Murray returns to Centre Court and Raducanu makes main-stage debut

Emma Raducanu

Emma Raducanu

As Andy Murray, twice a champion at Wimbledon, twice an Olympic champion, and for almost a year, world No1, said ahead of the tournament, there is real excitement about returning to Wimbledon this year.

The last time he played to a full crowd, in 2017, he was top seed, and had reached the quarter-finals for the 10th straight year, Ultimately losing to Sam Querrey in five sets.

Soon after he dropped to world No2 as persistent hip problems halted his schedule, and 2018 began with hip surgery. He returned just before Wimbledon, winning only one match on grass before withdrawing from The Championships.

And 2019 marked another downturn: Murray looked ready to quit tennis after a painful five-set exit from the Australian Open to Roberto Bautista Agut. Instead, the Briton took the bold decision to undertake hip resurfacing, and this time it seemed to work. He arrived at Queen’s five months later to win the doubles title with Feliciano Lopez—and declared himself pain free for the first time in years.

By the time he played his first competitive singles match, he was ranked 324, but he ended the year with the Antwerp title.

So it seemed as though a speedy comeback was on the cards, but 2020 had other ideas. He missed the Australian swing with a pelvic injury, and then tennis closed down for six months courtesy of a global pandemic. Come 2021, and a Covid infection prevented him from travelling to Australia, and a groin injury decimated his clay season. But finally he made it back to Wimbledon with a wild card, and enjoyed two good wins before losing the Denis Shapovalov.

However, Wimbledon last year was a strange affair, marred by continuing Covid restrictions. The tournament was given special permission to host fans, but the numbers only built up to capacity by the final weekend.

There were limits on access at every turn. Players who had grown used to renting accommodation in the leafy environs of Wimbledon had to stay in designated hotels—even those who lived just down the road. Journalists had to issue a negative Covid test every other day, sit at alternate screened desks, and all press conferences were via Zoom. Murray, and Emma Raducanu during her debut run at Wimbledon, sat in front of screens in an empty press conference room.

So this year has brought a new appreciation of what ‘normal’ looks like. Murray opened:

“It’s brilliant [to be back]. Obviously after the last few years—nothing a couple years ago, then last year different circumstances, staying in the bubble and everything—I don’t think it was full capacity either. So nice to be back playing Wimbledon as normal.”

That does not mean there have been no difficulties to handle. Murray has rented an apartment near the grounds this year, against disruptions to travel—train and tube strikes among them:

“I may stay there if I have a late finish or an early match… With what’s been going on with the trains and stuff, traffic has been tricky. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m spending an hour and a half to get here in the car, and an hour and a half on the way home.”

There was, though, another more pertinent reason for concern ahead of the tournament. Murray picked up an abdominal strain during his three-set final loss to Matteo Berrettini in Stuttgart, having beaten No5 Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way. It forced him to withdraw from Queen’s, and he told the BBC last Monday:

“The injury is healing but still not perfect… Positives are I’ve been able to practise but there are certain shots I’ve not been able to practise.”

Naturally, he was asked this weekend how his training was progressing:

“I’ve been able to gradually progress my training this week and got to play a few sets, a lot of points. Last few days have been good.”

He was optimistic too about his current level of play:

“I think I showed a couple weeks ago that there was still good tennis left in me. I mean, I beat a guy in the top five in the world, was neck-and-neck with Berrettini, who is one of the best grass court players in the world before the injury. I played well against [Nick] Kyrgios, as well. And I’ve been doing pretty well in practices. Yeah, I know the tennis is in there; I just need to bring it out during the event now.”

He finally touched on the ‘X factor’ that has returned to his corner: Ivan Lendl. Murray has enjoyed two stints with the eight-time Major champion, winning all three of his own Majors under Lendl’s guidance. And they began a third partnership this spring, with Murray saying: “It means a lot to me that he’s still willing to help me and believes that I can achieve great results. And I trust him in that, too.”

He added this weekend: “Obviously having Ivan on my team helps. We’ve had a lot of success in the past. We know each other well. He still believes in me. There’s not loads of coaches out there that have done over this last period, and he has.”

With Lendl in his box, Murray will open his 2022 campaign against James Duckworth as part of the centre-court schedule. And it would surprise few if he got a standing ovation on his beloved home turf.

Before Murray, however, another Briton, much newer to the Wimbledon brouhaha, will enjoy her day in the spotlight. Raducanu will be making her debut on Centre Court after reaching the fourth round here last year.

Emma Raducanu

Emma Raducanu (Photo: AELTC / David Gray)

She had played and lost just one main-tour match before, in Nottingham a fortnight earlier, so it was little wonder that the teenager, who had just finished her A levels, captured the imagination, despite the limited court capacity.

The Briton was quickly in high demand, but after taking to the hard courts of North America with considerable success, she was still only ranked 150 ahead of the US Open, and so entered qualifying in New York.

Three weeks later, she was the US champion, still only 18 years old, and the first singles qualifier in the Open era to win a Major title—and without dropping a set, or even facing a tie-break, in 10 matches.

So come this year’s Australian Open, she was seeded in a Major for the first time: Indeed everything was still ‘a first’, in what must have felt like an overpowering learning curve. And there have been wins, but also many losses, and all the while with her physical, mental and professional development under intense scrutiny.

Even back on familiar ground where it all started a year ago, the demands have gone up several notches: For a start, a full, face-to-face press conference ahead of the tournament. She knew what was coming—questions about the muscle strain in her side that she picked up in her first grass match this year in Nottingham. She managed just seven games, and went on to withdraw from Eastbourne.

Now, she was admirably to-the-point:

“I’ve definitely been managing it since Nottingham. I took two weeks off… I think that this week was a good build-up. There were moments earlier on in the week we weren’t really sure. We were going to see how the week goes, but it went pretty well…

“Right now I’m fit. I’m ready to go. I’m looking forward to it. That’s it.”

Of course, her status this time around is different from 2021: For a start, as a seed, she is in a dedicated locker room with interacting with all the top players.

“I mean, I’m 19. Just to be watching Rafa and Novak at such close range, to be able to take part and try to learn from them, walk amongst these great players, it’s still special…

“I feel like last year I came straight out of my exams, I was fresh, ready to play. I feel the same excitement this year, to be honest… But I’m definitely looking forward to it. Just going to play like a kid who just loves playing tennis. It’s always my dream to step out on Centre Court. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Then with a note of understatement, she added of the Centre Court schedule:

“I think that’s a pretty cool line-up. Just to be included amongst those names is special in itself. I never would have thought that.”

No10 seed Raducanu opens against the dangerous Alison Van Uytvanck, who is currently ranked just one place below the No32 seed. The Belgian has won two non-tour events this grass season, too, so will be well bedded in. The Briton understood the challenge but believes she is up to it:

“I definitely feel like game-wise I back myself pretty much against anyone. I feel if I really put my mind to it and commit, then I can be pretty good [smiling]… But she’s a real tricky opponent, especially on grass courts… It’s definitely going to be a tough matchup, but every match is at this level. I’m still ready to go.”

Day 1 schedule: show courts [Britons in bold]

Centre Court, 1.30pm start

Novak Djokovic vs Soonwoo Kwon
Alison Van Uytvanck vs Emma Raducanu
Andy Murray vs James Duckworth

No1 Court, 1pm start

Mirjam Bjorklund vs Ons Jabeur
Jan-Lennard Struff vs Carlos Alcaraz
Angelique Kerber vs Kristina Mladenovic

No2 court, 11am start
Cameron Norrie vs Pablo Andujar
Bernarda Pera vs Anett Kontaveit
Jannik Sinner vs Stan Wawrinka
Maria Sakkari vs Zoe Hives

No3 court, 11am start
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina vs Hubert Hurkacz
Danielle Collins vs Marie Bouzkova
Tamara Korpatsch vs Heather Watson
Ryan Peniston vs Henri Laaksonen

No12 court, 11am start

Casper Ruud vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas
Kaja Juvan vs Beatriz Haddad Maia
Belinda Bencic vs Qiang Wang
Steve Johnson vs Grigor Dimitrov

No18 court, 11am start
Jodie Burrage vs Lesia Tsurenko
Enzo Couacaud vs John Isner
Jay Clarke vs Christian Harrison
Marta Kostyuk vs Katie Swan

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia