Iga Swiatek has weighed in on her prestigious Wimbledon honour, which came about because Ash Barty’s request was denied after her retirement.
Rafael Nadal overcame a huge scare to reach the Wimbledon second round, title contender Matteo Berrettini was forced to pull out of the tournament with Covid-19 and world No. 1 Iga Swiatek extended her winning streak to 36 matches on day two at the All England Club.
Swiatek coasted into the second round with a routine 6-0, 6-3 victory against Croatian qualifier Jana Fett.
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The French Open champion, who has won her past six tournaments, said she was relishing the atmosphere at the grass-court event.
“I feel I have only played 12 weeks of my life on grass but the whole atmosphere and tradition is pumping me up and just looking forward to the next matches,” she said.
Swiatek ascended to the world No. 1 ranking after Ash Barty’s sudden retirement earlier this year and has cemented her status as tennis’ new queen. However, she would have liked the opportunity to do battle with the Aussie on a unique surface.
“I’m pretty sad Ash isn’t here, because I would have loved to play against her on grass,” Swiatek said.
Swiatek was given the honour of opening the day on Centre Court — a privilege reserved for the winner of the previous year’s tournament. However, because Barty — who won Wimbledon in 2021 — is no longer playing, organisers offered the first match of day two to Swiatek on account of her world No. 1 ranking.
This is despite Barty reportedly making a request that her spot be taken by Simona Halep, who won Wimbledon in 2019. The Romanian star couldn’t open proceedings in 2020 after the grand slam was cancelled because of Covid, and she missed the 2021 event through injury.
Barty’s plea fell on deaf ears and Swiatek, not Halep, strode onto Centre Court first.
“Basically, it’s a huge privilege that I was chosen to be opening,” Swiatek said after her win over Fett.
“It wasn’t obvious because obviously Ash would be opening if she was here.
“I just feel like it’s an honour.”
Halep beat Czech player Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-2 in their first round clash while fourth seed Paula Badosa lost just three games against Louisa Chirico.
Beaten French Open finalist Coco Gauff, the 11th seed, recovered from losing the first set against Romania’s Elena-Gabriela Ruse to win 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.
In the men’s draw, an off-key Nadal, already halfway to a calendar Grand Slam after winning the Australian Open and French Open, dug deep to beat Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
“Three years without being here on this amazing surface, it is amazing to be back and I can’t thank (people) enough for the support,” said the Spaniard, who has not played at Wimbledon since 2019.
“It is not a surface that we play very often, especially in my case. In the last three years I didn’t put any foot on the grass.”
The Spaniard appeared to be coasting to victory when he took a two-set lead but his Argentine opponent won the third set and then went a break up early in the fourth.
But the match suddenly switched gears as Nadal broke to level at 4-4, accompanied by roars from the Centre Court crowd.
He held serve and then broke again to seal the victory and will face Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis in the next round.
There was a question mark over the Spaniard’s durability for the two weeks at Wimbledon having played the entire French Open with his troublesome left foot anaesthetised.
The 36-year-old second seed has since undergone a course of radiofrequency stimulation, a treatment aimed at reducing nerve pain in his foot and he looked mobile.
“Every day is a test,” said the two-time Wimbledon champion. “I am at the beginning of the tournament and everyone knows the difficult circumstances that I had.”
The early action at the All England Club on Tuesday was overshadowed by the announcement from Berrettini — last year’s runner-up — that Covid had forced him out of the tournament.
“I am heartbroken to announce that I need to withdraw from @wimbledon due to a positive Covid-19 test result,” the 26-year-old Italian wrote on Instagram.
Berrettini was widely regarded as one of the biggest threats to defending champion Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, having captured back-to-back grass-court titles in Stuttgart and Queen’s.
He is the second man to withdraw from Wimbledon with Covid in two days after 2017 runner-up Marin Cilic of Croatia also tested positive.
The Italian was a potential semi-final opponent for Nadal.
It is business as usual at the Grand Slam this year after the tournament was cancelled due to Covid in 2020 and last year was played in front of reduced crowds.
The All England Club said in a statement that protocols remained in place to minimise the risk of infection.