Britons Konta and Watson carry women’s banner, but Bedene is star of home-town show
Aljaz Bedene is the star of the show at Wimbledon on Monday after beating big-serving Ivo Karlovic in a five-set thriller
Johanna Konta knew she had a tough opponent to negotiate on opening Monday at the All England Club.
The Briton may be ranked at No7 in the world, and may have arrived here with wins over the French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and world No1 Angelique Kerber in back-to-back matches—and on grass—but Chinese Taipei’s Hsieh Su-Wei had beaten her in the first round of Roland Garros just weeks ago, and also had a win over Konta on the grass of Eastbourne four years ago.
What’s more, a heavy fall as the Briton closed out her quarter-final win over Kerber not only gave her a sore head but a bruised back, and she withdrew from her scheduled semi against Karolina Pliskova.
So the Briton arrived with some doubts over her form, but a 64-minute win, though packed with errors from both rackets, confirmed what she had said ahead of her opener. She was fit and ready to play not just her first match but, if necessary, seven.
For all her success around the world, Konta has struggled to translate her form into wins on her biggest home stage. In five previous starts at Wimbledon, she had managed just one win: last year. Now, with her 6-2, 6-2 win on Court 1, she has her second.
Told that many pundits were putting her among the possible favourites for the title this week, she said:
“I think that’s a massive compliment. That’s the only way I can take that. I’m definitely entered in this event to perform the best that I can. I’m really working incredibly hard to be involved as long as I can.
“In terms of potential winners, technically anyone in the draw is eligible to be crowned here. I think it’s been proven time and time again how the strength in women’s tennis is getting better and better.”
Konta was not alone in carrying the women’s banner for the home nation. While fellow wild cards Laura Robson and Naomi Broady could not make it past their first opponents, Beatriz Haddad Maia and Irina-Camelia Begu respectively—both losing 6-4. 6-2—Heather Watson built on the good form she began to produce in the grass-season run-up to Wimbledon.
The former world No38 slipped out of the top 100 earlier this summer following illness, injury and a loss of confidence, and so needed a wild card for Wimbledon, but after making the finals in the ITF event in Surbiton, she reached the semi-finals at Eastbourne, too. Now she has come through Maryna Zanevska, 6-1, 7-6 (5), into the second round at the All England Club.
It had looked a straightforward match until she served for victory at 5-4 in the second set, and was then broken. But she refocused in time to take the tie-break, and was delighted both with the win and to be back at her favourite tournament.
“I mean, I just love it here. I think it’s obvious. I always want to do well. If there’s one tournament that I could pick to win, it would be this one. And just the atmosphere, being at home, on the grass, which is one of my favourite surfaces.
“It’s the most famous tournament in the world. It’s amazing to be a part of.”
Watson will next play the No18 seed Anastasija Sevastova.
However, Konta was not the only Briton to notch up only their second win at Wimbledon. Aljaz Bedene, ranked 58, was not fancied to come through his first match, drawn as he was against No21 seed Ivo Karlovic. The huge Croat is always a dangerous opponent who can take the racket out of an opponent’s hand by the might of his serve alone. His old-fashioned serve and volley game also thrives on grass better than anywhere.
Bedene had won only one match in four previous visits here. Add into the equation that he had been forced to pull out of the Queen’s draw less than a fortnight ago with a wrist injury, and his chances did not look promising. But he was about to turn those expectations on their head.
Playing last on Court 3, the match went the way of many of Karlovic’s confrontations: to tie-breaks. The Croat edged the first; Bedene levelled in the second. The third and fourth sets also went to tie-breaks, again with the two men sharing the honours with identical scores, 7-6(7).
It would come down to the fifth, and had it gone the way of the rest of the match, it was highly likely it would not be done before bad light stopped play. But serving first, the Briton maintained a high level on his own serving and got the only break of the 4hr 25min match, 8-6.
His statistics, and the resilience and concentration it had taken to achieve them, were extraordinary. He made just 18 unforced errors in 399 points played, and hit 79 winners.
And he agreed that this had been a very important factor in the match:
“Yeah, I honestly felt good. We all know how Ivo is serving. You don’t get many chances. I mean, mentally I was focused. I think that was the biggest part of the win. If I would slip a little bit away, probably I would lose in four today. So I’m happy with that.”
Bedene has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, following his repeated applications to play Davis Cup for his adopted nation. But here, the home crowd got behind him in the most committed fashion, cheering him on and greeting him in song as he left the court. How had it all affected this quietly spoken and reticent individual?
“I was getting goose-bumps even before [the end of the final set] when everyone was clapping. I think it was maybe 5-4 in the fifth set. I mean, I was enjoying the match. Probably I wouldn’t say that if I would lose, but I was enjoying it that moment.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to leave because it did feel good. I wanted to give something back, as well, because they were supporting me. I don’t mind giving a few selfies and autographs. That was my contribution to them because I just wanted to say thank you to all of them who came out and supported me today. It was quite a long match, sometimes a bit boring probably, serve, serve, serve. [smiling]. But, yeah, it felt really good.”
Bedene next plays Damir Dzumhur, in what is certainly a winnable match against the world No 83. They are good friends, but have never played one another on the tour.
“I know Damir for a long time. I actually lent him two match shirts and two shorts for today’s match! He’s a really nice guy. We hang out a lot.”
If he can get his kit back, Bedene may soon achieve something he has never done before: the third round at his home Major.
One more British wildcard, Cameron Norrie, a 21-year-old student ranked 221, was always going to find the two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist and No12 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a tough ask, and sure enough, the Briton lost, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
He afterwards admitted:
“I played one loose service game in each set and it cost me. I’m not used to playing guys at this level.”
More Britons will try their luck come Tuesday. Katie Boulter has an unenviable opener against Christina McHale, James Ward plays Marcos Baghdatis, Alexander Ward plays fellow Briton, the No50 ranked Kyle Edmund, and Brydan Klein played Yuichi Sugita, who won his first title on the grass of Antalya two days ago.