So welcome back, the great British summer picnic, a tournament that’s kind of always a muggy afternoon and, it turns out, still has strawberries with tea.
The All England Club was a cold, fresh, breezy place as it opened its doors wide for the first time since 2019. There were heaps of cool summer rain. The fabled serpent was seen in watery sunshine before the game began, with that familiar sense of something performative, theatrically static, British to the Brits, before the Brits. Other nations have parades, fiestas, festivals. We have the plastic strawberry basket, the cargo shorts, a staged courtesy.
And overall it was a steady opening day, adorned with British success but with a slight sense of half-throttle around the boulevards and sidewalks. The hill was beautifully lush and green between the rain.
Wimbledon is a place to indulge, to suck the sweetness out of summer, to feel luscious and blushed and groggy and sated. The restaurants were crowded, the kiosks were buzzing. In the shop under No 1 Court they sell novelty oversized tennis racquets for £600. Are we really in this place?
There was an eagerness to cling to those staples of the pre-pandemic summer: Glastonbury, Wimbledon, endless queues for a seat on a budget airline. And this was a solid day for the All England Club in other ways too, with first-round appearances for the only two British players to have won a Grand Slam singles title in the last 45 years, Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu.
Raducanu was the star of the day, winning her first match on Center Court. Looking rugged and fit and genuinely excited by the end, as any 19-year-old should, let alone a teenager a tram ride away right behind grew up in the lowlands of Croydon and for whom it all must still feel like a dream.
Murray roared the loudest later that night. But then again, he’s basically Wimbledon’s father these days, with some pleasant hingdog and affectionate in that tired, dove-shaped gait; a figure so fatherly. You almost expect to look down to see him playing in his shirt sleeves and waistcoat, with a briefcase brandished in his other hand.
Nobody has ever owned this place like Murray does now, which is a strange thing considering how things were before the lanky boy gave way to the lanky man, fears that the Wimbledon crowd would never quite get him to their chest could press. Fast forward a decade and a half and we basically have Mr. Darcy out there in the square, swooning, sinister, regal.
It was a different kind of energy to see Raducanu win here, a straight-set win over veteran Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck that could have been far more awkward. This was Raducanu’s first appearance in front of that magnificent, cooing, gurgling, bubbling gallery on Center Court, and the relationship between audience and players is important here, in a way it probably shouldn’t.
There were roars and whistles and the odd scattered shout as Raducanu walked out under a blue shy sky. There were gasps and coos as she unfolded a nice curled backhand, then sighs and murmurs as she hit a forehand. After 17 minutes, Raducanu finally held serve to make it a single game to roar from the plastic seats.
Really, none of this should be taken for granted. Still such a newbie, Raducanu is still trying to find a way to interact with this industry. For anyone with a sense of scale, the story isn’t a disappointment or distracting perfume shops up to this point (she really could have had a lot more of it). Instead, it’s a golden run where all the cards were right, an achievement that could well remain a one-off for her and everyone else. She’s not big or particularly strong. It lacks those simple bonus weapons, the massive wingspan, the serve to get out of prison. She can track down and hunt. She can fight and work out her opponent. New York is gone. What she now faces are the more standard trials of becoming an elite tennis player.
There were beaks and breakbacks in the first set. The standard dove for a while. But Raducanu sped through the second set, finishing it 6-4, 6-4. The win is a real feat that was happily received. “I won my first round at every slam. It wasn’t…terrible,” she said afterwards, talking for a while about being 19 in a room full of middle-aged hacks.
Murray still had time to boot up those familiar gears as the shadows lightened. He’s almost indecently relaxed out there these days. He’s good looking too, loose and limber and comfortable in his movements, with some of that old jump, the choppy little strides, the slice, the shuffling shots to the net.
Of course, Murray also looked tired at the end, but then he looks tired as soon as he goes on the pitch. Still, as James Duckworth guided him deep into the evening, there was always a feeling Murray would hold out as long as his body kept working. There’s muscle memory here, shapes, tracks, a series of Murray things, Murray noises, Murray figures that will haunt this green square long after that crouched figure has shuffled away for the last time. The win made it a perfect, if somewhat tentative, start for the return of Wimbledon’s full house.