Djokovic Opens Wimbledon Campaign As Russians Return

Tennis star, Novak Djokovic launches his bid for an eighth Wimbledon title and all-time record-equalling 24th Grand Slam triumph on Monday as Russian players marked their return from a 2022 ban with opening wins.

The 36-year-old Djokovic, who has won the past four titles at the All England Club, opens proceedings on Centre Court, where he has not lost in 10 years.

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Unheralded Pedro Cachin of Argentina, the world number 68 and making his main draw debut at the tournament, plays the role of unwitting fall guy.

“When I enter the Centre Court, I guess it just awakens something in me and I’m able to perform at a very high level,” said Djokovic.

World number two Djokovic has already pocketed the Australian Open and French Open this year.

Winning a men’s-record 23rd major in Paris put him one behind Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24.

He is also half way to pulling off the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

This year’s Wimbledon will be the first since 1998 to feature neither eight-time winner Roger Federer, now retired, nor the injured Rafael Nadal.

Also missing is Nick Kyrgios, the runner-up last year, who withdrew late on Sunday with a wrist injury.

Having been banned in 2022 after their country’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian players, competing as neutrals, made an immediate impact on their return.

Seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev was the first men’s winner of the day, beating Australia’s Max Purcell 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

His 12th-seeded compatriot, Veronika Kudermetova, made the second round of the women’s singles by seeing off 38-year-old Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, a two-time quarter-finalist 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.

Venus Back On Centre Court

Women’s world number one Iga Swiatek faces China’s 34th-ranked Zhu Lin, confident that she has shaken off the effects of food poisoning she suffered at the Bod Hamburg grass-court event last week.

The 22-year-old Pole, who captured a third French Open title last month, has never progressed past the fourth round at Wimbledon.

“For sure, I believe the best players, they can play on all surfaces,” Swiatek said.

“I want to kind of become that kind of player who can play well on grass as well and feel comfortable there.”

Five-time champion Venus Williams, the 43-year-old American who made her debut at the tournament in 1997, takes on Elina Svitolina on Centre Court.

Williams is playing the singles event for the 24th time.

She faces Ukraine’s Svitolina, whose articulate lobbying for support of her country in its war against Ukraine has caught the imagination.

Svitolina said she feels no bitterness towards the All England Club after they decided to lift the ban on Russian and Belarusian players.

“They had to choose. There was pressure there, they didn’t want to lose a Slam tournament but we are still thankful that they banned them last year.”

“It’s what we fought for,” added Svitolina, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2019.

This year’s tournament will be played under tightened security over fears that climate activists could disrupt matches following high-profile protests at other sporting events.

Three protesters from Just Stop Oil ran onto the ground during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s last week, sprinkling the group’s trademark orange powder.

“Of course we’ve taken account of what we’ve seen elsewhere so security has been uplifted in various places around the grounds,” said All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton

The event will also see a relaxing of the club’s famously strict all-white clothing rule.

In a bid to ease period anxiety, female players will be allowed to wear dark-coloured underwear beneath their white skirts.

“I wore black shorts at the Eastbourne tournament so it really helped,” said British player Heather Watson.

Source: AFP

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