Peter Donnelly, Editor
Wimbledon 2021 has returned, as ever, with a renewed lease of life. One week into the tournament it has provided the UK’s Summer sporting calender with no end of action; a commodity which has been in short supply over the past two years. Youth and some old consistencies are some of themes which have captivated this year’s tournament.
The Wimbledon Tennis Championships returned last Monday, the week beginning 28th June, 700 days on from the last tournament which was held in July 2019. The shutters are now up and familiar signs provide no end of reassurance not least the sights of the grass courts being cut to the very millimetre and white paint laid straight down the lines.
Although the grand opening was hampered by the habitual drizzle notoriously associated with the British Summer time, the energy of all from the top-notch players attired in their finest ‘whites’, the expert green-keepers and the crowds bedecked, in their thousands, in their Summer best was spectacularly indomitable.
The Championships will operate at half capacity this year with 21,000 fans shuffling their way through the turnstyles this year. Although for the semi-finals and finals the venue will function at full capacity – something once upon a time taken for granted.
From the get-go, the BBC Sports’ commentating team commenced the Championship action – the familiar voice of lead Wimbledon achor and former tennis player herself, Sue Barker was a further reassuring sight and sound. Then comes John McEnroe with his perpetual, Yank-infused with and wisdom to make one feel as if the World is truly facing a definite direction toward normality.
Youth Stealing The Show
Youth is the buzz word for this year’s Wimbledonl of that there is no doubt. The tennis world has set its sights on teenage British players Jack Draper, Emma Raducanu and Francesca Jones as the aspiring generation. Raducanu made tennis history on Saturday afternoon, 3rd July, when she roared her way to round four becoming the youngest woman from Britain to enter the final 16 in the Open era.
Although it was disappointing to witness Andy Murray knocked out of the Championship’s third round during the Friday evening session, 2nd July, after being away from the game for much of the past four years through injury, youth once gain rose to the challenge. 22-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov, seeded 10th, demonstrated how the unbeatable combination of youth, agility and pure on-court skill were no match for the 34-year-old Murray. Many speakers huddled in the commentary boxes dotted around Centre Court wondered whether his Friday performance could be his last.
Similar murmurings were being had with reference to the two Williams sisters, 39-year-old Serena and 41-year-old Venus. Serena Williams, who fell foul to the slippery conditions on Centre Court which also floored Adrian Mannarino in his match against Roger Federer, expressed how she was “heartbroken” when injury forced her retirement from the tournament.
FIGURES FOR WIMBLEDON
30,000 Purple and white petunias on site, plus 20,000 other types of plants
3 Harris’ hawks on patrol between 5am and 9am each day to discourage curious pigeons
276,291 Glasses of Pimms (served at the 2019 Championships).‘Ready To Roll’ The Sunday Times
Who could forget the 17-year-old star from the US, Coco Gauff who captured the hearts of tennis fans with her 2019 Wimbledon debut. 2021 has seen her progress and mature into a formidable presence on the court – and yes Centre Court. This writer has a personal story in this regard, having had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Gauff and her parents while working at SW19 in the heat of the last Championships.
Consistency Reigning Supreme
Although much of the protocols surrounding matches have been transformed; consistency has managed to reign supreme when it comes to two of the biggest names of all time in tennis history – Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Defending champion Djokovic, who is the betting favourite to win the 2021 Championships, has thus far, and very predictably, powered the course at SW19. Djokovic entered Wimbledon with his signature aura of confidence having been emboldened by his smashing victory at Roland Garros over Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the early part of June. Tsitsipas, who is fourth in the world tennis rankings, was defeated in the men’s singles during the tournament’s first round.
The Sunday Times’ James Palmer observed, in the days immediately preceding the commencement of the Championships, that the scoreboards were frozen in time from 14th July 2019 when Djokovic delivered defeat to Federer in an epic five-setter; another spectacle this Editor had the good fortune to witness.
When it comes to Roger Federer, what can be said? The name surely suffices? Retirement rumours of this 20-time tennis Grand Slam winner are always hushed when he strides onto the courts at Wimbledon. The soon to be 40-year-old Swiss genuis has the entire package as far as his prefessionalism in the game is concerned – he remains the smoothest of operators, always well-liked by the crowds.
Federer has clenched victory at Wimbledon for record-breaking eight times and dodging the laws of age as far as tennis is concerned remains unstoppable. Every action on the court is executed with that skillful precision which has inspred countless youngsters to take up the racquet – the sliced bankhand for which he is renowned the world over. The fact that Federer has only played a dozen professional matches since his knee injury, which ruled him out for much of 2020 coupled with the pandemic, has been by no means a hindrance.
Should Federer prove victorious this Wimbledon Men’s Final, 11th July, he will become the oldest male winners to do so in over 110 years. Arthur Gore was 41 when he became Wimbledon Champion in 1909. Retirement rumours have settled as Federer’s performance at this year’s Championships has been laid bare for all to see. Andrew Castle, former male singles UK number one and esteemed tennis broadcaster, suggested that Federer is aiming to elevate his record-winning career by clenching a couple of further Grandslams; making his legacy difficult to rival. Although as this tennis season has demonstrated youth is the one to watch.
Another factor which undoubtedly has had an influence is Federer’s long rivalry with the ‘King of the Clay Court’ Rafael Nadal; a rivalry which he treasures too much to let go. The Spaniard, one of the ‘Big Three’ alongside Federer and Djokovic, withdrew from Wimbledon citing his need to recover from a physically demanding clay-court season.
Wimbledon’s Captivating Appeal
Wimbledon arguably possesses something unlike any other sporting event, certainly in the Summer caalender. It has the power to utterly captivate the senses; whether it is its tendency to awaken nostalgia for a latent regard for tradition it is difficult to tell. However, when current and former tennis professionals and all-time-greats utter their praise for the competition as the best and most valued and prestigious tennis tournament in the World they truly mean it.
Another week of Wimbledon action awaits and if Week One is any indicator of Week Two’s outlook, tennis fans are certainly in for one heck of a ride.
Wimbledon 2021 Updates
Keep up-to-date with all the Wimbledon 2021 action, until the finals on 10th and 11th July on the BBC Sports website.