Even the stars get the jitters at Wimbledon

Less than three weeks after winning his third career major, French Open champion Carlos Alcaraz admitted to battling a case of the nerves in his opening round match at Wimbledon. He's not alone.



July 2, 2024 - 1:19 PM

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain reacts with the winners trophy after victory in the Men's Singles Final match against Alexander Zverev of Germany on Day 15 of the 2024 French Open at Roland Garros on Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Paris. Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images/TNS

LONDON (AP) — Carlos Alcaraz already owns three Grand Slam titles, including from Wimbledon a year ago, and yet he spoke after his opening victory at this year’s edition of the tournament about feeling nervous before setting foot on Centre Court, despite going up against a player who never before had played at any major tournament.

Coco Gauff, the reigning U.S. Open champion and a French Open runner-up two years ago, said after her win in the same stadium that, sure, she’s played “on a lot of big courts,” but each time she competes on that particular patch of grass, “It’s the most nervous I ever feel playing tennis — even more than playing a Grand Slam final.”

Why would such accomplished athletes still get the jitters? Especially in the first round, which was scheduled to wrap up Tuesday at the All England Club, and in what should, in theory, be their easiest contests over what they hope will be a two-week stay in the bracket? Turns out that tennis players, almost uniformly, insist that initial matches at one of their sport’s four most prestigious events — the Australian Open in January, the French Open in May, Wimbledon in late June or early July, and the U.S. Open in August — give them reason to worry, no matter how many times they’ve won at that stage.

And Marketa Vondrousova showed precisely why on Tuesday: She became the first defending women’s champion at Wimbledon to lose in the first round the following year, eliminated 6-4, 6-2 by 83rd-ranked Jessica Bouzas Maneiro, someone who never had won a Grand Slam match.

Afterward, Vondrousova acknowledged being “nervous from the start.”

Happens a lot, it seems.

“I would lie if I would say I’m not nervous, because everybody is, I think. There is a lot of pressure, especially when you play well and you already know that you can achieve this step; people are expecting it to happen again and again and again,” said Iga Swiatek, who just won her fifth major championship at the French Open and is seeded No. 1 at Wimbledon. “You need that stress to get you on the right level of motivation and readiness.”

That stress, though, tends to dissipate over the course of the tournament, which is counterintuitive, given that opponents should be getting tougher and the stakes growing greater as the days go by.

“I always feel a lot more nervous during the first round of Slams, just because I want to do well so badly, and the first round is the first round, so you kind of almost feel like the tournament didn’t even start and you’re out if you lose,” four-time major champion Naomi Osaka said. “That’s, for me, what I feel. Growing up, the Slams were the tournaments that I watched on TV the most. I just want to be here for as long as I can.”

That sense that these events mean more than others has only been heightened in recent years.

Wimbledon and the other majors get the most attention in the sport, without a doubt, both from TV broadcasters and viewers, sponsors and spectators. Players are well aware of that, and some, such as Novak Djokovic, make clear that they know accumulating those particular trophies make all the difference.

He has 24 of them. And the folks seeking their first tend to feel the same way.

“Every match, you want to win. But Slams can change your life, your legacy. This is where it really counts,” said Frances Tiafoe, who is seeded 29th at Wimbledon and dropped the first two sets on Monday against Matteo Arnaldi before coming all the way back to win. “First round is always tough, whether you’re feeling good going in. Or not feeling good. Or in-between. You just want to get through that first round and then you settle in.”

Fifth-seeded Jessica Pegula has reached the quarterfinals at majors six times, including at Wimbledon in 2023, and had a much easier time than Tiafoe in the first round, needing all of 49 minutes to get past Ashlyn Krueger 6-2, 6-0 on Tuesday.

But Pegula was not looking forward to that match. Not at all.