After a one-year gap, the world’s top tennis players returned to the All England Club in London to participate in Wimbledon 2021. And despite the tournament being called off in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the allure of the only grass-court Grand Slam wasn’t diminished in the slightest. It is, after all, the game’s most coveted tournament.
The first week of Wimbledon saw some breathtaking tennis along with a number of upsets in both the women’s and men’s draws. There were tumbles, tears and some breathtaking tennis to go with it, and best of all, fans cheering on to give us a reminder of what we missed last year. And as a welcome addition, Wimbledon has introduced on-court interviews as well, giving us some wonderful interactions over the past week. The chance to express themselves in front of the Centre Court audience at SW19 was usually reserved for the finalists, but 2021 has already given us many heartwarming moments in this regard.
As the 2021 tournament heads into its traditional rest day on middle Sunday for one last time, here’s a look back at some of the first week’s big moments:
Top seeds Ashleigh Barty and Novak Djokovic didn’t face too many difficulties in navigating through the first three rounds of Wimbledon 2021. Barty plays 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in the round of 16, while Djokovic’s quest for No 20 continues when he takes on Cristian Garin. Even Aryna Sabalenka and Daniil Medvedev, both seeded second, were impressive as they made their way to the second week.
Eight-time champion Roger Federer, playing his second Major since Australian Open 2020, faced a major scare in the opening round when he went two-sets-to-one down against Adrian Mannarino, but an injury to his opponent at the end of the fourth set saw the Swiss move forward and he has kept improving from thereon.
However, there were a number of major upsets in the first week as seeded players went tumbling out.
In the women’s draw, 10th seed and two-time champion Petra Kvitova was knocked-out in the opening round by Sloane Stephens. Along with her, fifth seed Bianca Andreescu, ninth seed Belinda and Kiki Bertens were the other big names to bow out in the first round.
Fourth seed Sofia Kenin, who has struggled to find her best this year, was sent packing in the second round by compatriot Madison Brengle, while third seed Elina Svitolina lost in straight sets to Magda Linette.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka couldn’t make it past the second round, along with Maria Sakkari who had reached the French Open final last month. Finally, 11th seed 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza was taken out by Ons Jabeur in the third round.
In the men’s singles section, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who reached the French Open final last month, suffered a shock first-round exit at the hands of Frances Tiafoe. Along with him, Jannik Sinner, Alex de Minaur, Casper Ruud, Pablo Carreno Busta and Aslan Karatsev were the other seeds who lost in the opening round.
Grigor Dimitrov went down in straight sets to Alexander Bublik in the second round, while Dan Evans, Diego Schwartzman and Nick Kyrgios (unseeded) couldn’t make it past the third round.
Here’s how the round of 16 line-up looks like going into the second week:
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) v Christian Garin (CHI x17)
Marton Fucsovics (HUN) v Andrey Rublev (RUS x5)
Karen Khachanov (RUS x25) v Sebastian Korda (USA)
Denis Shapovalov (CAN x10) v Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP x8)
Matteo Berrettini (ITA x7) v Ilya Ivashka (BLR)
Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN x16) v Alexander Zverev (GER x4)
Roger Federer (SUX x6) v Lorenzo Sonego (ITA x23)
Hubert Hurkacz (POL x14) v Daniil Medvedev (RUS x2)
Ashleigh Barty (AUS x1) v Barbora Krejcikova (CZE x14)
Emma Raducanu (GBR) v Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)
Paula Badosa (ESP x30) v Karolia Muchova (CZE x19)
Coco Gauff (USA x20) v Angelique Kerber (GER x25)
Karolina Pliskova (CZE x8) v Liudmila Samsonova (RUS)
Madison Keys (USA x23) v Viktorija Golubic (SUI)
Iga Swiatek (POL x7) v Ons Jabeur (TUN x21)
Elena Rybakina (KAZ x18) v Aryna Sabalenka (BLR x2)— (x denotes seeded players)
The crowd may have cheered Andy Murray to the rafters as he showed his mental resilience and flashes of his old brilliance but at the end it was not enough to see the former world No 1 into the second week.
“Is it worth it?” mused Murray after his straight sets third round defeat by world No 12 Denis Shapovalov.
Murray turned back the clock with some inspired play in the opening two rounds. Against Nikoloz Basilashvili in the opener, he was serving for the match up 5-0 in the third set before losing the next seven games. But he bounced back strongly and closed out the match in four.
In the second round against Oscar Otte, he won the opening set before losing the next two. But once again, Murray dug deep to claw his way back and win the match in five.
The two-time Wimbledon champion, who has been fighting hip and groin injuries, sets himself far higher goals than just being there to entertain the crowd. But he showed that the fragments of his best version are still present in his system.
Serena Williams’s latest bid to equal Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam singles record of 24 did not even get into first gear and indeed ended with the 39-year-old “heartbroken.”
She will now wish that her tear-filled farewell to the Centre Court crowd, after she injured herself slipping early in her first round match with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, to not be the last time she made her presence felt at the game’s grandest stage; one where she has triumphed seven times (eight, if you include the Olympics gold too).
Serena did not divulge much about the extent of the injury only that it was to her right leg and preferred to address her broader fan base.
“Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on – and off – the court meant the world to me,” she added.
But even in her all-too-brief cameo, Serena gave us a powerful reminder of how adored she is at the Centre Court, when the applause she received while playing through tears and walking off the court were as impactful as any victory cheer over the past week. Indeed. when she stood with in the middle with the racket held up in her right hand and the left hand on her heart, it gave us an image that was simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring.
Falling over themselves
Serena’s retirement came soon after Frenchman Mannarino ended his 33rd birthday not with a win over Federer, which looked a possibility at one point, but instead having to concede he could not carry on having taken a tumble on Centre Court.
Others found it hard to keep their footing in the early rounds of the tournament. Novak Djokovic joked about how many tumbles he had taken in the first two rounds: “I seem to be having a really nice connection with the grass!”
The All England Club defended the state of the courts but many players were not convinced after two days of heavy rain.
Felix Auger-Aliassime said parts of the court were like “mud.”
Ons Jabeur endeared herself to the show court crowds with wins over five-time champion Venus Williams and 2017 Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza.
However, the 26-year-old is aiming at a far greater audience than those who paid a lot of money to watch her play – for she hopes her achievements will galvanise young Arab women to take up the sport.
The first Arab woman to win a WTA tournament on the eve of Wimbledon, and now the first into the last 16 of Wimbledon, seldom has there been a better opportunity for her wish to be fulfilled.
“I hope that so many of the young generation is watching, and I can inspire them,” she said. “Hopefully one day I could be playing with a lot of players next to me.”
Fritz miraculous return
A heart-warming story was to be found in seeing the big-serving American Taylor Fritz turning up for his first round match.
Those who had seen the 23-year-old American exiting the French Open a month ago in a wheelchair would not have placed money on that being the case.
Wearing a black knee-support stocking was a small price to pay for a quick operation to have him fighting fit for the tournament.
“I’m positive this is the quickest anyone has ever returned to actual professional competition from this surgery,” said Fritz.
He lasted a week and eventually bowed out in a four sets to fourth-seeded German Alexander Zverev 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) in the third round.
Coco Gauff is no stranger to the Wimbledon second week, and the 17-year-old returns to the back-end of the tournament for the second time in her career, but this time not as an unknown sensation, but a mature shot-maker who is playing solid, consistent tennis. Germany’s Angelique Kerber, the only former champion left in the women’s event, takes on Coco Gauff next and it promises to be one of the matches of the round of 16.
And the only British player left in the singles draw is 18-year-old Emma Raducanu who has defied her ranking of 338 to make the second week where she meets Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.
Raducanu, whose Romanian father Ian and Chinese mother Renee were in the crowd, fell to the turf of Court One holding her hands to her face in disbelief.
“When I was packing for Wimbledon to come into the bubble my parents said ‘are you not packing a bit too much match kit?’” she said.
She may have had enough for the first week but even her confidence did not extend to being present on ‘Manic Monday’. Emblematic of her coolness was how she hit back from 3-1 down in the first set to rattle off eight games in a row and take control of the match.
“I am so speechless,” said Raducanu. “At the end I did not know what my reaction would be and I just dropped to the floor.”
Indeed, the fact that the second week of Wimbledon will see the presence of a 39-year-old Roger Federer and two young women still in their teens, is one of the most fascinating storylines to have emerged from the first week.
Here are highlights of some of the best shots and matches in the first week of Wimbledon 2021:
(With inputs from AFP)
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