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Djokovic centre stage again as Wimbledon gets under way

wimbledon
Serbia's Novak Djokovic after practice on the first day of Wimbledon

The All England Club gates swung open for the start of the Wimbledon championships on Monday with some notable absentees but one very familiar face, Novak Djokovic, fixing his eyes on more records.

Wimbledon’s favourite son Roger Federer, now retired, the injured Rafa Nadal and American women’s great Serena Williams, also retired, are hard acts to follow and fans will lament their absence.

Australian maverick Nick Kyrgios, who pushed Djokovic hard in last year’s men’s final and can be relied upon for antics that make the front and back pages, is also missing having pulled out with a wrist injury on the eve of the tournament

But Wimbledon remains rich in plots, none least Serbian Djokovic’s quest to win a men’s record-extending 24th Grand Slam title, match Federer’s eight Wimbledon crowns and equal Federer and Bjorn Borg’s record of five successive titles.

The 36-year-old Djokovic, who has only lost twice at Wimbledon in a decade, tops the bill on Monday when he begins the Centre Court programme against Argentina’s Pedro Cachin.

Following Djokovic on to the hallowed turf, five-times women’s champion Venus Williams, aged 43, will try and roll back the years as her 24th Wimbledon appearance begins against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.

 

GRASSCOURT PUZZLE

Incredibly, when Williams made her debut in 1997, 53 players in this year’s women’s draw were not even born, including women’s world number one and top seed Iga Swiatek who is also in action on Monday as she continues trying to solve the grasscourt puzzle that has so far frustrated her.

Swiatek, who last month claimed her third French Open crown, is bidding for a fifth Grand Slam title and has a tricky opener against China’s Zhu Lin who narrowly missed out on being seeded.

There was the usual buzz of anticipation around the grounds and outside as queues began building ahead of the 1000GMT start time on the outside courts.

Suncream was not in demand, though, with cloudy skies and a cool blustery wind ushering in the first day of 14. Rain showers are expected throughout the opening days although that will not impact those with tickets for Centre Court and Court One, both of which boast retractable roofs.

Security was on high alert for any sign of protests after several high-profile sporting events in Britain this year have been disrupted, including last week’s Ashes cricket test at Lord’s where climate change protestors ran on to the field and attempted to spread orange powder on the turf.

Political slogans of any sort are banned around the grounds with Wimbledon organisers determined the focus should remain firmly on the tennis.

Monday also sees the return of players from Russia and Belarus after they were excluded last year, following Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

Russian players have to sign a “nationality waiver” pledging that they do not support President Putin’s regime. All 17 players from those two countries, including men’s third seed Daniil Medvedev, are competing as neutrals.

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