Marketa Vondrousova joins unenviable list of defending champs to lose in the first round

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A year ago, Marketa Vondrousova surprised the tennis world as she defeated one higher-ranked player after another to ultimately become the 2023 Wimbledon champion. The unlikely victor stunned Ons Jabeur, the clear favorite by both oddsmakers and fans, in the final and became the first unseeded player to woman to win the title at the All England Club behind her steely and steady performance.

But what a difference a year makes.

On Tuesday, playing in the first match on Centre Court as is customary for the reigning champion, the 25-year-old Vondrousova found herself on the other end of an upset. Now the No. 6 seed, and with 2,000 ranking points to defend, Vondrousova had no answers for Jessica Bouzas Maneiro, a relative unknown currently ranked a career high of No. 83, and was handed a 6-4, 6-2 loss in just 67 minutes. Playing in only the third major main draw of her career, it marked the first win at a Slam for Bouzas Maneiro, 21, and her first victory over a player ranked in the top 40.

“I think this is one of the most important moments in my life, in my career,” Bouzas Maneiro told the crowd after the match. “On this court, this is amazing.”

As Bouzas Maneiro sobbed and held her head in her hands, a stunned Vondrousova quickly packed up her bag and made her way off of the court. With the loss, Vondrousova — who is expected to drop out of the top 10 in the next rankings — became just the fourth Wimbledon player in the tournament’s history to lose in their opening match as defending champion, joining Lleyton Hewitt (2003), Steffi Graf (1994) and Manuel Santana (1967).

While likely little consolation to Vondrousova, her loss was certainly less shocking than that of Graf, the other woman on the unenviable list. Graf, who lost to Lori McNeil in straight sets, was a five-time champion at the All England Club at the time and had not lost a match at the tournament since 1990. She went on to win the Wimbledon titles in 1995 and 1996.

Vondrousova is now also the ninth woman in the Open era to fall in their first-round match as the reigning champion at any major. Others who have done so include Emma Raducanu at the 2022 US Open, Barbora Krejcikova at the 2022 French Open, Jelena Ostapenko at the 2018 French Open, Angelique Kerber at the 2017 US Open and Jennifer Capriati at the 2003 Australian Open.

There had been questions about Vondrousova’s ability to play in the tournament before it got underway. She fell during her second-round match at a lead-in event in Berlin, resulting in a right hip injury, and was forced to retire the match. While she said she was a “bit scared” about the injury when speaking to the media on Tuesday, she said it had felt fine in practice and didn’t believe that had been a factor during the match.

“I don’t think that was the reason. I felt nervous from the start,” Vondrousova said. “I mean, she was also playing a good match. That was kind of tough, too. Yeah, overall it was very tough. … I feel like everybody just expects you to win maybe. That’s tough, too. I was happy to be back on the Centre Court. It just didn’t go as planned today.”

Bouzas Maneiro will next play Cristina Bucsa, who defeated Ana Bogdan in a third-set tiebreak Tuesday.

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