24 June 2008


The weather gods smiled on Wimbledon today, the first day of the 2008 championship, and SW19 was bathed in luxurious summer sun and warm temperatures. I had entered the convoluted ballot months before to secure tickets to a day's play, and it turned out to be the opening day, when all the players are fresh and everyone's on display. As luck would have it, I went with my mate Greg from the CC, who has long been a tennis fan and was able to fill in many of the blanks for me regarding player careers and results of recent championships.

Having regularly passed by the grounds on the 493 bus en route to the shops of Wimbledon, I've kept close tabs on the massive refurbishments that have been taking place over the past months. On opening day the facilities were in perfect order and everything ran very smoothly despite the large crowds. I made a point of bringing my own supplies, including some remarkably tasty Herefordshire strawberries from Sainsbury's, because inside the ground a punnet of 'no less than ten' (i.e. seldom more than ten) strawberries costs ₤2.25, and a plastic cup of Pimm's costs ₤6 (!).

Our seats were in Court 1 with excellent diagonal views across the court. We had three matches on show, and first up it was the ladies...

Serena Williams (USA, world ranking 6th) beat Kaia Kanepi (Estonia, 36th), 7-5 6-3

Estonian 23-year-old Kaia Kanepi put up a good fight against her stronger and more experienced opponent, serving aggressively and staying close throughout the first set. Once Serena Williams won the first set from a Kanepi double-fault she stamped her authority on the match and Kanepi began to make unforced errors. Still, it was a creditable performance from the lower-ranked player. The difference between the two appeared to be Serena's serve: Williams sent down seven aces and only one double fault, while the Estonian only managed three aces and made four double faults.

(Below: Williams, Kanepi, and match point)

Lleyton Hewitt (Australia, 27th) beat Robin Haase (Netherlands, 64th), 6-7 6-3 6-3 6-7 6-2

The young Dutchman Robin Haase put up a great fight against the skilled campaigner Hewitt, taking the first set from Hewitt and stretching the match into the fifth set in a commendable display of stamina and skill. The match saw the best rallies of the day, with Haase keen to lure Hewitt into the front court and then lob gently over his head. The luck often went Haase's way, such as in one rally in which Hewitt sent a rocket aimed straight at Haase's chest and the hurried defensive shot magically landed just inside Hewitt's baseline, and the angry reply shot was chipped delicately at 45 degrees to win the point for Haase.

I suppose I was always going to support Haase as the underdog, but Hewitt made the decision a little easier by still sporting his trademark backwards baseball cap, which is a useful signifier of Want Of Character And Decent Judgement, particularly in an adult. In the end though, Hewitt was tough enough to come back from one-nil down and from two-all to win the match, three sets to two.

While Haase bettered Hewitt in aces (28 to 18), he also committed more unforced errors (54 to 32) and achieved lower conversion rates - Hewitt had significantly higher percentages of points won on first and second serve, and on receiving points.

(Below: Hewitt, Haase)

In the middle of the Hewitt-Haase match I ventured out from Court 1 to explore the other games in action. Wimbledon on match day is a great spectacle, and the best thing about the ground is that you can get very close to the courts. Outside the three bigger courts (Centre Court and Court 1 and 2) there are 17 other courts continually staging matches, and you can wander in and out as you please, and you're never more than 10 metres from the sidelines. With mens' (gentlemens') and womens' (ladies') along with doubles matches all being played at once, it's a great way to get a taste of the real grass-roots game.

Frank Dancevic (Canada, 95th) beat David Nalbandian (Argentina, 7th), 6-4 6-2 6-4

The big surprise of the day was the poor form of popular Argentinian star David Nalbandian, who was runner-up to Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 2002. He was soundly defeated by a lowly-ranked Canadian from Niagara Falls, Frank Dancevic, who played a blinder, defeating the higher-ranked player in straight sets in just 96 minutes and without too much bother at all.

Nalbandian appeared to have gained quite a bit of weight since his last appearances, and the spare tire seems to have slowed him down. The Argentinian's game was erratic: four double faults and 21 unforced errors, compared to Dancevic's clean sheet (no double faults) and only five unforced errors. Dancevic was, at the risk of descending into rampant sporting cliche, on fire today: he served 16 aces to the leaden-footed Nalbandian, and was clearly superior in winning the points that mattered, grabbing five of his eight break point opportunities, as opposed to his opponent, who only managed one from five.

(Below: Dancevic, Nalbandian & lineswoman, and match point)

Now all that remains is to wish New Zealand's Marina Erakovic the best of luck in her ladies' matches - she's only 20 years old and she's already ranked 53rd in the world! More power to her.

Official site: Wimbledon 2008
BBC: Wimbledon day one photos
Mock The Week: Things a Wimbledon commentator would never say
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