Shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Monday, two years minus two weeks from the last time a meaningful match was played at Wimbledon, a voice blared over the loudspeakers: “Good afternoon and welcome to Centre Court.”
Then came an announcement welcoming “special guests in the Royal Box,” including a woman who developed one of the COVID-19 vaccines, prompting the first of the day’s several standing ovations from spectators. And, eventually, came the words, “We’ve waited awhile for this,” before the introduction of Novak Djokovic and the opponent he would go on to defeat 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 with the help of 25 aces, Jack Draper, a 19-year-old wild-card entry from England ranked 253rd.
It was, in some respects, as if Wimbledon had never left, as if the All England Club hadn’t decided to cancel the oldest Grand Slam tournament for the first time since World War II a year ago because of the pandemic.
There was raucous cheering from the stands — even before two-time champion Andy Murray played, and won, his first singles match at the place in four years.
There was rain — so much rain that play on courts without a roof was delayed more than 4½ hours, 11 matches were suspended in progress because of darkness and more than 20 others were postponed until Tuesday.
And there was tennis — and reminders of how sports are unpredictable and can bring such joy and disappointment. A pair of Americans picked up the most newsworthy triumphs: Frances Tiafoe eliminated French Open runner-up and No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, while 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens defeated two-time Wimbledon winner and No. 10 seed Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-4.
Tiafoe had been 0-11 versus opponents ranked in the Top 5.
“That guy is special. He’s going to do a lot of great things, win a ton of Grand Slams,” Tiafoe said regarding Tsitsipas, then broke into a wide smile and added: “But not today.”
Murray, whose title in 2013 made him the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, has been working his way back after a pair of hip operations and he tested the locals’ patience during a topsy-turvy 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 triumph over No. 24 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili at Centre Court.
“Amazing reception when I came out. Great atmosphere the whole match,” Murray told the crowd after blowing a 5-0 lead and two match points in the third set. “So thanks for that.”
Tiafoe and Stephens are among 34 Americans in the singles brackets (21 women, 13 men), the most at Wimbledon since there were 35 in 1998.
The coronavirus still looms over the event. Fans must wear masks around the grounds (although not while watching a match) and show proof they either are fully vaccinated or had COVID-19 in the past six months.
All players and their entourages have to stay at one London hotel, where they take regular tests and are subject to contact tracing.