The first days of a Grand Slam – especially Wimbledon – were the joy of my life as a 12-year-old. Now, it frustrates me that of all the action, I can only watch a handful of matches per day. I feel as though it is my duty to observe and analyse every contest. Of course, that is ridiculous. But this is how it tends to go.
From what I managed to witness on a hectic Day One of Wimbledon, here is some opinionated commentary and stuff of note.
PARIS FORGOTTEN? (Related scoreline: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  d. Cameron Norrie [WC] 6-3 6-2 6-2.)
He made the Australian Open final in 2008. But as far as consistency goes, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s most successful Grand Slams have been his home major – the French Open – and his home away from home: The grass-courts of Wimbledon.
The 31-year-old’s opening round loss to Renzo Olivo – the no. 91-ranked Argentinian – in Paris could not have been more shocking. Down two sets and a break against the zoning virtual unknown, Tsonga kept his nerve in the near-darkness to break serve and stay in the clash in set four. Nevertheless, he emerged the next morning to promptly go down three match points whilst serving to stay in the match – a feat which he failed to accomplish.
The 2013 semifinalist was lacking match play heading into the encounter, and had entered the Lyon Open the week beforehand to capture some form. It seemed to work, as he claimed the title with triumph over Tomas Berdych. But the home favourite had never competed the week prior to the French Open before, and the quick turnaround in atmosphere and conditions apparently took their toll.
Tsonga entered Wimbledon having been shocked in the first round of Queen’s Club, but a couple of exhibition matches in nearby Hurlingham last week gave him just enough preparation for SW19. Then the draw gifted him with an extra practice session on a pretty big court. World no. 221 Cameron Norrie is one of the more promising British players, but the wild card entry never looked likely to bounce Tsonga. This was a perfect match for the no. 12 seed: enabling him to warm into an opportune tournament, and gain confidence from rolling through without dropping serve. This surface is a seamless fit for his booming game. And now that Stan Wawrinka and has been eradicated from his section of the draw, the man who took Andy Murray to five sets last season is definitely one to watch.
Not a particularly notable opening win, but it might become more important later in the fortnight.
A QUESTION OF TENNIS? (Related scoreline: Venus Williams  d. Elise Mertens 7-6(7) 6-4.)
Oracene Price has had two daughters in singles action at Wimbledon for the past three consecutive years. But as Serena Williams takes a break for the first time since 2006, she is finally guaranteed not to face scheduling difficulties when lending moral support to her offspring.
The famous mother was courtside as 37-year-old Venus Williams kicked off her 2017 campaign with a victory – and an impressive one, for her mental fortitude as much of her tennis. During the 2012-2014 period – in the aftermath of her diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome, and her struggle to figure out how to deal with it – the elder Williams sister lost some of the aura of untouchability that surrounded both her and Serena. Even at Wimbledon, the belief that opposition could take her down visibly increased. Elena Vesnina’s straightforward first round upset of the American in 2012 had the journalists asking whether this would be Venus’ last appearance at the hallowed major. (Spoilers: It wasn’t.)
Still, the no. 10 seed would rather have faced that line of questioning that another one – unrelated to the victory which the press conference was dedicated to – that followed her 7-6(7) 6-4 result.
Elise Mertens is enjoying the best season of her career, and was making her debut at Wimbledon. Court 1 and a five-time champion across the net might have daunted another player, but the 21-year-old possesses a maturity beyond her years – and, handily, she already had Grand Slam experience against Venus. The senior player was a 6-3 6-1 winner in that round three clash in Paris, and it was a learning curve for the Belgian.
The world no. 54 almost fell behind 4-0 in the opening stages of Monday’s encounter, but from then on she was firing on all cylinders: confidently trying for depth, and nailing precise forehand winners.
But Venus – who also played quality aggressive tennis, upping the ante in the biggest moments – was also a force to be reckoned with in the mental department. She saw four match points come and go in the first set tiebreak before edging through, and recovered from a break deficit in the final set to clinch victory. It is incredibly positive for the 2016 semifinalist that she could win a high-standard battle in straight sets – and with widely known off-court issues on her mind.
The American had to deal with questions regarding this sensitive subject in press, and – after failing to recover her composure – left the room in tears.
I am of two minds over whether this subject should have been broached. On one hand, the incident has been highly publicised over recent days, and it is a journalist’s job to acquire as much information as possible if a topic is deemed to be in the public interest.
Yet the situation – and the way in which the star was asked – must be taken into consideration. While the voices questioning held no appearance of ill intent – and even sounded sympathetic – one has to wonder whether it was really necessary, and whether more than one question was required.
Firstly, this was a post match press conference. While these are hardly supposed to centre only on the contest that has just taken place, it could be argued that something as delicate and immense as the situation Venus is dealing with would be better dealt with on a one-on-one basis. The issue then is that the American – who has rights to refuse to do the interview – would likely do just that, while press conferences are mandatory if one wishes to avoid a hefty fine.
Also in favour of the questions being posed was if it could be proved that they had something to do with Venus’ tennis or latest win. The first question did this successfully, asking how the circumstances affected her tennis.
But the second question went as follows:
“Venus, I saw that you wrote on your Facebook some very heartfelt words about the accident. Is there anything else that you would want to say about that?”
This question had no relation to Wimbledon, Venus’ win or tennis in general. The 37-year-old had already made a statement of her own accord, via her own platform, on the events. If she had wanted to say anything more, she would surely have done so again in the same manner. To make the aforementioned query was milking the situation – and looking for a reaction.
The moderator for the press conference informed the journalists present that the former champion was unable to make any further comments on this particular topic, and therefore we can expect the world no. 11 to avoid more uncomfortable situations after her second round meeting with Qiang Wang.
JUST AN UNLUCKY LOSER – OR COULD IT HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT? (Related scoreline: Andy Murray  d. Alexander Bublik [LL] 6-1 6-4 6-2.)
Alexander ‘Sasha’ Bublik is a talented player. He is also a pretty funny one. The Russian-turned-Kazakh is a rising star – with a Grand Slam win over Lucas Pouille to his name this season – but is better known for his off-court antics. After making a name for himself by interviewing a friend who was parading as Rafael Nadal, the ATP cottoned on and got him interviewing the tour’s most elite stars for the entertainment of the fans.
It now seems that Bublik himself was a little too entertained and taken with the legends of his sport.
The first few days of a Grand Slam are full to bursting, with large handfuls of matches played simultaneously. This being the case, I did not get to see the whole of the Murray versus Bublik encounter. What I did see were Bublik’s social media posts within two hours of his match finishing – and accounts that he was chatting with Murray (who, you never know, may have been laughing inwardly) during a rain delay when he was two sets down.
To criticise the 20-year-old almost feels harsh – until you remember that Bublik was a lucky loser, and that his spot could have gone to another equally-grateful recipient who might have been more desperate to win this match. Obviously, it was a massive day for the Kazakh, and a fantastic experience. But from the offset, it seemed that this was all the 6’4” right-hander was viewing it as: An experience.
Again, it feels harsh to wag a finger at the youngster for enjoying a major event. But it becomes less hard to do so when the world no. 135 is on Twitter and Instagram applauding ‘“Sir” Andy Murray’ within an hour and a half of his defeat.
And heralding it the ‘best day of my life so far’ within an hour of the final point being played.
And thanking Andy Murray. Essentially for beating him.
Sure, he’s young. But Alexander Zverev – hardly two months older that the youngster – has already been ranked inside the top ten, and won a Masters 1000 title only recently. It is hard to imagine the ambitious German heralding a loss – and a pretty limp loss, at that – the crowning event of his life to date.
Nick Kyrgios is one of the most phenomenal and naturally talented players on the tennis circuit, and wins over the Big Three (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) back up his ability. How strange, then, that he has never managed to take down Andy Murray in a match that counts for ranking points and recorded results.
Strange, perhaps, until you observe that he overly praises the Brit both on and offline after every defeat. It is hard to believe that this attitude and the losses do not walk hand in hand.
If this is the case, Bublik must now be especially wary. Because with him, the line does not appear to stop with Andy Murray.
- Nick Kyrgios’ doctor advised him not even to take to court for Wimbledon, given the hip injury he has been combating for ‘six or seven months’. But the breakout 2014 star was not about to miss his favourite tournament. Unfortunately for him, a tricky opener against the well-rounded Pierre-Hugues Herbert proved impossible to overcome in his hampered state, and the Aussie – who composed himself well in his post-match press conference – was forced to pull out at 6-3 6-4 down.
Like him or not, this 22-year-old is capable of unbelievable grass-court tennis. It would take a hard heart not to feel sorry for him as he mourns a missed opportunity – and perhaps some weeks spent preparing for an event he was never truly able to contest.
- Another Aussie – Ashleigh Barty – was also left subdued after a first round exit on her beloved lawns. In-form in both singles and doubles – and far outstripping her ranking in the former discipline – the 21-year-old was unfortunate to draw world no. 5 Elina Svitolina as her first hurdle. The Ukrainian was the tour’s best player on the season up until recently, and every game of their collision was a mini battle.
At times it looked like an upset was on the cards – with Barty serving for the first set and leveling from behind in the second. But some careless mistakes contributed to her eventual departure. It is a hard lesson to learn, but Svitolina’s consistency won out 7-5 7-6(8) – and it sends her deeper into an opportune-looking draw.
- Daniil Medvedev took to court soon after Sasha Bublik – a player one year his junior – to take on a top tier opponent of his own. World no. 5 Stan Wawrinka may have reached the final of the French Open, but the three-time Slam champion remains hot and cold on all stages. Last season, Juan Martin Del Potro proved too much in round two, and 2017 did not even see him match that result. The Swiss one-handed-backhander was reportedly troubled by his left knee during his 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-1 loss to the world no. 49.
Still, that is some thumping by the underdog in his maiden appearance on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The mental game has never been more important in tennis – because it is this which holds together the physical. If Medvedev stays concentrated, he could be on the verge of a breakout run at SW19.
- World no. 189 Laura Robson – who has not won a WTA match since defeating an unranked wild card in Rabat in April 2016 – was always going to find a way to lose to Beatriz Haddad Maia: The world no. 97 who has little experience on grass. This was a dream draw for a wild card, and the 6-4 6-2 result in little over an hour exposes just how badly the LTA are doing at doling them out.
If Heather Watson had also lost, the embarrassment would have deepened considerably. Nevertheless, the Eastbourne semifinalist is discovering her old ability at last minute, and took advantage of her opportune opener against 23-year-old world no. 119 Maryna Zanevska.
- If perfection was personified, Rafael Nadal just about covered the role as he stormed past Australia’s John Millman – who was into the main draw via an injury-protected ranking – 6-1 6-3 6-2 in utterly relentless fashion.
The clash simply came too early for the 28-year-old Millman – who only returned to tour in May, and whose finest baseline rallying could not combat Nadal’s intensity, concentration and precision – let alone his quick mind and feet. The Spaniard clearly utilised the relaxed setting of Hurlingham last week to make the transition from clay to grass, and the result is a seriously imperious-looking player.
Roger Federer will be glad that they remain on opposite sides of the draw.
GO TO WIMBLEDON.COM FOR A FULL LIST OF RESULTS FOR EACH DAY OF PLAY.
Thanks for reading! Do you think Venus Williams should have been questioned along those lines in press? Did you call the Stan Wawrinka upset? Let me know in the comments!