Welcome back, Wimbledon: the Slam returns in the rain; Djokovic wins
Posted on Monday, June 28, 2021 | 9:42 a.m.
Updated 15 minutes ago
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Wimbledon returned on Monday after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and felt so rather familiar at the All England Club, from the rain that disrupted the schedule to Novak Djokovic’s victory.
As were the delays in the competition around the courts – it took about 4.5 hours to start playing on the outdoor courts; more than a dozen matches have been fully postponed – Djokovic has started slowly in his bid for a 20th Grand Slam title, a tied record, and a sixth at Wimbledon.
The defending champion lost the opening set to Jack Draper, a 19-year-old wildcard from England ranked 253rd, before finally showing his best tennis under the roof of the center court and winning 4-6, 6-1 , 6 -2, 6-2 with the help of 25 aces.
Djokovic is halfway through a one calendar year Grand Slam, after trophies at the Australian Open in February and the French Open two weeks ago. The man he returned to defeat in the final at Roland Garros after losing the first two sets, Stefanos Tsitsipas, seeded no.3, was quickly eliminated from the All England Club, losing to the American Frances Tiafoe, 57th. 4, 6-4, 6-3 in just over two hours at court # 1.
Tiafoe was 0-11 against top 5 ranked opponents.
“This guy is special. He’s going to do a lot of great things. Win a ton of Grand Slam tournaments, “Tiafoe said of Tsitsipas, then broke into a big smile and added,” But not today. “
In the finished women’s opener, Aryna Sabalenka – who is seeded No.2 after defending champion Simona Halep and quadruple major champion Naomi Osaka – retired with a 6-1 victory, 6-4 on the qualifier Monica Niculescu. Other winners included 2017 champion Garbiñe Muguruza, No.23 Madison Keys and No.32 Ekaterina Alexandrova.
The tournament referee began announcing postponements around 3 p.m., including matches involving five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, Roland Garros semi-finalist Maria Sakkari and seed Denis Shapovalov and Alex de Minaur ( who is supposed to face the future American Sebastian Korda).
Yet at least there was tennis being played at the site that hosts the oldest Grand Slam tournament.
“It’s great to see everyone and to be back on what is probably the most special and sacred tennis court in the world,” said seed Djokovic.
“Along with many other players, I was very sad last year that Wimbledon was called off,” he said, referring to the first time it has not been played since WWII global. “It was a very difficult time for everyone, but I’m really happy that the sport is back. Hope you enjoyed it and enjoy it in the next couple of weeks.
The coronavirus still hangs over the event.
The capacity around the field is now limited to 50%; which will increase to 100% for the singles finals on the closing weekend of the fortnight. Fans must wear masks around the pitch (but not while watching a game) and show proof that they are fully vaccinated or have had COVID-19 in the past six months. All players and those around them must stay at a designated London hotel, where they undergo regular testing and contact tracing.
Britain’s only seed in singles, No.27 Johanna Konta, had to withdraw on Sunday night because she was told to self-isolate for 10 days after one of her team tested positive for COVID-19.
Before Djokovic and Draper opened the proceedings in the main stadium – an honor reserved for the previous year’s men’s champion – there were announcements over the loudspeakers welcoming “special guests to the Royal Box”, including including someone involved in vaccine development and frontline medical workers.
It was greeted with a standing ovation, just the first of the day.
Another happened when Draper caught the first set, surely to the surprise of his country, Djokovic and the kid himself.
It would have been so easy – so understandable, even – for Draper to be confused by the timing and the opponent, the setting and the stakes from the start. It was his debut in the Grand Slam main draw, after all.
Djokovic fell on his back twice in the first set, losing his footing on the slippery grass behind the baseline. It was his first competitive surface singles match since defeating Roger Federer in the 2019 final after recording two league points.
“To be honest, I don’t remember falling on the pitch so many times,” Djokovic said with a laugh. “Well, pretty slippery, whether it’s because the roof’s closed or it’s been raining a lot the last few days, I don’t know.”
Draper broke for a 2-1 lead, helped by Djokovic’s double faults, missed forehand and missed volley, and held on for the set.
Djokovic racked up seven break points in the opening set: one the first time Draper served, two the next time and four the fourth time, a game the southpaw escaped with the help of two aces in a row. 125 mph and 117 mph.
A 125mph service winner gave Draper this set and he shook his racquet, then pumped his right fist.
The crowd roared.
And two hours later, it was all over. Djokovic cleaned up his act considerably, going from just six winners and nine unforced errors in the first set to a combined total of 41 winners and 15 unforced errors the rest of the way.
AP Tennis writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.
More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports