The last time she played a match at Wimbledon, Simona Halep walked off court hosting the Venus Rosewater Dish as the women's singles champion. The COVID-19 pandemic and an ill-timed injury denied her the opportunity to return to the All-England Club as defending champion in each of the last two years, but she returned on Tuesday in style.
Given a tough first round draw against two-time quarterfinalist Karolina Muchova, the former World No.1, seeded No.16 this year, rose to the occasion: breaking serve four times, and never facing a break point herself, she needed just 65 minutes to wrap up a 6-3, 6-2 victory and reach Round 2.
Match management: Halep showed no signs of the nick injury that took her out of last week's Bad Homburg Open presented by Engel & Voelkers, where she gave Bianca Andreescu a walkover in the semifinals. She hit 16 winners to just nine unforced errors, and never faced a break point. In fact, she lost just nine points in eight service games overall.
"It feels great to be back": Though she'd never played Muchova before, Halep said in her on-court interview that she entered the match not taking the former Top 20 player lightly. In addition to Muchova's pedigree, Halep said she also had to manage her own response to a long-awaited All-England Club return.
"I have great memories from 2019. It's always a pleasure to come here to Wimbledon," Halep said. "It was pretty emotional before this match, but now, I want to enjoy it. I'm really happy about it.
"I've been struggling a lot the last few years. Many injuries, no confidence, everything that's happening in the world ... now, I love tennis again. I love being on court and I love working."
Next up: Halep next faces Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, a former semifinalist at Wimbledon. The 36-year-old, playing the last singles tournament of her career this fortnight, beat Aussie Jaimee Fourlis to reach Round 2, 7-5, 6-2. Halep's never lost a set in the pair's five previous meetings.
After early Eastbourne exit, Badosa bounces back
After losing her opener at the Rothesay International Eastbourne last week, Paula Badosa needed less than an hour to win her first grass-court match of the season. The fourth-seeded Spaniard dispatched American qualified Louisa Chirico in 56 minutes, 6-2, 6-1.
Badosa broke serve five times and made less unforced errors than Chirico, who racked up 24 in 15 games. After the match, Badosa told reporters she was pleased with her ability to adapt to windy conditions on Court 12. "I'm really happy that I could have a good win here," she said.
Badosa's next opponent is Romania's Irina Bara, ranked No.122. In her Wimbledon main draw debut after losing in qualifying four previous times, Bara was a 6-2, 6-4 winner against France's Chloe Paquet in Round 1.
Former World No.58 Chirico successfully qualified for her first Grand Slam in five years. The American returned to tennis full-time last year after a lengthy layoff with a shoulder injury.
Kvitova comes from behind against Paolini
Two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova avoided a first-round loss at Wimbledon for the second straight year with a three-set comeback against Italy's Jasmine Paolini.
After dropping the first set in less than a half hour, Kvitova bounced back for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 win in 1 hour, 42 minutes. Kvitova broke Paolini when the Italian served at 3-3 in the second set, and never trailed from then on. Eastbourne champion Kvitova has now won six straight matches.
"It was tough one with different conditions and transition from Eastbourne to here, playing different opponent as well. It was really tough. I don't know how I made it, but probably was just the fighting spirit today," Kvitova said.
"I think I felt a little bit better because of the Eastbourne tournament, how I played there. But here, it's different. Even the grass is different. I think it's a bit slower.
"The first rounds are just tough. That's what I expected. On the other hand I was telling myself that Jasmine is not really grass court player. She prefer more a clay court. ... I knew that I have game to beat her somehow."