World number two Aryna Sabalenka says her return to Wimbledon inspired her to play her best tennis in a first-round romp.
The Belarusian was not permitted to enter last year’s tournament in response to her country’s part in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, but she is back and looks like meaning business after dispatching Panna Udvardy 6-3 6-1 in little over an hour on Centre Court.
Sabalenka is part of the unofficial ‘big three’ in the women’s game along with world number one Iga Swiatek and defending champion Elena Rybakina and is happy to be back challenging again.
She said in her on-court interview: “I didn’t realise how much I missed this place until this match. Thank you for everyone coming and supporting, it really means a lot to me.
“It was a great match, I was trying to do my best in every point, I was enjoying the experience. I think I missed this place a lot, that is why I played my best tennis today.
“I mean, I feel great. It is really good to be one of the favourite at this beautiful tournament and I will try my best to make sure I reach as far as I can at Wimbledon.
“I really love Wimbledon. I have great memories from two years ago. I made semi-finals. I always enjoy my game here at Wimbledon, enjoy the atmosphere.
“It was a really tough period for me last year. I was just super happy to be here this year. I really enjoyed every second today on court.”
Rybakina overcame a slow start to the defence of her title to beat Shelby Rogers in three sets.
Rybakina was playing on Centre Court for the first time since winning her maiden grand slam title 12 months ago and American Rogers threatened to produce some Independence Day fireworks as she took the opening set in style.
But, despite a recent illness which saw her pull out of the Eastbourne tournament last week, she found her feet and reminded everyone why she triumphed here last year by overrunning her opponent in the final two sets to claim a 4-6 6-1 6-2 victory.
She entered the court after eight-time men’s champion Roger Federer had been welcomed by the crowd and did not start well as Shelby broke her serve in the opening game of the match.
Rogers was able to save a break-back point at 2-1 and then produced some fine hitting that enabled her to take the advantage.
But that was as good as it got as Rybakina kicked into gear and raced away with the second set, breaking serve twice to take it in 29 minutes.
An early break in the decider proved key and Rybakina was able to move safely into the second round.
She said: “It was really tough for me today, I was pretty nervous, I cannot even hide it. The double fault said it all in the first game of the match. I am really pleased to get to another round.
“I am feeling much better. Hopefully this win gives me more confidence for the next round.”
Last year’s beaten finalist Ons Jabeur might have something to say about the winner coming from one of the top three seeds.
She delivered a convincing win against Magdalena Frech on Court One, needing just 76 minutes to post a 6-3 6-3 triumph.
They were the only three women’s matches able to be completed on a rain-soaked day at Wimbledon where play was unable to continue on the outdoor courts from just after midday.