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Tebbutt: Drawing destinies at Wimbledon

Jun 24, 2022
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Compared to Wimbledon’s draw ceremony, the same event at Roland Garros might as well be a wild, madness rave in New York City. A gathering of VIPs, officials, journalists and the sundry tennis glitterati, the French ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and laugh at the slightest of surprising first-round match-ups and generally create a party atmosphere the Thursday evening before main draw play begins.

On Friday morning, in the interview room at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, those attending might as well have been church mice with nary a peep at any time from the assembled 70 or so reporters and other officials as numbers aligned with the players in the field were pulled from a cloth poach in an old-fashioned way and then placed in positions in the draw. The other Grand Slam events use random, computer-generated systems to fill the names in various parts of their draws.

There was an inauspicious beginning Friday when Wimbledon tournament referee Gerry Armstrong mispronounced the surname of world No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek. It should have come out as “schvee-ON-tek” but it was mangled to “Swee-EYE-tek.”

Oh well, things didn’t turn out so badly for the 20-year-old Pole. Playing in her third Wimbledon (3-2), she will face a 25-year-old Croat, Jana Fett, ranked No. 254 and in just her third Grand Slam tournament overall – 1-1 at the Australian Open and 0-1 at Wimbledon.

The tournament draw is like a roadmap, with a player’s passage to the title depending on how many and how serious some of the bumps might be along the way to a potential happy ending.

Of the four Canadians in the draws, two, Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime, had great success last year. Shapovalov reached the semi-finals and really pushed eventual champion Novak Djokovic in a 7-6(3), 7-5, 7-5 loss while Auger-Aliassime was beaten in the quarter-finals by 2021 runner-up Matteo Berrettini, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3.

With no rankings points available this year, both players will take a hit as they lose 720 and 360 points respectively. It looks like Shapovalov could drop from No. 16 to about No. 25 and Auger-Aliassime from No. 9 to about No. 11.

As for last year’s finalists, champion Djokovic is dropping 2000 points – win lose or draw at this year’s event – and will fall from No. 3 to about No. 8. Berrettini, 1200 points, will descend from No. 12 to No. 15.

It’s difficult to know how much effect having no points – the lifeblood of the whole tennis ecosystem – will have on the players. But surely for the Djokovics and Shapovalovs of the tour, not getting any recompense aside from prestige and money will seem very strange. As for players, male and female, in the lower rungs of the rankings, they mostly have less to lose and it will be fascinating to see if any pattern emerges among that group.

Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime will take on what seems like a tag-team of tall French natives with big serves in the first round. Shapovalov faces 6-foot-5 Arthur Rinderknech, 26, in his opening match while Auger-Aliassime has drawn 6-foot-6 Maxime Cressey, 25, a former college player at UCLA who now represents the United States.

Shapovalov split two previous meetings with No. 61-ranked Rinderknech – losing 6-4, 6-4 in Doha in February after prevailing 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 at the Stockholm Open last fall. It’s only Rinderknech’s second Wimbledon. His first was memorable – after qualifying he was beaten by current fast-rising German Oscar Otte. The score reflects Wimbledon’s former final-set tiebreak system – 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-7(5), 13-12(2).

Potential second-round opponents for the 13th seeded Shapovalov would be either No. 54-ranked Brandon Nakashima of the U.S. or No. 246 Nicola Kuhn of Spain, a qualifier.

Auger-Aliassime, seeded sixth, and the No. 60-ranked Cressey will be meeting for the first time. This is Auger-Alassime’s third Wimbledon (6-2) while Cressey is playing in his first main draw. A year ago he lost a five-setter in the final round of qualifying to American Mackenzie McDonald.

A possible second round for Auger-Aliassime would be against either of two qualifiers – No. 102-ranked Jack Sock of the U.S. or No. 90 Bernabe Zapata Miralles. Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov won’t begin play until Tuesday.  

Bianca Andreescu will enter Wimbledon after playing her first WTA final (in Bad Homburg, Germany, against No. 75-ranked Caroline Garcia) since losing to Ashleigh Barty in the championship match at the 2021 Miami Open. Her opponent in the first round is qualifier Emina Bektas. The 29-year-old American is playing in her second Grand Slam event after losing in the first round at the Australian Open in January.

Things could get more challenging for Andreescu if she advances – possible meetings with No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in round two and No. 9 Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the third round.

It’s hard to believe that 2019 US Open champion Andreescu has yet to win a main-draw match at Wimbledon in two attempts – 2017 (Kristina Kucova of Slovakia) and 2021 (Alizé Cornet of France) but she didn’t play in 2018 or 2019 and there was no tournament (pandemic) in 2020.

Rebecca Marino, 31, has actually won one more Wimbledon match than Andreescu – reaching the second round in her only previous appearance in 2011 before losing 7-6(3), 6-2 to the now-retired Roberta Vinci.

As with Andreescu, Marino will face a relatively obscure 29-year-old qualifier – in her case No. 132-ranked Katarzyna Kawa of Poland. Marino has garnered some valuable experience on grass this past month – going 5-4 in qualifying and main draw at events in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne.

The serve is a vaunted weapon for the 6-foot Vancouverite and she will be favoured against Kawa, who only has a first-round loss at the 2020 US Open on her Grand Slam singles resumé.

Around the tennis, on the grounds of the All England Club, there are virtually no signs of COVID-19 – except for glass dividers extensively in use in the media work room. Almost no one is wearing masks despite an American coach relating on Thursday that many players and coaches and others caught the virus at recent events in Madrid and Rome – some having had an unpleasant experience for about 36 hours.

During Friday’s draw, out of more than 70 persons assembled indoors, only a Canadian tennis writer and one other person were wearing masks.

On the courts, notably Centre Court and Court No. 1, there are slight patches of wear as event organizers permit players to practice on them to try to make the courts a little less lush and slippery at the back and on the sides. The worn areas are not obvious but still apparent enough so that the immaculate, pristine conditions of the traditional opening day’s men’s match, which has been part of the Wimbledon mystique for so long, will now be a thing of the past.

One long-time observer was surprised at how few players have been present at the Aorangi practice courts at the All England. The general thought is that, because there are no ranking points this year, players are waiting until later than usual to arrive and will be – so to speak – taking the money (first-round losers get 50,000 pounds or $61,500 USD) and running as soon as they are eliminated.

New for players entering Centre Court – there will be no more left turn / right turn after they step out of the club and head to their courtside chairs. Now the back screen opens in the middle so the players can go out directly onto one of the most famous lawns in the world.

Finally, there’s only one building façade remaining at all the four Grand Slam events from the beginning of the ‘open tennis’ era in 1968 – that would be the front of Centre Court at Wimbledon. In the meantime, the Australian and US Open have moved to new sites and Roland Garros has undergone so many renovations that nothing is left of the original Court Philippe Chatrier or the other outside stadiums. New post-pandemic on Wimbledon’s front face are electronic event logos on either side of the traditional Roman Numerals clock.