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April 21, 2021

Seppi, Hantuchova score first wins as Wimbledon kicks off

LONDON – American James Blake became the first seeded casualty at Wimbledon when he lost 7-5 6-4 7-6 to Italy’s Andreas Seppi yesterday. Blake, the beaten finalist in the grasscourt tune-up at Queen’s Club last week, looked all at sea against Seppi’s powerful strokes off both wings from the baseline and lost the first round match in 44 minutes. Seppi, who has never got past the third round in his previous four visits to Wimbledon, showed superior movement again in the second set and needed just 35 minutes more to double his lead. Blake, seeded 17, stormed to a 5-0 lead in the third set tiebreak but Seppi rattled off seven straight points to book his place in round two when he will play Frenchman Marc Gicquel.

Meanwhile, Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova extinguished 15-year-old schoolgirl Laura Robson’s hopes of making it to the second round at Wimbledon with a 3-6 6-4 6-2 victory. Briton Robson, the youngest player to contest the main draw since Martina Hingis in 1995, made the ideal start by opening the match with an ace before wrapping up the first set in 38 minutes. But Robson, the girls’ champion last year, gifted the former world number five the second set with two double faults serving at 4-5 and the teenager’s game deserted her in the decider. She saved the first match point with a defiant ace but then another double fault handed the Slovakian a second-round berth for the ninth straight year. She will play either China’s 16th seed and semi-finalist last year Zheng Jie or Kristina Barrois of Germany for a place in the third round.

As the tennis tournament began, Wimbledon’s new multi-million pound Centre Court roof was not expected to make its debut at the Championships yesterday with forecasters predicting only a 20 percent chance of any rain interruptions. The first morning of the year’s third grand slam was cloudy and cool with only a “slight risk of patchy light rain passing over the courts during the day,” organisers said. The honour of opening proceedings on the main show court at the All England Club fell to five-time champion Roger Federer, who faces Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan, after holder Rafa Nadal pulled out with knee trouble on Friday.

Federer said his top priority is to get back his Wimbledon crown back after it was wrestled from his grasp 12 months ago. The 27-year-old world number two tied Sampras’s 14 grand slams with his maiden triumph at the French Open this month and after defending champion Nadal’s withdrawal on Friday from the year’s third major he will start as favourite to re-write the record books. “The focus is on the first round and the first point, trying to regain my Wimbledon crown,” Federer, who will be aiming for a sixth title in seven years at the grasscourt slam, said.

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