- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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WIMBLEDON, England -- A screaming, originating from Court 18 here at the All England Club, came across the sky.
And you didn't have to see Victoria Azarenka -- who was emitting her signature ear-unfriendly shrieks as she traded groundstrokes with Eugenie Bouchard -- to know it was her. The two-time Australian Open champion has played only two matches since a foot injury in January, but she was back to grinding Saturday, two days before Wimbledon 2014 begins to unfold.
And, despite losing four days ago in Eastbourne to Camila Giorgi, Azarenka was moving pretty well.
And it happened in a virtual vacuum. With no fans jamming the grounds, all of the players were happy to move freely about the cabin. The on-site bank and the Wimbledon store were closed. So was the strawberries and cream concession. The only folks sitting on Henman Hill were a bunch of ball kids, listening intently to their supervisor. The practice courts in Aorangi Park were bristling with energy on a gloriously sunny day:
Milos Raonic, under the eyes of his father, Dusan, stuck about 100 consecutive accurate volleys on Court No. 1 ... On Court No. 2, Donald Young practiced with his parents, Illona and Donald Sr. ... Sam Querrey, laughing with a coach, sat on the grass and pulled on a new pair of white sneakers on Court No. 3 ... Sabine Lisicki, a finalist here a year ago, adjusted her hair band after a brisk workout ... Petra Kvitova, Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all chatted with their teams ... Giorgi shanked a forehand off the frame that was airborne longer than a stout NFL punt.
Did you know? This will be the 128th staging of the Lawn Tennis Championships, which began in 1877 with Britain's Spencer Gore defeating William Marshall, also of Britain, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Although many players were hitting the practice courts, the stars of the ATP World Tour and WTA were meeting the press in their pre-tournament interviews. Some highlights:
"I don't remember that match," Nadal said, drawing laughter from the scribes. "I came back home [after Roland Garros]. I didn't practice tennis for a while. I went a few days with the family, the friends. I was able to go to a party on Saturday with my friends. I was able to go to the beach few days in Mallorca. Work little bit physical performance in the gym. I needed a few days off for my back after a lot of stress in Roland Garros."
Nadal is a rabid soccer fan, but he said the shocking exit of Spain from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil would not affect his concentration here one way or another. "For me, doesn't make one difference for my motivation," he said. "I am sad. Everybody in Spain is sad for what happened in the World Cup. I am not more motivated because Spain lost in the World Cup.
"Everybody who understand about sport understand that there is a beginning, there is an end of things. Is difficult to make changes on the team when the team had the success that this team had. So now after that loss, you feel free to make the changes. Was only the first half against Holland was positive. After that, everything was so negative."
Maria Sharapova, who has now won two of the past three French Opens, said there wasn't a lot of time to lose herself in celebration. "To be honest," she said, "it's such a quick turnaround, you get to celebrate for a day or so and you think about it. But when you transition here, when I got off the train in London, you change your mode, you change your thinking; you've got to start from the beginning. I don't like to come into this tournament thinking, 'I just won a Grand Slam.' I like to challenge myself and be hungry. I don't want to think about what happened two weeks ago."
Seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, dismissing a wave of punditry to the contrary, said he didn't think his best chance to win an 18th Grand Slam singles title was necessarily at Wimbledon. "I mean, I feel like, yeah, if things click here, yeah, I should be able to win the tournament here. Whereas at the French, I feel like I'm slightly more dependent on Rafa. But that doesn't mean I don't believe I can win the French, either. I feel like if I play my game it's more on my racket. It's the same for Wimbledon. I feel I have a very good chance again this year. I hope to utilize my fitness, the amount of matches I've played this year. So I'm really coming in with a much better feeling than maybe in the last year, for instance."
Sportswriters have been known to be a tad presumptuous, as No. 1 seed Serena Williams demonstrated.
Your French Open defeat, how long did it take you to get over it?
"Who says I was over it?" Serena asked, smiling coyly. "I doubt it. Knowing me, no."
The five-time champion here said she didn't watch any of the French Open after getting bounced in the second round by Garbine Muguruza.
"I've been doing just a lot of training," Serena said, "just working out, trying to get ready for the next event, which so happened to be Wimbledon."