An emotional Serena Williams was forced to retire hurt after Roger Federer suffered a scare before injury got the better of his opponent on a dramatic day at Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
Two slips on the lawns eventually forced Williams to end her campaign at 3-3 in the first set against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, with the sympathetic crowd applauding in support as she wept with disappointment.
Earlier, Federer had trailed two sets to one against grass-court threat Adrian Mannarino before the Frenchman, too, slipped on the grass and injured his knee midway through the fourth set.
Federer won the fourth before Mannarino retired after playing one point in the fifth.
In other results, women’s major champions Ash Barty, Venus Williams, Angelique Kerber and Barbora Krejcikova advanced to the second round, as did men’s top-five seeds Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev.
Serena exits as other major champions advance
In what was considered one of the most open women’s Grand Slam tournament draws in the sport’s history, Serena was many people’s choice as a potential champion given her experience, history of success at the All England Club and weapons perfectly suited to grass.
But after building a 3-1 lead in the first set over Sasnovich, she was ultimately undone by the slick surface.
We’re heartbroken for you, Serena.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 29, 2021
Serena was on course for a blockbuster third-round meeting with Kerber, who got her Wimbledon campaign off to a strong start with a 6-4 6-3 win over Nina Stojanovic.
Reigning Roland Garros champion Krejcikova, making her main-draw singles debut at Wimbledon, beat Danish teen Clara Tauson 6-3 6-2 to extend her winning streak to 13 matches.
Krejcikova is in the same segment of the draw as top seed Ash Barty, who saw off Carla Suarez Navarro in three sets in a poignant first-round match.
Seven-time major champion Venus Williams overcame Mihaela Buzarnescu 7-5 4-6 6-3, marking the 41-year-old’s first match win at Wimbledon in three years.
Also advancing to the second round were teen stars Coco Gauff and Marta Kostyuk, Birmingham champion Ons Jabeur – who next plays Venus – and tour veterans Vera Zvonareva and Elena Vesnina.
Federer survives as Medvedev, Zverev advance
It was a scratchy return to Wimbledon for Federer, who sprayed 19 unforced errors in the second set and had to contend with an inspired opponent who loves the lawns.
Yet Mannarino’s fall completely changed the course of the match; Federer eventually extended his head-to-head record against the Frenchman to 7-0, and will next meet Richard Gasquet as the Swiss continues his quest for a ninth Wimbledon title, and 21st major trophy overall.
Second seed Medvedev, projected to meet Federer in the quarterfinals, avenged his recent Halle defeat to Jan-Lennard Struff with a 6-4 6-1 4-6 7-6(3) triumph over the German.
Fourth seed Zverev was a more comfortable 6-3 6-4 6-1 winner over Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor.
Other first-round winners on Tuesday were top 10 seeds Diego Schwartzman and Denis Shapovalov, British No.1 Dan Evans, Australians Marc Polmans and Alex Bolt – both first-time main-draw winners at Wimbledon – and Oscar Otte, who won 13-12 [7-2] in the fifth set over Arthur Rinderknech to set up a second-round match with Andy Murray.
Meanwhile, Nick Kyrgios, playing for the first time since Australian Open 2021, was locked at 3-3 in the fifth set of an entertaining clash with Halle champ Ugo Humbert, before play was suspended.
Stat of the day
Wimbledon 2021 is the first Grand Slam tournament in more than nine years at which Venus Williams has progressed further in the draw than Serena.
You have to go back to Roland Garros 2012, when Serena fell in the first round and Venus advanced to the second, to find a time when the elder Williams fared better than her younger sister.
Serena had been aiming to improve her first-round record at Wimbledon to a flawless 20-0 before injury cruelly intervened.
Upset of the day
Australian No.15 seed Alex de Minaur had been thriving on grass ahead of Wimbledon, winning the Eastbourne title after a semifinal finish at Queen’s and building an 8-2 record on the surface.
Yet he drew a tough first-round assignment in American rising star Sebastian Korda, and discovered himself why the 20-year-old is considered such a promising prospect.
Korda’s textbook strokes and effortless power proved potent as he stormed to a two-sets-to-love lead, and although the gritty De Minaur wrenched a tense third set away from his opponent, Korda went on to win 6-3 6-4 6-7(5) 7-6(5).
The world No.50 goes on to face French qualifier Antoine Hoang for a place in the third round.
Tweet of the day
I made this ball in the court btw 😂 pic.twitter.com/fWWhMNTZPr
— Coco Gauff (@CocoGauff) June 29, 2021
Make it she did; it was one of several pieces of inspired play from 20th seed Gauff, who smacked nine aces among 22 winners to see off inspirational British wildcard Francesca Jones 7-5 6-4.
Quotes of the day
“I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg. My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on Centre Court so meaningful. Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on – and off – the court meant the world to me.”
– statement from Serena Williams
“It’s awful. It shows that one shot can change the outcome of a match, a season, a career. So I wish him all the best, and I hope he recovers quickly so we see him back on the courts. Because, look, he could have won the match at the end, obviously he was the better player, so I definitely got a bit lucky.”
– Roger Federer
“It’s very sad for me, honestly, when your opponent feel bad. She’s a great champion, and it’s sad story. I was happy to play against her. It was a dream of my dad. He dreamed for eight years in a row, he just wrote me before the match, that I would play with Serena in Wimbledon, and, yeah, it happens. Of course I wanted to play the full match.”
– Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Serena Williams
“When I watched his documentary when it came out, actually, I was crying. It was so emotional and so inspiring. I mean, I’m probably talking for other players, too. He’s just huge icon in the sport.”
– Oscar Otte, on second-round opponent Andy Murray
“I think Wimbledon make me a really good gift. I really enjoy. I cannot ask for anything else better than this day. One of my last match here against Ash, No. 1 of the world, Centre Court, with the roof. Was amazing. I really enjoy everything I pass through. I think now, today, I was or I am the most happy player (of the) tournament, for sure.”
– Carla Suarez Navarro
Day 3: Ones to watch
Centre Court opens with a bang on Wednesday when top seed Novak Djokovic takes on former world No.5 Kevin Anderson – a rematch of their 2018 Wimbledon final.
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka then takes on fellow big-hitter Katie Boulter before Murray’s clash with Otte.
Court No.1 will see the resumption and conclusion of Kyrgios v Humbert before a notable clash between Jabuer and Williams. “Ons I would say is one of my favorite people on tour. Honestly she’s just breaking down barriers,” Venus said.
Court No.2 sees women’s major champions Bianca Andreescu, Iga Swiatek and Sofia Kenin all in action, with No.5 seed Andreescu hoping to avenge her recent loss to Alize Cornet in Berlin and seventh seed Swiatek facing former world No.2 and Wimbledon finalist Zvonareva.