WIMBLEDON, England – Wimbledon resumed unmitigated life on Monday for the first time since 2019 and the last echoes of “Roger, Roger” ricocheting around Centre Court from a soaring men’s final way back then. The doors of the Tube opened at Southfields station, the droves streamed out of the trains and up the stairs and down the sidewalks on Church Road, and even the hydrangeas seemed happier.
Then it rained, which was perfect.
Then it stopped, which was perfect.
Then it rained again, which was perfect.
That allowed for words as familiar here as any words have ever been at any venue: “Play is suspended.”
It came back in late afternoon, and Wimbledon had a first day unlike any since 2019, what with the pandemic nixing 2020 and forcing 50% capacity for the opening of 2021. Wimbledon had its “full fans, no bubble, back how I remember it,” as Coco Gauff had said on Saturday.
She’s only 18, but after these lousy years, the “back how I remember it” did seem apt.
“I just looked at the [Centre Court] crowd, just saw everyone,” the 19-year-old reigning U.S. Open champion and No. 1 British interest Emma Raducanu said after her 6-4, 6-4 win over Alison Van Utyvanck of Belgium. “Noise was just amazing to hear from the word ‘go.’ ”
The hubbub had revved up once more. The sight of the grass seemed, as ever, almost medicinal. Faces from all over the world walked the grounds, with some people dressed better than for the average Monday at noon. All the possibilities came back into the air, in a manner that rings with the words of Ons Jabeur, the woman ranked a heady No. 2, when she said, “I’m someone from Tunisia, nobody even believed that I could be here.”
Over by little Court No. 17 early on, tucked in a row of courts sandwiched between the two monsters (Centre and No. 1), the native Marylander Frances Tiafoe played his 25th major tournament, somehow.
Tiafoe, ranked No. 28, took a veteran’s kind of 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Andrea Vavassori of Italy, and the two watched a video replay of Tiafoe’s last-struck ball – in – and then had a great, heartfelt hug.
Novak Djokovic returned by midafternoon. He hasn’t lost any match here since 2017, when he retired from a quarterfinal with Tomas Berdych. He did not lose Monday against the excellent Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea, ranked No. 81, although Djokovic did have his moments in the 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win trying “to figure out a way, tactically, to get in control of the point.”
He knows how to do that as well or better than anyone ever did, but he didn’t know how they might receive him here after his oddball year that included getting deported from Australia in January for turning up unvaccinated.
“I was very pleasantly surprised,” he said, after his post-match appearance before the crowd filled with warmth. “I mean, in a positive way. I felt support. Of course, the crowd was engaged in the match. They supported both players. I thought they were very fair to me.”
Well before Cameron Norrie reached his present-day ranking of No. 12, he got seeded No. 29 last year at Wimbledon, which meant he got to the seeded locker rooms, no?
“I was, ‘Oh, I made it to the seeded locker rooms,’ ” he said. “I went to walk in here. The security guy was like, ‘No, no, no, you’re not allowed in.’ It was the top 14 seeds or something last year for maybe COVID reasons. I was like, ‘Wow. I was so looking forward to it.’ ”
Now he’s there, next to Djokovic as it happens, and he’s staying there for a while longer after beating Pablo Andujar of Spain 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3. He’s one of the multiple, viable interests for British tennis fans who used to have to throw it all on Tim Henman a generation ago.
The roars happened for Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish sensation, and they were deep and big and throaty under the roof. At times it felt like one of those occasions when the opponent, in this case 32-year-old Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, seemed more of an inconvenience. As Alcaraz, ranked No. 7, builds his nascent game on grass, he wandered into a fourth-set tiebreaker he pulled out by winning seven of the last eight points, then a fifth set in which his mighty wallop of a cross court forehand secured a first service break in the set for 5-4.
Then the crowd cheered Struff at great length as he tried to hold on, but then a well-placed, 97-mph, second-serve winner coaxed an error and ended it, Alcaraz applauding Struff as Struff walked out. Then as Alcaraz started to answer a question about the crowd, the crowd interrupted his answer with a boom, and Alcaraz smiled his giant smile, and the on-court interviewer said, “It looks like we have another Wimbledon favorite from Spain.”
The roar, like the day, was full.