Wimbledon 2019 certainly began with a bang.
The opening day of The Championships saw Naomi Osaka, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alexander Zverev all exit one after another, but it was 15-year-old American Cori Gauff who deservedly stole all headlines with her historic victory over five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams.
What started off as an uncomplicated, predictable Day 1 of a Grand Slam soon gave way to plenty of chaos and thrilling results.
The first big shock of the day came on Centre Court when women’s second seed Osaka faced 39th-ranked Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan. Osaka’s quest to add a third major title to her name lasted only an hour and 36 minutes as she lost 7-6(4), 6-2.
Putintseva, who had beaten Osaka 12 days ago on the grass courts of Birmingham, has now won all three of their meetings. The Kazakh player used the backhand slice to her full advantage, with the ball laying low on the grass and making things extremely uncomfortable for Osaka.
The 21-year-old Japanese started the match well and was 3-1 up in the first set before she was broken back and then lost her way in the tie-break.
In the second set, she continued to have trouble holding her own serve and was broken in the third game. Osaka’s unforced errors piled up as the match went on and she botched two crucial volleys at the net at 2-3 that could have helped her get back on serve. Putintseva sealed the biggest win of her career by clinching four straight games in the second set and moves into the second round.
For Osaka, this loss adds to what has been a difficult phase in her career after she lifted the Australian Open trophy at the start of 2019. She split with her coach Sascha Baijin in February and has a 13-7 win-loss record since then with zero finals appearances.
However, while there are legitimate concerns about how Osaka is handling the limelight and pressures of being at the top at her young age, there is no reason to ring the alarm bells yet. She is still trying to adapt to playing on clay and grass and her best performances have come on hard courts. In Putintseva, Osaka was also dealt a tricky opponent in her very first match and couldn’t work her way into form.
Another player that went down on Monday trying to get a footing on this natural surface was 20-year-old Tsitsipas. The 7th seed on the men’s side was defeated by 30-year-old Thomas Fabbiano of Italy in five tight sets, 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(8), 3-6.
Tsitsipas’ movement and erratic form on grass let him down against an opponent who actually enjoys playing on the turf. In 2018, Tsitsipas had beaten Fabbiano in straight sets in the third round of Wimbledon. But since then, the Italian has improved by leaps and bounds and he was able to flip the result this time around.
Ultimately, what differentiated the two players was belief and despite not being able to convert two match points in the fourth set tie-break, it was Fabbiano who came out stronger in the decider. He continued to play aggressive tennis with swagger and exploited Tsitsipas’ weak backhand and inconsistent forehand.
For 66th seed Zverev, a complete lack of confidence and off-court distractions resulted in a lacklustre 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 5-7 loss to 124-ranked Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely. The German has been involved in a legal battle with his former manager Patricio Apey and hinted that it derailed his preparations right before Wimbledon.
Despite all these tremendous upsets, the best performance of Day 1 arguably belonged to teenage sensation Gauff. The American had blitzed her way through qualifying as a wildcard to become the youngest Wimbledon qualifier in the Open Era at the age of 15 years and 122 days.
In her first-ever main draw Grand Slam match, Gauff was up against the oldest player in the women’s draw, 39-year-old Williams. But she didn’t let the occasion (her major debut), or the venue (a packed Court 1), or her opponent (she idolises the Williams sisters) get to her and showed maturity and composure beyond her years for a stunning 6-4, 6-4 victory.
A new star was born on Monday at the All England Club as Gauff regaled spectators with her gifted talent and strengths. She served bigger and smarter than Williams, she attacked with a forehand loaded with heavy spin and she showed almost no signs of nerves throughout the match. Gauff committed only eight unforced errors compared to 26 by Williams and converted all three of the breakpoints she created.
To truly understand the magnitude of Gauff’s achievement, think about this stat for a while – Williams had won four Grand Slam titles, including two at Wimbledon before Gauff was even born. Gauff’s win was a rare epochal moment in sport and everyone who witnessed it will remember her name for years to come.