Alcaraz and Sinner crank it up on Day 1 at Wimbledon

Carlos Alcaraz and Naomi Osaka at Wimbledon 2024
Carlos Alcaraz and Naomi Osaka at Wimbledon 2024 (PC: Wimbledon/X)

The first round at a Grand Slam is slippery. And, if it happens to be the hallowed precincts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, the grass is green but does pose a problem or two for many players. On Monday, the opening day of The Championships, as Britons like to address Wimbledon, a European flavour was on view in the gentlemen’s singles section. It was about two men from Spain and Italy – Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner – negotiating the first round with a certain degree of caution against opponents who had nothing to lose.

Opening day was also sad in many ways, as two well-known women with pedigree and proficiency in tennis, Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka, had to pull out. Both came to London, prepared, seemingly ready, and then realised their serving shoulder was not cooperating. Sabalenka and Azarenka, two consummate artists from war-hit Belarus, had to shed tears even before unpacking their tennis racquet bags. Sabalenka had even said ‘no’ to the Paris Olympics as a neutral athlete, as she wanted to focus on Wimbledon.

Back to the two young men from Italy and Spain who have been grabbing headlines in tennis in 2023 and 2024. Sinner and Alcaraz made for compelling viewing on day one. There is a lot of intrigue about how Italians are doing well. Perhaps, those ignorant of tennis are unaware that Italy has a fantastic tennis-tournament structure, from juniors to seniors, from Challengers to ATP Tour events. Sinner has come as a blessing for fans who crave to see fresh faces and more energetic legs.

For a whole generation of tennis lovers who are used to seeing the first day’s action being led by the defending champion – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon – this Monday was different. Alcaraz, the defending champion, came out strong, though the unknown Mark Lajal from Estonia worried him in staccato bursts. Alcaraz knew the first day could be tricky, but he showcased his skills well, clinching the match in straight sets.

Lajal played with high intensity, which was not surprising, since Wimbledon often turns journeymen into giant-killers as there is no pressure. Alcaraz was prepared, though, and relaxed too after a good round of golf on the greens near Church Road, SW19, on Sunday.

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here

Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon 2024
Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon 2024 (PC: X)

“I think he played great,” said Alcaraz. “This level is not for his ranking. I’m sure if he is still playing at this level, he’s going to increase his ranking, his level, and everything. But I think, well, I’m happy about my level. I think I played a solid match, a great match.”

If Alcaraz was composed, Sinner was also in a destructive mode as he dismantled Yannick Hanfmann from Germany in four sets. When a big player like Sinner loses a set, he is bound to get fired up. Then again, Sinner is no grass-court specialist. He is a convert, not loathe to learning the tricks of the trade on a surface where the fresh blades of grass are not easy to deal with. However, there was no fear as he dug deep and produced his A game. With a monstrous serve which probably disturbed even the sleeping worms under the grass, Sinner cranked it up to hit 16 aces and 47 winners.

At the post-match conference, Sinner was relaxed. “Physically, I feel good,” he said. “(The) first round is always a bit more slippery. Felt like when we were walking on court, it was a bit, you know, not raining, but there was a little bit. So, it was tough to get the court dry. I felt like from the moment when we closed the roof, the court was much dryer and it was a bit easier to move.”

Another notable winner on Monday included wild card Naomi Osaka, as she scripted a dream win against Frenchwoman Diane Parry on her first appearance at Wimbledon since 2019. It may have taken three sets, but Osaka enjoyed being on Court 2. For the record, the Old Court 2 at Wimbledon was notorious, with many  a seeded player buried there by lesser lights.  But then, Osaka is returning slowly and steadily. To win a match like this was important on her return to top-flight tennis. 

The Super Mom’s daughter’s birthday is today, July 2, but Osaka was focussed on her assignment. “I mean, for me, it felt really fun and really stressful at the same time,” said Osaka. “Like, it was fun because the crowd was so engaged. I honestly think I’ve played on Court 2 before. I think, overall, it was something that I can take a lot away from.”

Also Read: On World Sports Journalists Day, the intent is to unite