July 1, 2019
A master-class, the mother of all shocks and a Brit lighting up his home stage.
This was only the first day on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2019.
The master class came from Novak Djokovic. The shock was supplied by Yulia Putintseva, who downed the mighty Naomi Osaka.
And the impressive Englishman, Kyle Edmund thrilled the home crowd well into the bright London evening.
What a day! Three super shows for the price of one!
And as you would expect with Wimbledon Debenture Holders, the experience was smooth from the start.
Wimbledon queue? What queue? In within seconds to a warm welcome.
Up to enjoy the cool breeze of The Roof Top, an intimate little hang-out perched high above Court 17.
It is still part of the Centre Court complex, of course, and exclusive to debenture ticket holders.
Time for something to eat and drink before the champion, Novak Djokovic, opened proceedings on the sacred grass.
As you sip on a Pimm’s, you take in the breathtaking view right across the English capital to The Shard in central London and beyond.
You take your knife and fork from a hamper, the lid covered by a neat layer of grass. A lovely touch. So Wimbledon.
The food is delicious. Wimbledon Coronation Chicken, served up inside five minutes, lives up to all expectations. The fusion of apricots and almonds is delightful.
Then it was down into the cathedral of tennis, the spiritual home of our beautiful sport, Centre Court itself.
Even the line judges received applause as they entered the arena. Djokovic got a standing ovation.
A warm-up with Philipp Kohlschreiber and the moment we had all been waiting for.
A hush descended on Centre Court. That unique silence, the intensity of expectation. Then something funny happened.
The great Djokovic, the master of precision, began his championships with a double fault. Gasps of astonishment and disbelieving chuckles.
Even the greats get nerves. And soon Novak was in trouble, grunting uncomfortably as he lost his opening service game. What was happening?
It didn’t last. What stands out as truly extraordinary, when you watch Djokovic live, is his defence.
Other players have more beautiful backhands, more powerful forehands or a more devastating serve. But no one defends like Novak.
The elasticity has to be seen to be believed. He stretches this way and that, then he takes his bendy body to the net to finish the job.
Roars of appreciation, purrs of delight, Djokovic is on song, moving through the gears. And Novak seems as comfortable at the net as on the baseline. This bodes well for his tournament.
This is Centre Court. There is sheer joy in the sunshine.
No one would rather be anywhere else in the world than here. You can feel it. This is the place.
And Novak Djokovic got even better.
By the time he closed out the match in straight sets, he had stolen drop shots from the tennis heavens.
What followed was nail-biting dramatic tension as Naomi Osaka, the world number one until a matter of days ago, flirted with, and eventually succumbed to first-day oblivion.
Champion of Flushing Meadows and Melbourne, but vulnerable on grass. Especially against a spirited first-round opponent like Yulia Putintseva.
Osaka seemed to be growing in confidence at 3-1 in the first, but then she lost the next three games. Sometimes Naomi just hits too hard and long.
She appeared to lose focus completely in the all-important tie-break. Suddenly all the energy and mobility seemed to be coming from Putintseva.
Cheered on by her extremely vocal team, the underdog seized her chance to take the breaker 7-4.
There were gasps of disbelief, uneasy yet excited murmurs as Centre Court sensed an upset.
And sensationally, Osaka couldn’t turn the tide in the second set either. A tricky backhand volley only found the net. Ominously, Osaka was 2-4 down.
Minutes later the number two seed dropped her serve once more, and stood only one game from the exit door.
The gutsy Putintseva refused to let the double Grand Slam winner off the hook. And she won the crowd’s admiration for her determined work.
Osaka seemed all at sea. To lose the second set 2-6 was surprising indeed. She left the scene as quickly as she could.
As for the rest of us, we couldn’t wait for two more gladiators. And to see what else Centre Court could serve up on this incredible first day.
Kyle Edmund didn’t disappoint. The evening crowd cheered patriotically as the Yorkshireman unleashed a full range of shots. Booming, looping forehands, backhand missiles, subtle volleys.
He isn’t quite Andy Murray but Edmund is developing into quite a player.
The Centre Court crowd knew it as we left, singing his praises.
We had been hugely entertained not once, not twice but three times. And this was only the first day of a magical fortnight.