While the All England Club grounds crew was busy getting the hallowed grass in perfect shape with just two days to go before the 131st Wimbledon Championships begin, tournament referee Andrew Jarrett was overseeing the draw ceremony in the media interview room.
While the French, Australian and US Opens use computer-generated random names to rapidly fill out the draws, Jarrett (middle above) and the Wimbledon committee prefer pulling tokens with numbers on them and filling in all the seeds and unseeded players using the old-fashioned way.
There were four Canadians in the main draws when they were done at about 10 a.m. on Friday but that number jumped to six when Bianca Andreescu and Francoise Abanda qualified with identical 6-4, 6-3 victories over Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia and Zhu Lin of China respectively at the Roehampton tennis grounds.
Abanda, ranked No. 140, and Andreescu, No. 187, have drawn what would appear to be beatable opponents for the first round.
The 20-year-old Abanda will face No. 92 Kurumi Nara, a 25-year-old Japanese who has made it to the second round of Wimbledon in each of the past four years – but has never been further.
As for Andreescu, her first-round opponent is No. 105-ranked Kristina Kucova. The 25-year-old Slovak reached the second round of Wimbledon way back in 2009 but has not since played the event.
It will be Andreescu’s first main draw at a Grand Slam event while Abanda will be playing in her third.
The other Canadian woman in the main draw, No. 61-ranked Genie Bouchard, will face 25th seed Carla Suarez Navarro in her opening match. The two have played three times with the 28-year-old Spaniard holding a 2-1 head-to-head edge. Their last two matches have been close – Suarez Navarro winning 6-7(2), 7-5, 7-6(7) at the 2015 Italian Open and Bouchard prevailing a year earlier at Roland Garros by a 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-5 score.
They did play once at Wimbledon – in 2013 in Bouchard’s first year out of juniors – and the Spaniard won 7-5, 6-2.
Both enter this year’s Wimbledon with modest records on grass – Bouchard having lost to Francesca Schiavone in Majorca and to Barbora Strycova in Eastbourne in her only two outings. Suarez Navarro was beaten 6-3, 7-5 by 18-year-old American Cici Bellis in Majorca but defeated Ekatarina Makarova 6-3, 6-1 this week in Eastbourne before coming up a little short – 6-3, 0-6, 6-4 – against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
The Bouchard – Suarez Navarro match will be on Monday as will Abanda – Nara and Denis Shapovalov’s Grand Slam debut match against Jerzy Janowicz, the 6-foot-8 somewhat Quixotic big-hitter – and drop shot aficionado – from Poland.
Now 26, Janowicz is ranked an unflattering No. 141 and lost in March to Shapovalov 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4) in the semifinal of a Challenger event in Guadalajara, Mexico. That was a match when Janowicz was at his combustible worst and Shapovalov displayed a maturity beyond his years – just 17 at the time.
The now 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., impressed a lot of people in these parts by qualifying for Queen’s Club last week and then beating No. 47 Kyle Edmund before losing 7-5 in the third set to Tomas Berdych.
It should be a very interesting cross-generational contest with Shapovalov returning to the site of his junior Wimbledon triumph 12 months ago.
Milos Raonic returns next week to the place where he was one match away from becoming champion in 2016. His last match at the All England Club was a three-set loss to Andy Murray in the final but there’s little chance he will play on Centre Court on Tuesday against No. 50-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.
It will be a first meeting of the two men, both of whom are 6-foot-5. Raonic practised on Friday with Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania but before the hit his current coach, Mark Knowles, spoke a bit about his player’s 7-6(5), 7-6(8) loss to Aussie wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis at Queen’s Club last week. Knowles gave credit to Kokkinakis for some clutch serving but suggested that if Raonic had been able to break in the opening game it might have been a fairly routine 6-3, 6-3 result. As it was, Raonic failed to convert any of his eight break points in the first set as well as three set points leading 6-3 in the second-set tiebreak. Knowles, 45 and known in Canada for his long doubles association with Daniel Nestor, said Raonic is playing well and the fact that he lost in the opening round at Queen’s has him somewhat under the radar, which could even be a good thing.
Raonic makes his debut on Tuesday as does Andreescu and Vasek Pospisil against eight-seeded Dominic Thiem. Pospisil, a quarter-finalist two years ago at Wimbledon, has an overall (including qualifying) 7-3 record on grass over the past three weeks.
Thiem was 1-1 in Halle and lost in his opening match in Antalya, Turkey this week to No. 222 Ramkumar Ramanathan of India.
The 23-year-old Austrian leads the head-to-head, having beaten Pospisil 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(9) on clay in Munich in 2015.
Coaches are ever present during pre-Grand Slam practice sessions as can be seen in the above picture of Ivan Ljubicic and Roger Federer, who still appears to be the second favourite behind Andy Murray with London bookmakers despite the fact that there is considerable concern about the defending champion’s hip issue.
There was no sign of Carlos Moya with Rafael Nadal on Friday – but old faithful Uncle Toni was keeping a watchful eye on his protégé along with sometimes fill-in coach Francisco Roig.
Nadal, who missed The Championships in 2016 with a right wrist problem, is a modest 5-4 at Wimbledon since reaching the final in 2011.
Seeded No. 4, his first big test this year could be against No. 30 seed Karen (pronounced Kaw-ren) Khachanov (with a silent K) of Russia, an uber-power hitter.
Watching the 6-foot-6 Muscovite on Friday on the practice courts were his coach Galo Blanco (on left) and physio Joan Ozon. Blanco was the coach who brought Milos Raonic to prominence and Ozon also worked for a long time with the Canadian No. 1.
LONDON POST CARD
Many of the business in Wimbledon Village like to sport a tennis theme at this time of year. The Argentine steakhouse ‘Cau’ is no exceptional and this window picture was just completed on Friday morning.
NOTE: Back Monday with reports on Day One action.