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Strawberries and Dreams

By Giri Nathan

I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy it as a British athlete, but as a non-British nonathlete, I relish the British press during Wimbledon. The blaring headlines, the exotic verb choices, the soaring melodrama whipped up for players the writer likely did not know existed a month prior—it’s all good stuff. And it was an unusually positive first week of coverage, because of how well the home team fared.

Ten Brits made it to the second round in singles, the most since 1984, as the Lawn Tennis Association boasted on Twitter. On Tuesday, six Brits won, a single-day record at Wimbledon. That group of 10 was a lively mix, including top seeds (Emma Raducanu, Cam Norrie), mid-career journeypeople (Heather Watson, Harriet Dart, Katie Boulter, Liam Broady), wild cards thrown into their first-ever Slams (Ryan Peniston, Alistair Gray), a youngster with some buzz (Jack Draper), and Literally Andy Murray (Andy Murray). 

For the two biggest names, the thrill was short-lived. Emma Raducanu, No. 10 seed and subject of at least 85 percent of the nation’s tennis and tennis-adjacent writing, may see those numbers dip as low as 80 percent next week after losing her second-round matchup against a fired-up Caroline Garcia. It wasn’t much of a fight. Over the course of three grass-court tune-up events, the world No. 55 Garcia played herself into formidable form, winning the title at Bad Homburg just ahead of Wimbledon. Raducanu, meanwhile, had retired with a side injury just seven games into her only grass-court warm-up at Nottingham. 

These days a common infographic in Raducanu articles is a timeline of the season’s injuries, which has gotten rather grim: January hand blister, February leg problem, March back issues, April foot blister, May back again, June side strain, with a couple retirements sprinkled in. After that latest bad luck, which she described as an “absolute freak injury,” she took two weeks off the court, and then hourly practices just ahead of Wimbledon. Raducanu’s tug-of-war win against Alison van Uytvanck in the first round was encouraging feedback. But she was scarcely there against Garcia, whose big power and net play dictated every beat of the 6–3, 6–3 win. After the loss, Raducanu said she was just happy to be competitive despite playing “seven hours of tennis in a month.” She laughed off the idea that pressure was getting to her. I wouldn’t worry too much either. We’re probably just seeing someone register the physical toll of her first year traveling the world nonstop to play tennis (an objectively bonkers enterprise). She might never win a major again, but she’ll also likely never suffer this much month to month, either.

Later on Wednesday the home crowd on Centre Court weathered their second heartbreak, as Andy Murray ran right into No. 20 John Isner in their second round. Facing any servebot on grass is misery, though Murray, a supreme returner in his prime, used to be the right man for the job. He couldn’t solve it this time. “I’ve played many times against those players and found ways to make enough returns to turn the matches, whether that’s been against Karlovic, Isner, Raonic, those sorts of guys,” said Murray afterward. “But tonight he was very close to the lines in important moments.” Isner, playing one of the cleaner matches of his late career, gave Sir Andy no space to operate: 80 winners, 36 aces, only allowing one break point, en route to a 6–4, 7–6 (4), 6–7 (3), 6–4 win. While Murray’s movement looked smooth through two rounds, he said he’d been frustrated by an abdominal injury in early June that waylaid his Wimbledon prep, and that he’d been struggling with his body too much to confidently forecast anything about next year’s tournament. He also said he’s eager to get his name back into the seeds, so he doesn’t have to face the likes of No. 20 Isner in round 2. 

Of those 10 Brits to win in the first round, four survived into round 3. That’s No. 9 seed Cam Norrie, Heather Watson, and a pair of Thursday surprises: wild cards who upended seeded opponents in deciding sets. Katie Boulter took out No. 6 Karolina Pliskova in three, Liam Broady dispatched No. 12 Diego Schwartzman in five, and both will play the third round of a Slam for the first time. They must be—let me see here—chuffed!

Above: Sir Andy Murray, as we know him best, during his second round loss to John Isner. (Tom Parker)

Issue No. 19