WIMBLEDON — On a gusty Court No. 1 on the opening day of Wimbledon, American Sloane Stephens was seeing the fruit of career-making results in the last year of Grand Slams. She arrived as the runner up at the French Open and yet, in front of a packed show court, Stephens could not seem to get her traction on grass. Her footwork was a bit slow, and her shots kept missing the back of the line. Meanwhile her opponent Donna Vekic proved adept at running down every valid shot.
Stephens tried to hold serve during the final game, which went to deuce six times as she staved off three match points. But the 25-year-old could not hold off the fourth, and she dumped a forehand into the net to lose, 6-1, 6-3 to Vekic.
Afterwards, a resigned Stephens didn’t make excuses. It was simple, her game was inconsistent.
“I totally don’t want to be in here talking to you guys about losing in the first round of Wimbledon,” Stephens said. “It’s not fun, not what I want to be doing. Life does go on. Tomorrow I have to wake up, figure out what I want to do with my coaches, where I want to go, what I want to do.”
Vekic, ranked No. 55 on the WTA tour, was playing well provided she could get her serve in. The 22-year-old from Croatia is a savvy grass-courter and deceptively tough opponent. Vekic has won three of the five matches she’s played here and has a career 17-11 record on grass.
Now the highest-ranked American in men’s and women’s tennis, Stephens has worked hard to come back from a foot injury that kept her on the sidelines for 11 months. She said she’d thought her preparation coming into Wimbledon was solid.
“I had a good training block after the French,” Stephens said. “I did more than I would normally do. I came in here feeling not too bad. I thought I’d have not a great tournament, but I was feeling good about myself, the way I was playing.”
Serena Williams had a slow start on Court No. 1 after not practicing her serves since injuring her pectoral muscle at the French Open, but that familiar competitiveness was evident as she surged to a 7-5, 6-3 win over Arantxa Rus. She wore compression leggings after dealing with post-childbirth blood clots, and had to work through some inconsistencies early.
“More than anything, I just was trying to be more calm,” Williams said. “I wanted to do so well. Sometimes that works against you sometimes. I feel like I maybe was just overly anxious and overly, like, overtrying, overdoing it.”
One of Wimbledon’s traditions is to use more formal addresses when referring to players, so for the first time, Williams was addressed as a “Mrs.” by the chair umpire.
“You know, it still doesn’t register that I’m married actually,” Williams said. “It’s just crazy. So much has happened in the past 12 months.”
During the draw ceremony, luck had it that all the seeded Americans were placed in the bottom half of the bracket. As Stephens lost her match, over on Court No. 2, five-time champion Venus Williams dropped the first set but managed to recover a 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-1 win over Johanna Larsson.
Williams plays Wimbledon without going to any of the grass-court warmups, which she said works for her at this stage in her career.
“It rains too much and I wanted to go home,” she said.
No. 16 Coco Vandeweghe was unable to pull out a match against 22-year-old Czech player Katerina Siniakova. In the third set, Vandeweghe served for the match but Siniakova broke her to pull off the 6-7 (7), 6-3, 8-6 win.
Rounding out the group, No. 10 Madison Keys won handily over Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4, 6-2.