After a two-year break Wimbledon is back and that is cause enough for celebration.
There has been plenty of moaning that Wimbledon is allowed to go ahead this summer with a rising capacity as part of the government’s events research programme but I can’t for the life of me understand why anybody would whine that a much-loved tournament is getting back on its feet.
The suggestion from Sky Sports man Gary Neville, a brilliant pundit and always one full of interesting opinion, is that Wimbledon is full of toffs and is for posh people.
I certainly can’t make sense of everything the government has done since the start of the pandemic but now is the time to look ahead and just as Wimbledon restarts today, we all want theatres, conferences and galleries to reopen and start trading again.
Jack Draper ready to be centre of attention
The first thing Jack Draper has to understand is Novak Djokovic pulls his pants on just like everybody else. Centre Court is the same dimension as every other court in the world, his opponent is a human being.
None of this will be apparent to 19-year-old Jack when he is called from the changing room to play his part in the first match on the court this afternoon. He will be escorted down the corridor, past the members’ club room, take a left down the stairs and be told to wait on the parquet floor beneath Rudyard Kipling’s famous words about treating triumph and disaster as two imposters.
It might be a good idea for him not to look over to the roll of honour because what he will see in gold letters is the name of his opponent and how he has won the whole tournament on five occasions, including the last two times it has been played.
These moments put hairs on your chest, bearing in mind Jack was six when the world No.1 won his first grand slam in Melbourne.
If I was to set a par for Draper today it would be 11 games over three sets. If he nicks a set he will have done great but there is no better time to play a big name than in their first match.
Draper is the sort of character who may just love the whole experience. When he walks through the heavy glass double doors and turns left for a few paces he will hear, see and smell the crowd. His senses will be heightened and the adrenaline will flow freely.
This is why you are alive, to experience these moments and to say you were in the arena. Turning right on to the most famous court in the world and to walk a straight line to the umpire’s chair may feel a bit out of body but Jack will know this is what all the hotels were about from Kazakhstan to Tunisia, Barnstaple to Burma. So I hope he gets it on and throws his personality into this match.
Djokovic doesn’t like it when the crowd supports the other guy and Draper is no shrinking violet. The first 20 minutes will be fascinating and I hope the British player is able to get his side of the scoreboard ticking over. If that happens, Djokovic may be uncomfortable. Draper has only just emerged into the limelight by winning his first two tour-level matches at Queen’s Club so I don’t think he will win but this month is the beginning of a proper professional career and he certainly has top-50 potential, maybe higher.
Meanwhile, in the women’s singles the talk will be of Serena Williams equalling Margaret Court at 24 grand slams but I think it unlikely, although she has come painfully close many times. She is 39 and I wonder if she has played enough matches recently to trust herself under pressure.
Keep an eye on Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus. She is the world No.4 but has yet to produce on the greatest stages. She has never advanced beyond the fourth round of a slam or the second round of Wimbledon but that will change.
Carrying British hopes would have been Jo Konta, a semi-finalist in 2017, but sadly she had to pull out of the tournament last night as she is now self-isolating. It is such a shame for a player who, despite battling a long-standing knee problem, won a title in Nottingham two weeks ago.
Cam Norrie is the British No.2. With a Welsh mother and a Scottish father, born in Johannesburg and raised in New Zealand, he was the No.1 college player in the United States. The perfect international Brit and we are lucky to have him. He is seeded for the first time alongside British No.1 Dan Evans, who no one will want to play. Dan’s backhand slice could take the head off a daisy.
My champions? Djokovic is easy, the women’s is far less predictable. She has won twice so I’ll go with Petra Kvitova.
■ PLAYING third on Centre Court today is Andy Murray. It was concerning to see him outplayed so comprehensively by Matteo Berrettini at Queen’s but he will be consoled by how the Italian went on to dominate the tournament. Murray plays Nikoloz Basilashvili and I will be in the commentary box trying to say his name properly. It has been a privilege to sit and observe a great champion finding the answers over the past 16 years but I do fear Andy may soon call it a day, so any chance we get to watch him is to be relished.
No shock that Katie Swan is a qualified success
Twenty British players started the qualifying competition at Roehampton. One made it through to the main draw and that is the 22-year-old Katie Swan. She is from Bristol originally and moved to Wichita, Kansas, eight years ago. That’s the same city that gave me an education and a chance to be a professional player and the young Katie has practised on many occasions with the Wichita State men’s team.
She bought me a Wichita State T-shirt when we practised a few years ago which, of course, was subsequently stolen by horrible daughters. The university’s athletes are known as ‘Shockers’ but Katie will not play like one in today’s first-round match with 23rd seed Madison Keys. On paper it is a bad draw but there is nothing to lose and everything to gain against a more celebrated opponent. I hope she does well as no one deserves their place in the draw more than a qualifier.
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