Holder Vondrousova crashes in Wimbledon first round, Murray loses fitness race

Published July 3, 2024
MARKETA Vondrousova of the Czech Republic hits a backhand return against Spain’s Jessica Bouzas Maneiro during their Wimbledon first-round match at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on Tuesday.—AFP
MARKETA Vondrousova of the Czech Republic hits a backhand return against Spain’s Jessica Bouzas Maneiro during their Wimbledon first-round match at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on Tuesday.—AFP

LONDON: Marketa Vondro­usova became the first defending women’s Wimbledon champion to lose in the first round for 30 years on Tuesday as Andy Murray ran out of time in his fitness race.

Novak Djokovic barely broke sweat as he launched his bid for a record-equalling eighth men’s singles title and women’s top seed Iga Swiatek eased through.

But it was a painful day for Czech sixth seed Vondrousova, whose time in the Wimbledon spotlight was cut short as she went down down 6-4, 6-2 to Spain’s unheralded Jessica Bouzas Maneiro in 66 minutes.

Vondrousova is only the second defending champion to lose in the first round at the All England Club in the Open Era.

The only other time it has happened was 30 years ago, when Lori McNeil defeated three-time defending champion Steffi Graf.

World number 83 Bouzas Maneiro, playing in only the third Grand Slam main draw of her career, broke her opponent five times in the match under the roof on Centre Court.

Vondrousova, who said she was wary in her first match since she hurt her hip at last month’s Berlin grass-court tournament, struggled with her serve and racked up 28 unforced errors.

“Practice was fine and everything,” said the Czech. “Today I was a bit scared because of my leg too. But I don’t think that was the reason. I felt nervous from the start.” She added: “It’s tough to go out defending the title.”

It was a different story for women’s world number one and five-time Grand Slam winner Swiatek, who beat former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-4 with a minimum of fuss.

Elena Rybakina, the 2022 champion, cantered past Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse 6-3, 6-1 while fifth seed Jessica Pegula lost just two games against US compatriot Ashlyn Krueger in a 6-2, 6-0 demolition job.

Meanwhile, Murray confirmed the worst fears of his loyal army of British fans, deciding he was unable to compete in the singles at his final Wimbledon because he had not recovered sufficiently from recent back surgery.

The withdrawal of two-time champion Murray means Djokovic is the only member of the fabled “Big Four” remaining in the men’s draw at the All England Club.

Roger Federer has retired and Rafael Nadal opted to skip Wimbledon to prepare for a shot at another Olympic title.

Murray, 37, is hoping to end his stellar career at the upcoming Paris Games but desperately wanted to make a final singles appearance at Wimbledon, where he was champion in 2013 and 2016.

The Scot, who has been ravaged by injuries in recent years, will still play doubles with his brother Jamie, with whom he practised on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m disappointed, I wanted to play in the tournament,” he said. “I wanted to have a chance to go out there and walk out on my own on the Centre Court again and give it another go.

“But I also was only going to do that if I felt like I could be competitive and I didn’t feel like that today. I’m sorry for everyone that came and wanted to support and watch again.”

Djokovic, born a week apart from Murray in May 1987, had a knee operation after pulling out before his French Open quarter-final — sparking fears he would not be fit in time for Wimbledon.

Djokovic eases through

But the Serbian world number two, who was beaten by Carlos Alcaraz in last year’s final, dismissed Czech player Vit Kopriva 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 without facing a single break point.

He knows time is not on his side as he bids to equal Federer’s Wimbledon title record and become the first player — man or woman — to win 25 Grand Slam singles titles.

“I tried to really focus on the game and not think about the knee too much,” said Djokovic, bidding for a record 25th major. “Everything that I could do, I have done over the last three weeks along with my team to be able to play here for you today.

“I think if it was for any other tournament I probably would not have risked it, would not have rushed as much but I just love Wimbledon, love coming back here.”

An angry Andrey Rublev, a quarter-finalist last year, exited in four sets against Argentina’s Francisco Comesana, playing his first Grand Slam match.

The Russian sixth seed repeatedly smashed his racquet against his knee in the third set in frustration but failed to turn things around and lost 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).

Fourth seed and French Open runner-up Alexander Zverev progressed in straight sets.

In Monday’s late matches, world number one and top seed Jannik Sinner suffered a mid-match injury scare after a slip and was briefly troubled by Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann before winning 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, to set up a mouth-watering all-Italian clash against 2021 runner-up Matteo Berrettini.

“That’s going to a big challenge for me,” Sinner said.

Men’s 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov continued his resurgence with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win against Dusan Lajovic.

In the women’s draw, China’s world number eight Zheng Qinwen, the Australian Open runner-up, was the biggest casualty of the day, losing in the first round for a second successive year. Zheng went down 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 to New Zealand qualifier Lulu Sun, who celebrated her first Grand Slam match win.

Second seed Coco Gauff of the US concluded Centre Court action on Monday with an impressive 6-1, 6-2 defeat of fellow American Caroline Dolehide.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2024

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