Of the 15 matches that went off at 11 a.m. local time on Wimbledon's opening day, 13 ended in straight sets. And of the 31 sets contested in those 13 matches, just three ended in tiebreakers.
It was a thoroughly lopsided first wave of first-rounders—only the Polona Hercog vs. Viktoria Kuzmova and Janko Tipsarevic vs. Yoshihito Nishioka matches lasted beyond the minimum number of sets. But there were still things to be gleaned from this roll of routs:
Kevin Anderson d. Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
Anderson played just two matches between Miami and Wimbledon, and he’s been a nonfactor for the entire year—strange after his breakthrough 2018, and his season-opening title in Pune. He lost to Frances Tiafoe early in Melbourne, and was shut out in the first set of his loss to Roger Federer in Miami.
It all makes the South African’s No. 4 seed—bestowed upon him through Wimbledon's grass-court seeding formula—seem off. But it would be foolish to discount Anderson’s chances given his weaponry and experience. He is also in a section of the draw that’s ripe with opportunity: the unreliable Alexander Zverev is the next-highest seed, and his toughest challengers could be 22nd-seeded Stan Wawrinka and unseeded Feliciano Lopez—two of the aforementioned 13 straight-sets winners.
Herbert played all three weeks of pre-Wimbledon grass-court tournaments, reaching the semis in Halle. He was hardly first-round fodder for the 2018 finalist But after this showing, we might want to start taking Anderson, and the number next to his name in the draw, a little more seriously. Last year, he broke Wimbledon open with a shocking yet convincing win over Federer, and a double-marathon survival of John Isner. Those triumphs caught up with Anderson in a largely uncompetitive loss to Novak Djokovic in the final. So far, he’s looking to make up for it.
Reilly Opelka d. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1
Here’s one of those three tiebreakers; it’s hardly a surprise that it was in a match involving Opelka, whose serve is even more lethal than Anderson’s and invites 7-6 scorelines. But notice the third set scoreline: in just an hour and 48 minutes, Opelka broke Stebe six times. If the explosive American gets even one break of serve, the set is usually over. Six breaks over the course of a match? That’s how you in a best-of-five contest in under two hours.
It wasn’t the cleanest match for Opelka by any means. He only hit 11 aces; such is the result of landing just 64 percent of his first serves. But other stats were more encouraging: Opelka won 14 of 23 points at net, and was +17 in winners (36) to unforced errors.
Expect Opelka’s first serve to be more reliable in his next match. It will need to be, as his opponent is Wawrinka. Look for some more tiebreakers, too. And if the 21-year-old gets by the three-time Grand Slam champion this Wimbledon dark horse is likely destined for the second week, and a scary prospect for anyone.
Sofia Kenin d. Astra Sharma, 6-4, 6-2
Kenin was our experts’ consensus choice as a Wimbledon dark horse (a player must be seeded No. 20 or lower to qualify), and it’s easy to see why. She’s made an impact on all surfaces this season, winning a title in Hobart (hard court), reaching the final in Acapulco (hard), beating Madison Keys in Rome (clay) and Serena Williams at Roland Garros (clay) and, most recently, winning Mallorca after saving match points in the final (grass). The 20-year-old has made believers quickly, and she embraces the attention and spotlight her success engenders.
She “has a winner’s mentality,” says former doubles No. 1 Mark Knowles. She’s “mentally tough enough,” says commentator Ted Robinson, who would know a thing or two about mental strength considering some the matches he’s witnessed. “Bring on a major breakthrough,” says Tennis Channel’s Steve Weissman.
Kenin’s next match, against fellow 21 & Under Club member Dayana Yastremska, will tell us more about the American’s chances for a breakthrough at SW19. Should she advance and face Naomi Osaka in the third round, we’ll learn even more. We may think we know much about Kenin at this point, given all the highlights she’s given us in 2019. But even more may yet come.
Madison Keys d. Luksika Khumkhum, 6-3, 6-2
What constitutes a successful a Wimbledon for Keys?
It feels like we’ve been picking the American to breakthrough and win a major title for a decade now—probably because she’s comfortable on every surface, and she’s shown title-winning potential at each major. Keys' first Grand Slam semifinal came in Melbourne, in 2015; she reached the US Open final two years later (the less said about that match, the better); last year she made the quarters in Australia, the semis in Paris and another semi in New York. And just last month, she was in the last eight at Roland Garros.
For someone with such a big serve, it’s surprising that Wimbledon has been Keys’ weakest major in terms of results. She’s only made the second week twice in six appearances; her last quarterfinal appearance came in 2015. Ironically, it will be Keys’ consistency that determines how far she goes at Wimbledon—the power is always going to be there, but the necessary accuracy may not.
Keys is certainly in the better half of the draw if she wants to best her top result at Wimbledon, and perhaps go even further. The 24-year-old was the very first day's very first winner, against the overmatched Khumkhum. Can she be the draw’s very last winner, two Saturdays from now? Now that would qualify as a success.