Day One At the 125th Championships
LONDON--Coming on Day One, rather than halfway through as I've done in the past, is rather different. Particularly as one comes straight from the Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver, and the sad memory of the ugly riots last Wednesday.
Here, it's like a different universe, at least in a sporting sense. The lawns of Wimbledon are, so far, green and pristine. Few brown spots, although that will only last a day or two. Much quieter upon arrival both inside and outside the gates, although the usual crowd of 30,000 to 40,000 is expected on opening day, including my tennis-mad aunt and uncle, down from the Middlesborough area for their one day per year. After two years of almost spotless weather in which Centre Court's spectacular new roof has only been used by six players and four about 6 1/2 hours, forecasts are that it will be in use much more this year, starting with today.
If there is rain - heavy clouds were moving in over the grounds by late morning - and rain delays, that could be troubling news for Milos Raonic of Canada, as well as Rebecca Marino, Alexandria Wozniak and Stephanie Dubois, all of whom are scheduled to play, but on side courts that aren't covered. Raonic's Wimbledon debut goes at noon local time (7 a.m. Toronto) against Fabio Fognini of Italy (SEE ED.NOTE BELOW). Fognini is fresh of an injury at Roland Garros earlier this month that forced him to withdraw from a quarter-final match with Novak Djokovic, but not before a controversial match against Spain's Albert Montanes in which Fognini was accused of getting illegal treatment on court before ultimately winning a five-set marathon, 11-9 in the fifth.
Fognini is 3-4 in the last three Wimbledons, but did beat both Fernando Verdasco and American Michael Russel last year before losing to Julien Benneteau of France, so he's more than capable. The Raonic-Fognini match will take place on Court 14, capacity 312, and people were already taking their seats more than an hour before the scheduled start time.
(ED NOTE: Fognini was a last minute withdrawal, catching even the Italian press off guard. He was replaced as Raonic's first round opponent by Marc Gicquel of France, a 34-year-old veteran who lost in the final round of qualifying and got into the draw as a lucky loser, replacing Fognini.)
Meanwhile, golfer Rory McIlroy's magnficent performance at the U.S. Open on the weekend hardly went unnoticed here. McIlroy and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal are friends, having met last year at Flushing Meadows for tennis' U.S. Open.
"For sure, Rory is an inspiration," said Nadal, who, as per tradition, will be first on Centre Court today at 1 p.m. local time. "I admire him a lot. I love watching Rory. What he's doing is reall something unbelievable.
"He has probably one of the nicest swings in the world, if not the nicest."
Nadal is crazy about golf himself, and during a two-week break after Roland Garros went on a golfing spree on his home island of Majorca that he called the "best time" of his life.
Tennis commentators, meanwhile, are already looking towards a possible third-round collision between Nadal and the hard-serving Raonic. The two have met previously just once, with Raonic acing Nadal 14 times but losing 6-4, 6-4 in 73 minutes on a hard court in Tokyo.
The hype, of course, has already started for Scotland's Andy Murray to end Britain's 75-year drought in the men's singles competition, while defending champion Serena Williams' derriere - "way softer than it usually is," according to her - will be closely watched.
This is the last year the All England Club will be the exclusive preserve of The Championships. Next year, the Olympic tennis tournament will take place here as London hosts the Summer Games.