Emma Raducanu and Carlos Alcaraz shine at Wimbledon

The Brits affectionately refer to the world’s holiest tennis courts as ‘SW19’, after the All England Club’s London postcode. So it seemed fitting that when the Wimbledon game got underway on Monday, a lot of attention was focused on a pair of 19-year-olds here in the south-west of the city.

On the women’s side is homegrown sensation Emma Raducanu, who seemingly burst out of nowhere to reach the fourth round of last year’s tournament and then win the US Open, sparking national cheers in Britain. Despite some unforgettable games since then and a worrying injury earlier this month, those achievements have propelled Raducanu to a career-best 11th place.

For the men, their 19-year-old prodigy is Carlos Alcaraz, a Spaniard who has won four tournaments this year, including two Elite Masters 1000 tournaments. At one of those Masters events in Madrid, Alcaraz became the only player in history to defeat both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the same clay court tournament.

The excitement surrounding Raducanu and Alcaraz has helped spark interest in this year’s two-week Wimbledon tournaments, the first at full strength – at least for viewers – since the pandemic began. There was an unprecedented cancellation in 2020 and a stripped down version last year. Playfully, the tournament is missing everyone from Russia and Belarus after the controversial decision to ban participants from those countries over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine means that men’s No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, among others, is absent.

Spanish tennis player Carlos Alcaraz pumps his fist

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz reacts after winning a point against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff on day one at Wimbledon on Monday.

(Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press)

Medvedev defeated Alcaraz in the second round last year after the Spaniard came on as a wildcard and outlasted his first-round opponent in the first game of his career by five sets. Since then, Alcaraz has become one of tennis’ most exciting stories, breaking into the top 10 in April – the youngest man since Nadal in 2005 – and briefly climbing to No. 6 last month before slipping to No. 7.

“The ranking is secondary for me at the moment,” said Alcaraz on the eve of Wimbledon. “I’m trying not to think about ranking too much right now.”

Instead, he had his hands full on Monday with an opening-round match against 32-year-old Jan-Lennard Struff, an unseeded German who defeated Alcaraz in his only previous match at the French Open last year. An elbow injury had forced Alcaraz to withdraw from a warm-up tournament, leaving him unprepared for grass after a busy and successful clay-court season.

“To me, [to] moving well on grass is the hardest thing,” he said, adding that he will keep trying to play aggressively and storm the net.

Matching Alcaraz’s 7th place, the match against Struff was held on one of Wimbledon’s show courts, Court No. 1, whose closed roof allowed the two hard hitters to play despite the rain, which sometimes pelted overhead so loudly that their racquet smacked. Alcaraz’s grunts and phone calls were drowned out. It was a back-and-forth affair, with Alcaraz pausing after four hours of play to embark on a final game with a glorious forehand winner and an ace – the last of 30 – for a 4-6, 7-5, 4 -6 to finish, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 win.

Playing five sets in Wimbledon two years in a row “means I love the grass so much” that “I don’t want to leave the pitch,” Alcaraz joked afterwards.

Raducanu entered Center Court – the subdued arena many call tennis’s cathedral – after Djokovic defended his 2021 title by beating South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon in four sets 6-3 3-6 6-3 6 swept aside -4.

Now a household name in the UK, where she charmed fans last year by appearing fresh from her college entrance exams at Wimbledon, Raducanu has played indifferently of late, and in the second round of the previous two Grand Slam tournaments of the year, the Australian Open, lost and the French Open.

Earlier this month in Nottingham, England, Raducanu was eliminated in her first game on home soil as a US Open champion in the opening round after just under half an hour of play, raising doubts about her suitability for Wimbledon.

At the weekend, despite some misgivings, she said: “Now things are moving forward at full steam. … At the moment I’m fit, I’m ready to go, I’m looking forward to it.”

She took to Center Court in the sunshine that finally drove away the rain late Monday afternoon and beat number 46 Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck 6-4, 6-4. The match started more than two hours after Alcaraz’s but ended earlier, with Raducanu hitting fewer aces and winners than her opponent but managing to convert four break points.

“It’s always been my dream to stand on Center Court,” said Raducanu. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and started playing tennis for.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-06-27/wimbledon-begins-emma-raducanu-carlos-alcaraz-young-stars Emma Raducanu and Carlos Alcaraz shine at Wimbledon

Emma Bowman

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