Wimbledon 2021 is back with a bang after a two-year absence. Both the outside courts and show courts have seen a stream of emotions, breakthroughs and curiosities. wtatennis.com web editor Alex Macpherson has been roaming the grounds across the first week to catch the best moments.
Sigue bailando, Cami
"Vamos Cami! Co - lom - bi - a!"
Throughout Maria Camila Osorio Serrano's first-round win over Anna Kalinskaya, a small group of fans live and die every rally with the Colombian teenager. They're led by Martha Murray, a Colombian living in London, who turns to orchestrate the Court 9 crowd in rousing cheers whenever Osorio Serrano wins an important point.
"She has the fighting spirit - she's young, she wants to progress," Martha says. "She's now our No.1 so we have to follow her. She's going big time - keep her name in your mind!"
In the event, Osorio Serrano comes back from 3-4, 0-40 in the third set to defeat Kalinskaya for her first Grand Slam main-draw win. After checking with the umpire, she comes over to thank the Colombian fans and pose for photos from a distance.
They're not the only fans who have been won over by the charismatic Osorio Serrano. Also brandishing a Colombian flag throughout the match is Matt, from South Yorkshire. Like Martha, he first saw Osorio Serrano when she won the 2019 US Open junior title.
"This is the first time I've seen her play in person, so to see her win her first ever Grand Slam match was absolutely incredible," he says. "There's something about her that's really special. What I love about her is that she's an incredible fighter on court, she's always trying to encourage herself - but whether she wins or loses, she's got the biggest smile on her face, and that's something a lot of players could take note from."
Courtside at the Venus and Nick show
"It's so cute, he wants to please her so much," remarks one fan during the second set of Venus Williams and Nick Kyrgios' first-round win over Sabrina Santamaria and Austin Krajicek.
Kyrgios exudes an eager-to-please energy throughout, a striking contrast to Venus, who takes everything in her typically laid-back stride. The Australian is in permanent hypeman mode, filling any silences with "Go, Vee!" or "You got this, Vee!" - sometimes to the pair's detriment, with some of his mid-rally exhortations leading to Venus netting a sitting backhand.
It's a combination that intrigues and delights the Court No.2 crowd, at any rate. Mild confusion over how the partnership came to be gives way to roars of appreciation as they find themselves embroiled in a tight third set against their resilient opponents.
For some, this support is contingent on Kyrgios treating their queen well. A smattering of boos greet an accidentally shanked return which hits Venus, for which Kyrgios swiftly apologises. But in the main, and much to Venus' cheerful amusement, Kyrgios succeeds, and the crowd's approval is sealed.
It's clear that five-time champion Venus is now one of Wimbledon's most beloved figures. A few days previously, the No.1 Court crowd had desperately tried to will her to avoid a second-set bagel against Ons Jabeur, and when that proved in vain, they gave her a standing ovation anyway.
There are layered, deep emotions to this. There's a sense that the Wimbledon crowd are making up for lost time, aware that Venus has not always received such support, as well as appreciating her continued enthusiasm for competition at the age of 41. Serena Williams' unfortunate first-round retirement also drove home how few remaining chances there might be to cheer on the legendary sisters.
There's also a more general vibe of appreciation among fans after 16 months of pandemic life. It's jarring at first to sit on packed show courts with neither masks nor social distancing in force - Wimbledon is a pilot event in the UK government's Events Research Programme, which is trialling event safety without such measures, but with frequent testing or proof of vaccination.
But in terms of atmosphere, the renewed sense of gratitude for simply being able to watch live tennis again is palpable. After the 3-hour, 19-minute second-round epic between Angelique Kerber and Sara Sorribes Tormo, one of the best matches of the season, the Court No.2 crowd give the players a five-minute standing ovation. Afterward, they line the gangways outside to continue applauding them as they return to the locker rooms.
Watching Liudmila Samsonova on TV with the Russian flag next to her name, she embodies a certain stereotype that it's easy for fans to buy into: brutal hitting and bludgeoning power, all delivered with battle cries that rival Aryna Sabalenka's. "I am boom boom," as she memorably put it a fortnight ago.
But despite her Russian parents, Samsonova's tennis is a product of Italy, having lived there since she was 2 years old. In person, that side of her leaps out. "Bellissima!" cry her team members ("Very beautiful!") whenever yet another winner scorches the sidelines; she responds to them in Italian. It's also clear that they all take the same giddy joy in her best shots that Italian legends from Francesca Schiavone to Roberta Vinci once did - albeit with a very different style. For Samsonova and her team, "boom boom" is also beauty and aesthetic pleasure.
Samsonova is a fan of the superb feminist sci-fi series Orphan Black, in which a multitude of cloned women discover each other's existence, and one might expect her favourite "sestra" to be the ruthless Ukrainian assassin Helena - no stranger to dispatching opponents brutally. Plot twist: Samsonova sees herself more as a main character. Her pick of the clone sisters is Sarah, who leads them through various nefarious government and corporate conspiracies.
"She's very strong," said Samsonova after defeating Sloane Stephens to reach the round of 16. "She know what to do. She wants it and she does it."
Samsonova is one of two wildcards in the Wimbledon fourth round - the first time in the Open Era that this has happened at a Grand Slam. Notably, both she and British teenager Emma Raducanu were not in the initial tranche of wildcards. Instead, both received their main draw passes after delivering stellar grass results leading up at Wimbledon. Samsonova, who won her first WTA title as a qualifier in Berlin two weeks ago, particularly proves the value of awarding wildcards based on form and results, regardless of nationality.
View from the media room
There's no shortage of WTA players and matches that have captured the imagination of both fans and journalists. It's telling that asking around various media desks for the player or match that most made an impact on them elicited unprompted, different responses from every writer. A selection of replies follows:
Tumaini Carayol, The Guardian:
"Just a few weeks after beating Serena Williams en route to her maiden major quarterfinal in Paris, Elena Rybakina has followed it up with a swift run to the fourth round at Wimbledon without dropping a set. Grass is still an unfamiliar surface for her, and so it has been encouraging to see how she has fully embraced it during this grass season. Her results have reinforced that, with her big serve and clean, easy power, her game snugly suits the surface and she could be a big threat on it for many years."
Iñigo Gurruchaga, El Correo:
"Tennis captivates for the clash of skills and personalities. In Paula Badosa vs Yulia Putintseva and Garbiñe Muguruza vs Ons Jabeur, there were some common themes: the esbelto against the shorter and more powerful body, the game based on hits from the baseline against a more varied range of shots.
"Badosa is very focused in her matches. She can show the occasional doubt or fragility in a decisive moment of a game, but she remains calm on court. When Spanish players progress, the job of a Spanish journalist is more enjoyable too, but I really liked Putintseva's approach to the game and her bursting rages - once hitting her thigh three times with her hand as a punishment for letting a ball go astray.
"I think that I have seen all the matches played by Muguruza since she debuted at Wimbledon in 2013. Readers may conclude that I am biased and they would not be wrong. But what a match her defeat by Jabeur in Centre Court was! The battle of skills was brilliant. Muguruza struggling to reach with her long legs Jabeur's frequent drop shots was a great spectacle. The champion of 2017 never gave up, but the energy, technique and joy of the game shown by Jabeur left anyone who likes sports and games with no regrets whatsoever about her victory."
Matthew Willis, The Racquet:
"The match I enjoyed the most was Jelena Ostapenko vs Daria Kasatkina. It just fulfilled so much of what I love about the classic battle between offence vs defence.
"Kasatkina seemed to work out (at end of set one, start of set two) that her slice was disrupting Ostapenko's preferred rhythm more effectively than trying to hit through her backhand. And Ostapenko was in that mode of veering between the most natural power ballstriker anyone's ever seen (just teeing off on Kasatkina's first and second serves with her customary aggressive return position) and a bit of an error machine. Kasatkina trying to navigate that balance of trying to coax errors without setting Ostapenko up for easy winners was very fun.
"It felt a bit like a person riding a bull, never really in full control of their destiny but doing their best to ride out the worst. I had no idea how Kasatkina put herself in a position to serve it out twice and then was equally baffled at Ostapenko winning it 8-6 in the third. Just felt like an unpredictable whirlwind of a match that was extremely fun to watch, and involved many of my favourite types of momentum shifts when it comes to aggressor vs counterpuncher."
James Gray, The i Newspaper:
"I watched a lot of Aryna Sabalenka this week and it's fair to say she is someone who must be about to win a Grand Slam, never mind make the quarterfinals! In a losing effort, Francesca Jones put up a good fight against Coco Gauff and coped with the pressure of a home crowd well."
Riath Al-Samarrai, Daily Mail:
"As a British reporter, I'm going to take the predictable route of saying Emma Raducanu was the standout player of the first week. She has a lovely story, but more than that she has an excellent game.
"We tend to get over-excited about promising young athletes in this country, but she seems to have fine technical qualities and the composure to handle the attention. She was positively beaming out on Court No.1 against Sorana Cirstea, even when it got a bit tricky in the second set. Of her strokes, there was no glaring weakness, and a quite obvious strength via that backhand. Against Cirstea I lost count of the number of times she manoeuvred the Romanian into position before arrowing a killer winner crosscourt off the backhand. A very exciting player."