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Jabeur becomes World No 2

LONDON: Ons Jabeur marked her rise to number two in the world by easing into the Wimbledon second round with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Swedish qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund on Monday. Jabeur, a quarter-finalist in 2021 and fresh from the grass-court title in Berlin, raced to victory in just 54 minutes under the Court One roof. “Today I achieved my highest ever ranking and dropping just four games is a great start to the tournament,” said the Tunisian. “It’s amazing to be back on Court One. The grass suits my drop shots and slice. “Now I hope to go further than the quarter-finals.” Jabeur will face either Rebecca Marino of Canada or Poland’s Katarzyna Kawa for a place in the last 32.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic begins his bid to match Pete Sampras as a seven-time Wimbledon champion on Monday, with British Grand Slam title winners Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu also on Centre Court’s opening day agenda. In the absence of the banned Daniil Medvedev and injured Alexander Zverev, 20-time major winner Djokovic takes top seeding. The 35-year-old defending champion starts his title bid against South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo, the world number 75.

Djokovic has extra motivation this year as Wimbledon will be his last Slam of 2022. His continued refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19 means he will remain barred from entering the United States for the US Open later this summer. Also adding fuel to the Djokovic fire is the chance to win a fourth successive Wimbledon title and join a select group. In the Open era, only Bjorn Borg, Sampras and Roger Federer have managed to complete such a streak of dominance at the All England Club.

‘Dreamt of winning’

“As a seven, eight-year-old boy I’ve dreamt of winning Wimbledon and becoming number one,” said Djokovic. “Pete Sampras winning his first Wimbledon was the first tennis match I ever saw on the TV.” After a cancelled edition due to the pandemic in 2020 and a reduced capacity tournament last year, Wimbledon returns to full house crowds for 2022.

However, missing from the line-up are a host of Russian and Belarusian players who were banned following the invasion of Ukraine. As well as Medvedev, world number eight Andrey Rublev is absent as are three of the top 20 women – Aryna Sabalenka, Daria Kasatkina and two-time major winner and former number one Victoria Azarenka. In retaliation for the ban, the ATP and WTA tours have stripped Wimbledon of ranking points.

Murray, the Wimbledon champion in 2013 and 2016, is unseeded this year but remains a dangerous floater in the draw. He made the Stuttgart grass-court final earlier this month before an abdominal injury forced him out of Queen’s. “I think he’s one of the most dangerous players on grass still,” said Australia’s Nick Kyrgios. “I definitely think the way he can handle speed, return, compete, slice, volley, as long as his body is feeling well.”

Murray takes on Australia’s 77th-ranked James Duckworth who has yet to register a win on the main tour in 2022. However, the 30-year-old did make the third round at Wimbledon in 2021. Duckworth’s career had been undermined by requiring nine surgeries in the last decade. Raducanu, the shock 2021 US Open champion, plays Wimbledon for the first time as a Grand Slam winner. She made the fourth round last year but has been plagued by inconsistent form since her triumph in New York.

‘Ready to go’

The 19-year-old has been battling a side strain but insisted she is “ready to go” against 46th-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck. The Belgian player made the last 16 four years ago. Also in action on the first day is French Open runner-up and third seed Casper Ruud. The Norwegian starts against Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Ruud has lost in the first round on his two appearances at the tournament.

He was also defeated in his only grass-court outing this summer by world number 180 Ryan Peniston at Queen’s. Spanish 19-year-old and fifth-seed Carlos Alcaraz faces Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff. Women’s second seed Anett Kontaveit tackles Bernarda Pera of the United States as the Estonian looks to reach the second week of Wimbledon for the first time. Despite her lofty ranking of two in the world, the 26-year-old Kontaveit has a mediocre record at the Slams, making the quarter-finals just once in 28 appearances.

Eight-time champion Roger Federer is missing Wimbledon as he recovers from knee surgery. However, Serena Williams will play her first singles match since last year’s championship as she bids again to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams. The American star, a seven-time champion at Wimbledon, gets her campaign underway on Tuesday as does Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has already collected the Australian Open and French Open this year to put himself halfway to a first men’s calendar Grand Slam since 1969. – AFP

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