she defeated Zhang Shuai of China, 6-3, 6-0, in 74 minutes on Court 14. She converted five of seven break points and outpointed Zhang 66-45.

• Among the other seeds advancing: Men – No. 12 Tommy Paul, No. 16 Ugo Humbert, No. 23 Alexander Bublik, No. 27 Tallon Griekspoor, No. 29 Frances Tiafoe, No. 32 Zhang Zhizhen. Women – No. 12 Madison Keys, No. 18 Marta Kostyuk, No. 19 Emma Navarro, No. 26 Linda Noskova, No. 28 Dayana Yastremska.

• Among the seeds upset: Men – No. 18 Sebastian Baez, No. 19 Nicolas Jarry, No. 22 Adrian Mannarino, No. 31 Mariano Navone. Women – No. 8 Zheng Qinwen, No. 24 Mirra Andreeva, No. 29 Sorana Kirstea.

Monday’s Wimbledon results

Tuesday’s Wimbledon order of play

By the numbers

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria is making his 54th consecutive Grand Slam appearance at this year’s Wimbledon, equaling Stefan Edberg for sixth on the all-time list.

“Quotable …”

“It’s great to be back at Wimbledon, and every win I can get here is good for my confidence and my career. … Of course, I want to improve and become a better grass-court player in my career. I also have to be realistic. I know on clay my chances are higher. … But I step on court because I want to win.”

— No. 8 Casper Ruud of Norway, during his on-court interview after winning his opening-round match over Alex Bolt, which was just his third Wimbledon victory in five appearances.