Baseline Buzz: First-day flurry
LONDON -- There are millions of tennis players in this world, but here at the All England Club it's only the creme de la creme, along with all those luscious strawberries from nearby Kent.
The best of the best are in a different area code all together, but once you get past the top 10, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish the great from merely good. Monday was a typically rollicking first day at Wimbledon, with a number of surprises.
For instance: Reigning Australian Open champion Li Na looked like she was going to lose the first set to an unknown qualifier from Poland, but rallied to win in straight sets. Victoria Azarenka, playing only her second match since March, also seemed a bit dusty but eventually overcame Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. The 2011 US Open champion and No. 17 seed, Samantha Stosur, continued her poor performances in majors, losing 6-3, 6-4 to Yanina Wickmayer.
The one big takeaway? It was not good to be a No. 18 seed. Not long after Sloane Stephens checked out in 99 minutes at the hands of Maria Kirilenko, the No. 18 seed on the men's side departed as well. Fernando Verdasco fell to Marinko Matosevic 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
"Tennis is like this," Verdasco said later. "I tried to play my best. I didn't. That's it. I cannot say anything else."
Oh, but we can. ESPN.com tennis editor Matthew Wilansky and writer Greg Garber muse over another frenetic first day at the season's third Grand Slam.
Greg Garber: What's going on with Stosur? The 30-year-old from Sydney, Australia, played the match of her life in that US Open, embarrassing Serena Williams, but what has she done for us lately? In the 10 majors since winning that first and only Slam, Stosur has now lost in the first round three times and has been out by the third on seven occasions. Wickmayer is ranked No. 69 among WTA players, and now it looks like Stosur, who has been slowed by a calf injury, might be out of the top 10 for good.
Matt Wilansky: Fitting that on the day Murray and Mauresmo -- two players known for the history of yips -- made their Slam debut, it was Slammin' Sammy, another player who has battled nerves for a good part of her career, lost. But all in all, this day could have gone a lot worse for some big names. Tomas Berdych dropped his opening set before subduing Victor Hanescu in four. Venus Williams went the distance before prevailing, as did No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova, who foiled 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm's dreams. But don't scorn Date-Krumm; she was already 18 years old when her opponent was born. Good for her just for showing up.
Garber: Here's another surprise that might not show up on the big-time radar: Dominic Thiem, the 20-year-old Austrian who has been celebrated as a future star, actually lost to a player five months younger than he is. Australia's Luke Saville -- ranked No. 236 among ATP players -- handled Thiem 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Thiem qualified his way into seven ATP events over the first half of the year and actually beat Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in Madrid, but he didn't show much Monday. He's now 11-12 for the year. Saville has shown here he's a battler. After losing two of the first three sets in the final qualifying round, he ground out the win with a 7-6 (7) tiebreaker and a 8-6 final set. Now he's got a second-round date with No. 11 seed Grigor Dimitrov, who a 23, was the next big thing a few years ago.
Wilansky: Thiem is an explosive player, and despite his loss, big things are still projected. Reminds me of another one-time precocious talent named Bernard Tomic. He, however, has been relegated to knucklehead status in recent years. Why? He has tanked, walked off the court in the middle of a match, butted heads with countryman Lleyton Hewitt, clashed with Tennis Australia and, naturally, locked himself in his house after running from police. Oh, and for good measure, Tomic set a new ATP low last season by losing the shortest match on record -- a 28-minute, 20-second blasting at the hands (and racket) of Jarkko Nieminen. But why dwell on the past? On Monday, Tomic won his opener in a scant 87 minutes, a straight-sets win against Evgeny Donskoy. Could this be a turning point in his career or just a rare respite from his transgressions?
Garber: And Tomic plays No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych in the second round, a match that just might be winnable for the Aussie. What wasn't winnable was Monday's match for Alex Kuznetsov against No. 16 seed Fabio Fognini. The Tampa, Florida, resident (via Kiev, Ukraine) has won only one Grand Slam match in his 11 years as a professional -- and that total remains the same after a terrific five-set match that ended at 9-7 when an errant forehand sent Fognini sprawling into the grass. You had to feel for the 27-year-old Kuznetsova, who suffered a barrage of Fognini antics.
Wilansky: Including his refusal to shake the umpire's hand. All in all, a fairly straight-forward opening day with minimal big-name casualties. When play resumes Tuesday, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sam Querrey, whose fates were halted by rain, will both be serving for the match. Tsonga, the 14th seed here, had to battle his way back from a two sets to one deficit against Jurgen Melzer and leads the Austrian 5-4 in the final frame. Querrey is up a break at 6-5 against fellow American Bradley Klahn. So if you're doing the match, that's two players who are four points away from an opening-round win ... and now they have to think about it all night. Sweet dreams.