June 23, 2009 -- Sunshine and blue skies don't usually come to mind when we think about Wimbledon. Rain delays, yes. Buttoned up coats, yes. But not fans awash in the sun's rays, wearing sunglasses and floppy hats, and looking as happy as can be. You have to believe, though, because that was today's atmosphere for continued first-round action at the 2009 Championships Wimbledon.
First rounds at major tennis tournaments are, in themselves, bright occasions. They are the emblematic beginnings. All 128 men and women have in front of them their chance to impose themselves on tennis history. It's reminiscent, to an extent, of the moment when thoroughbred horses break out of the starting gates. They jockey for position, bumping aside those who can't keep up until one horse pulls out in front, if just by a nose, and crosses the finish line for the win.
Wimbledon is much more refined and orderly than a horse race, especially when it comes to the noise at a track compared to the quiet on Centre (not 'center') Court during a match. These fans are amazingly hush hush when points are in play, except a bit this afternoon when Andy Murray -- their hope of hopes since Fred Perry in 1936 -- dodged bullets from American Robby Kendrick.
During one rally Murray hit a shot that looked like it might go out, if perceived from an awkward angle. A collective gasp rose from that section of the stands, as they watched in horror. Oh no╔ it cannot be out. Our Andy can't lose in the first round. Our Tim (Henman) was a six-time semifinalist here at our beloved Wimbledon. Andy has to make it at least that far.
Alas, the Scot impressed fans in four sets through grit and perseverance to send the tall, handsome American back to Florida to practice for the hard-court season. Murray probably wiped his brow and gave a little thanks for today's "W." Kendrick was the man who rattled Rafael Nadal in the second round of the 2006 Wimbledon Championships, when he went up two sets and a break in the third before the Spaniard figured out how to beat his annoying opponent who served big (a total of 32 aces for the match), ran to the net, and spoiled his baseline glory. After that save, Mr. Nadal went on to his first of three final appearances where he lost to Mr. Federer.
Caroline Wozniacki seeded #9 had a good opening round win, but it didn't start all that great. Her wildcard opponent Kimiko Date-Krumm battered the Dane with deep flat balls, consistent serves, and a serve-and-volley game that had Caroline on the ropes until Wozniacki's superior fitness and willingness to change strategies brought dark clouds to Date-Krumm's short-lived Wimbledon run. Date-Krumm was trying to make a comeback, at 38 years of age.
Some might remember the match she played against Steffi Graf in 1996, during the semifinals of that Wimbledon. Date pummeled brilliant groundstrokes at Graf in the second set, leaving her flatfooted -- a position she almost never experienced because of her magnificent footwork. Luckily, a rain delay in the third knocked Date out of her zone enough for Graf to go on and win the match. "I don't think she could have continued playing like that," Graf said after the match with more amazement in her voice than conviction.
Other players who ended up with a sunny disposition today were Sabine Lisicki, who defeated Anna Chakvetadze the #32 seed in three sets. Miss Chakvetadze was up a set and a break, when Miss Lisicki made a run for the finish. Sabine won this year's Family Circle Cup, impressing the southern fan base with serves that reached upwards to 125 mph. We call Lisicki's win a good start to the fortnight.
Another woman who made a big statement at this year's Family Circle Cup Melanie Oudin defeated Sybille Bammer, seeded #29, in three sets after having been down in the second. The five-foot-three Georgia native, who had to qualify for the main draw, is a feisty competitor that won over the predominantly English audience today on Court 17.
American qualifier Jesse Levin defeated last year's semifinalist and two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin in an upset today on Court 18, 62 36 76 (4) 64. It was Levin's first tour-level win for the year. Safin wasn't happy afterward, however as the veteran approaches retirement loses seem easier to take.
"Not the way to finish Wimbledon story," Safin said. "But anyway, it's OK. That's life."
Another retiring veteran Fabrice Santoro advanced to the second round when he defeated the #33 seed Nicolas Kiefer in straight sets: 64 62 62. Mr. Santoro, otherwise known as 'The Magician,' enjoyed his day on court. He even smiled at times. Humor and light-heartedness aren't seen much during a match of such import. But Santoro's burden was light today as were his feet and that magical racquet he entertains fans with each time he takes to a tennis court.
The ever-smiling Ana Ivanovic was too close to defeat in her first-round match against Lucie Hradecka. However, the 2008 French Open champion fought her way back to close the match 57 62 86. Miss Ivanovic has to hope her service toss straightens itself out pretty darn quick, or her normally sunny attitude will give way to the darker Serbian side of her character╔ a view hidden from the public most of the time.
Yes╔ Venus Williams went through, as did Dinara Safina, Amelie Mauresmo, and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova to name a few. On the men's side, Juan Martin del Potro won his match, as did Lleyton Hewitt. They will face off in the next round. Andy Roddick looked sharp as he defeated Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
And, worthy of mention was today's record-setting attendance at the All England Club -- 45,955 -- the largest in the history of the event. Good weather certainly helped nudge that number upward, as well as the country's hope for their bright star -- Andy Murray.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 22, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Wimbledon... The Perfect Grand Slam