By the end of the Wimbledon fortnight, Ashleigh Barty will have spent 83 consecutive weeks with the No.1 ranking. Serena Williams, seeking her 24th Grand Slam singles title, was on top of the WTA world for 319 weeks.
They’re both in action Tuesday, highlighting 32 first-round matches from the top half of the draw.
The 134th Wimbledon Championships is blessed with some serious star power, including Serena, who turns 40 in September.
“I think technology has played a huge role in that [longevity],” Serena said Sunday. “The way we view the game, the way we recover, the way our shoes are made, the way the equipment is made. I feel like technology is huge to myself and Roger [Federer] playing so long.
“Because normally people retire at 29, 30. Before, 29, 30, 32 was the max. I feel like there’s several players at that age who are just hitting their stride.”
Serena, who plays Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Tuesday, has won all 19 of her previous first-round matches at the All England Club and reached the final in each of her past four appearances at Wimbledon and eight for her past 11.
On Monday, rain pushed 16 of the bottom-half matches into Tuesday’s schedule, notably No. 8 Karolina Pliskova versus Tamara Zidansek, No. 13 Elise Mertens versus Harriet Dart and No. 15 Maria Sakkari versus Arantxa Rus. Here's a look at some of the storylines to follow on Day 2:
A feeling like no other
The pandemic was particularly hard on Wimbledon. It was the only Grand Slam not contested in 2020.
The honor of starting play Tuesday on Centre Court would have gone to 2019 champion Simona Halep. But when she pulled out before the draw because of a torn calf muscle, the distinction went to Barty.
“Incredibly special I think,” she said. “It’s an opportunity very few people get to experience. Of course, I wish Sim was here to be able to experience that. She’s earned the right to open Centre Court on Tuesday as the defending women's champion.
“I think it was a tournament that was sorely missed last year on the calendar, sorely missed for a lot of players not having the opportunity to come here to the All England Club. Every time you get to walk through these gates, it’s a feeling that you can’t take for granted.”
That feeling is shared by Barty’s first-round opponent, Carla Suarez Navarro. This will be the popular Spaniard’s last Wimbledon after announcing that she’ll retire following the US Open. Suarez Navarro, 32, said in April that she was cancer free after an eight-month battle with Hodgkin lymphoma. She played her first match in 15 months at Roland Garros and has produced three fourth-round efforts at Wimbledon (2013, 2016, 2017).
“It’s incredible to have Carla back,” Barty said. “When she came back on tour, it was just a sense of excitement from everyone. To know that she’s got this tremendous character of resilience and strength, longevity. She’s been on the tour for a long time at the very top of the game. I think for me to be able to experience opening Centre Court on Tuesday with her is going to be really cool.”
Barty, troubled by a left hip injury, retired from her second-round match at Roland Garros but says she’s good to go. She was the junior champion here a decade ago.
Coming in hot
On Tuesday, three of the five winners at the pre-Wimbledon events on grass are in action.
Two of them, Angelique Kerber and Jelena Ostapenko, won championship matches Saturday in Bad Homburg and Eastbourne, respectively.
For Kerber, it was a wonderful homecoming, capturing the title at the tournament she helped create. It was her first in three years, going back to that memorable 2018 triumph over Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final.
“It’s great to be in two roles,” Kerber said. “Making now the title, I think it was the perfect week for me as a player but also for the tournament.
Lucky number 13 🍀@AngeliqueKerber secured the 13th title of her career with a win over Siniakova on home soil 🇩🇪— wta (@WTA) June 26, 2021
“It starts from zero, everything. It’s another Grand Slam. We have the first round and this is now the match that counts. Then we see what’s going on.”
Kerber, the No. 25 seed, plays Nina Stojanovic. The unseeded Ostapenko meets Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez.
The last pre-Wimbledon winner to take the Wimbledon crown that same year was Maria Sharapova, who won the 2004 Birmingham title before winning her first Grand Slam singles title at the age of 17.
With World No.2 Naomi Osaka and No.3 Halep out of the mix, it’s easier to see a first-time Grand Slam champion emerging at the All England Club.
At the recent French Open, Barbora Krejcikova was one of four first-time major semifinalists. And then she beat Maria Sakkari in the semifinals (9-7 in the third set) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a rousing three-set final. In only her sixth Grand Slam main draw appearance, Krejcikova is seeded for the first time, at No.15. This is her first Wimbledon.
“I think you can actually see that I feel actually quite nervous,” Krejcikova told reporters Saturday. “My voice is, like, I cannot really put the good words together because all of this is very new and all of this is really exciting and special. Also, like, it’s stressful. I didn’t expect this to happen.
“Now I’m here. About this tournament and playing for the first time, not really having experience, switching fast from clay to grass, all of this is new, all of this is different. I just feel that so far I really don’t know what to do on grass yet. I just feel that I don’t really know how to use my shot.”
Krejcikova, second in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen to Barty, plays Danish teenager Clara Tauson.
Four of the Top 10 seeds – No.2 Aryna Sabalenka, No.3 Elina Svitolina, No.8 Karolina Pliskova and No. 9 Belinda Bencic – are looking for their first major singles title. Marion Bartoli was the last player to win her first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon, in 2013.
Andreescu takes on streaking Cornet
One of the more intriguing Tuesday matches is No.5 seed Bianca Andreescu versus Alize Cornet. It actually already happened 13 days earlier, in Berlin.
Cornet, a 31-year-old Frenchwoman, took out Amanda Anisimova in the first round, then Andreescu in the second, 7-6 (2), 7-5. After beating Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarterfinals, she lost to Bencic in the semifinals.
Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, has had an uneven season. She reached the finals at Miami, but she’s 2-3 since, struggling with various ailments.
This is Cornet’s 58th consecutive appearance in a Grand Slam, the longest active streak in women’s tennis. Kerber is next, with 47. The record is 62, belonging to Ai Sugiyama.
Other matches of note
No.20 seed Coco Gauff vs. British wildcard Francesca Jones; No.12 Victoria Azarenka vs. Kateryna Kozlova; No.16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Ana Bogdan; No.17 Kiki Bertens vs. Marta Kostyuk; No.19 Karolina Muchova vs. Zhang Shuai; No.24 Anett Kontaveit vs. Marketa Vondrousova; Sara Sorribes Tormo vs. qualifier Ana Konjuh.