The first round at Wimbledon

Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon

 LONDON -- The first-round headlines at Wimbledon had less to do with what happened on court and what transpired in the doctor’s office. Four seeded women, including Grand Slam winners Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka withdrew injured shortly before they were due to play. Then, despite the high hopes for the hometown favourite, Andy Murray, the Scot dropped out before his first match, still not recovered after back surgery for a spinal cyst. By contrast, Novak Djokovic competed less than a month after knee surgery and had no trouble against Czech journeyman Vit Kopriva, winning 6-1/6-2/6-2.

 Last year’s women’s champion, Marketa Vondrousova, of the Czech Republic, probably wished she had joined the crowd, exiting before the action got underway. She must have thought she would have no problem with 83rd-ranked Jessica Bouzas Maneiro, whose best results have come on red clay. From the start, Vondrousova seemed hampered by a leg injury. Still she struggled on, and subsided 6-4/6-2.

 In interviews after winning the 2023 title, Vondrousova declared that she intended to celebrate by adding a new tattoo to the delicate lines that web her body. Perhaps this year she’ll have one of her tats lasered off.

 In an unexpectedly competitive and tense encounter, Italian qualifier Mattia Bellucci met the 14th seeded American, Ben Shelton, a powerfully built lefthander who’s been hovering for the past year near the top ten. Bellucci, also a hard-hitting lefty, appeared to be a mirror image of his opponent. After three sets, Bellucci held the lead and needed one more set to bring off a major upset. But Shelton changed his game, throttling back on his aggression and kept more balls in play. He drew even at two sets apiece, and the fifth set played out in intermittent showers. Despite his modest ranking, Bellucci held his own against Shelton, not just with his groundstrokes but with his serve. Still, he fell behind late in the deciding set when Shelter was about to serve for the match. But then the misty conditions gave way to a downpour, prompting more than an hour of delay. When the match resumed, Shelton fell behind and had to save a break point before finally putting Bellucci away.

 An old tennis truism holds that a tournament doesn’t really start until the big boys, the top contenders, go up against each other in the quarter or semi-finals. But this year at SW19 the action looks likely to come to a boil in the second round when Jannik Sinner, the new No. 1, confronts former Wimbledon finalist, Matteo Berrettini. Both men are tall Italians with long, slender legs. Otherwise, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Sinner hails from the mountainous north, the Alto Adige region, where he showed early promise as a skier. The most dramatic thing about him is his shock of curly red hair. Many of his fans show up for matches dressed as carrots.

 Nothing so uncool could possibly attach itself to Berrettini, a dark, handsome Roman with a Hollywood star’s smile. He has an Achilles heel, however, his weak, wobbly ankles. Often injured, he has never quite lived up to his potential, or at least what experts predicted for him. Friendly as they are as Davis Cup teammates, neither Sinner nor Berrettini would enjoy anything better than winning this intramural battle. Keep tuned until tomorrow.


Berrettini and Sinner will face off at Wimbledon