Welcome back, then, the great British summer picnic, a tournament where it is somehow always a muggy mid‑afternoon and where there are still, it turns out, strawberries for tea.
The All England Club was a cold, fresh, breezy kind of place as it opened its doors wide for the first time since 2019. There were dumps of chilly summer rain. The fabled queue could be seen basking in watery sunshine before the start of play, with that familiar sense of something performative, theatrically static, being British for the British, in front of the British. Other nations have parades, parties, fetes. We have the plastic strawberry punnet, the cargo short, a stagey politeness.
And overall it was a steady kind of opening day, decorated with British success but with a slight sense of half‑throttle around the boulevards and walkways. The hill was beautifully lush and green in between the rain.
Wimbledon is a place to luxuriate, to suck the sweetness out of the summer, to feel lush and flush and woozy and sated. The eateries thronged, the kiosks buzzed. In the shop under No 1 Court they are selling novelty oversized tennis rackets for £600. Are we really in that place?
There has been an eagerness to cling to these pegs of the pre‑pandemic summer: Glastonbury, Wimbledon, queuing endlessly for a low-cost airline seat. And this was a red-letter day for the All England Club in other ways, with first-round appearances for the only two British players to win a grand slam singles title in the past 45 years, Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu.
Raducanu was the star of the day, winning her first match on Center Court. She looked brusque and fit and genuinely delighted at the end, as all 19‑year‑olds should, let alone a teenager who grew up a tram ride away just past the flatlands of Croydon, and for whom this must all still feel like a fever dream.
Murray drew the loudest roars later in the evening. But then he is basically Wimbledon’s dad these days, with something agreeably hangdog and tender in that weary, pigeon-toed walk; a figure so dad-ish. You half‑expect to look down to see he is playing in shirtsleeves and waistcoat, briefcase swinging from his other hand.
Nobody has ever owned this place quite like Murray does now, which is an odd thing given the way things were, before the gangly youth gave way to the gangly man, the fears Wimbledon’s crowd might never quite clasp him to its bosom. Fast forward a decade and a half and we basically have Mr Darcy out there on court, swoon-worthy, glowering, regal.
There was a different kind of energy in seeing Raducanu win here, a straight‑sets victory against the experienced Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck that might have been a lot more awkward. This was Raducanu’s first appearance in front of that great cooing, gurgling, gushing gallery on Center Court, and the relationship between crowd and players here matters, in a way that it probably shouldn’t.
There were roars and whistles and the odd scattered shout as Raducanu walked out under a blue, skittish sky. There were gasps and coos as she unfurled a lovely coiled backhand, then sighs and murmurs as she netted a forehand. With 17 minutes gone Raducanu finally held serve to make it one game all, to roars from the plastic seats.
Really none of this should be taken for granted. Raducanu is still such a newbie, still trying to find a way of interacting with this industry. For anyone with a sense of scale the story to this point isn’t disappointing, or distracting perfume deals (she really could have had a lot more of those). It is instead one golden run where the cards all fell right, a feat that may well remain a one-off for her and for anyone else. She isn’t tall or notably powerful. She lacks those easy bonus weapons, the vast walloping wingspan, the get-out-of-jail serve. She can ferret and chase. She can fight and work her opponent out of it. New York has gone. What she faces now are the more standard trials of trying to become an elite tennis player.
There were breaks and break-backs in the first set. The standard dipped for a while. But Raducanu raced through the second set, to close it out 6-4, 6-4. Victory is a genuine achievement, one that was joyfully received. “I’ve won my first round at every slam. It hasn’t been … terrible,” she said afterwards, and talked for a while about being 19 years old to a room of middle‑aged hacks.
There was still time for Murray to fire up those old familiar gears as the shadows enlightened. He is almost indecently relaxed out there these days. He looks good too, loose and limber and comfortable in his movements, with some of that old bounce, the choppy little steps, the slice, the shambling dashes to the net.
Of course, Murray looked weary by the end too, but then he looks weary the moment he walks out on court. Still, though, as James Duckworth took him deep into the evening you always felt Murray would hold out as long as his body kept working. There is a muscle memory here, shapes, traces, a reel of Murray things, Murray noises, Murray shapes that will haunt that square of green long after this stooping figure has shuffled off for the final time. Victory made it a perfect, if slightly tentative, start for the return of Wimbledon’s full house.