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Wimbledon is back in full swing with huge crowds, roars and rain

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WIMBLEDON, England — Wimbledon resumed its life without palliation on Monday for the first time since 2019 and the last echoes of “Roger, Roger!” bouncing around Center Court from a then-up-and-coming men’s final. Tube doors opened at Southfields station, crowds spilled out of trains and up the stairs and down the pavements of Church Road, and even the hydrangeas at the All England Club seemed happier.

Then it rained, which was perfect.

Then it stopped, which was perfect.

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Then it rained again, which was perfect.

That allowed for words as familiar here as any words have ever been anywhere: “The game is suspended.”

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He returned in the late afternoon, and Wimbledon had a first day like no other since 2019, with the pandemic canceling 2020 and forcing 50 per cent capacity for the 2021 opening. Wimbledon had its “full fans, no bubbles , as I remember that”, as Coco Gauff had said on Saturday.

He’s only 18, but after these lousy years, “back to how I remember” seemed fitting.

“I just looked at the [Centre Court] crowd, I just saw everyone,” Emma Raducanu, the 19-year-old reigning US Open champion and No. 1 in British interest, said after her 6-4, 6-4 victory over Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium. “It was amazing to hear the noise of the word ‘go.’ ”

The uproar had picked up speed once more. You could almost smell the Pimm from here, or here, or here. The sight of the grass seemed, as always, almost medicinal. Faces from all over the world walked the grounds, with some people better dressed than for an average Monday lunchtime. All possibilities were thrown back into the air, in a way that resonates with the words of Ons Jabeur, the woman ranked a heady No. 2, when she said: “I am someone from Tunisia; nobody even believed that I could be here, and here I am talking to you [reporters].”

On the tiny No. 17 court from the start, tucked into a row of courts sandwiched between the two monsters (Center and No. 1), Maryland native Frances Tiafoe played her 25th major tournament, somehow. Diners peered out the windows of tables in the Court No. 1 complex. People peered over the walls of the adjacent patio, with one hanging a glass of rosé that looked pretty off-putting. The children rode on the shoulders of the parents to see. Inside, in the small three-row bleachers, a woman yelled, “Come on, ‘Fie!” from time to time (but not enough).

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Tiafoe, ranked No. 28, earned a veterans 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Andrea Vavassori of Italy, with the two watching a replay of Tiafoe’s last ball hit, inside, and then They had a big heart hug.

Novak Djokovic returned in the middle of the afternoon. He hasn’t lost a match here since 2017, when he retired in the quarterfinals with Tomas Berdych. He did not lose on Monday against the excellent Soonwoo Kwon of South Korea, ranked No. 81, although Djokovic had his moments in the 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory trying to “find a way “. , tactically, to take control of the point”.

He knows how to do that as well as or better than anyone, but he didn’t know how he would be received here after his odd year that included being deported from Australia in January for not being vaccinated.

“I was very pleasantly surprised,” he said after his postgame appearance to a warm crowd. “I mean, in a positive way. I felt support. Of course, the crowd was involved in the match. They supported both players. I thought they were very fair to me.”

He also celebrated what he sees as the easing of his post-Australia malaise.

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“Yes, because I have experienced something that I have never experienced in my life in Australia. So this post-Australia period of the next few months was an emotional challenge for me because of a lot of different factors.” He said that “the feelings that came back on court with everything that happened after Australia, particularly the first few tournaments, were difficult. It was a different feeling. It’s not very nice for me. Right now, I no longer feel the traces of that, so to speak. I keep going.

Even the locker rooms had come back to full life. The British player of Scottish father and Welsh mother and South African birth and New Zealand childhood, Cameron Norrie, knows it for sure. Long before reaching his current ranking of No. 12, he was seeded No. 29 last year at Wimbledon, which meant he entered the seeding locker room, right?

“I was, ‘Oh, I got to the seeding locker room,’” he said. “I went for a walk here. The security guy said, ‘No, no, no, you can’t get in.’ They were top 14 seeds or something like that last year, maybe for covid reasons. I was like, ‘Wow, I was so looking forward to doing it.’ ”

Now he is there, alongside Djokovic, and he stays there for a while longer after beating Pablo Andújar of Spain, 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3. It’s one of multiple viable interests for British tennis fans who used to throw everything at Tim Henman a generation ago. The roars on Center Court for Raducanu and then Andy Murray as he walked out were audible in the stadium on Court No. 1, but the roars on court n. 1 were not far behind.

They happened for Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish sensation, and they were deep, big and throaty indoors. At times it felt like one of those occasions where the opponent, in this case 32-year-old German Jan-Lennard Struff, seemed more of an inconvenience. As the No. 7-ranked Alcaraz builds his nascent grass-court game, he scrambled into a fourth-set tiebreak that he managed by winning seven of the last eight points, then a fifth set in which his powerful crosscourt forehand secured a first break of serve in the set for 5-4.

The crowd then cheered Struff for a long time as he tried to hold on, but then a well-placed 97mph second-serve winner coaxed an error and ended it, Alcaraz clapping for Struff as Struff retired. Then, when Alcaraz started to answer a question about the crowd, the crowd interrupted his response with a boom, and Alcaraz smiled his giant smile, with the on-court interviewer saying, “Looks like we have another Wimbledon favorite from Spain.”

The roar, like the day, was full.

sniloans