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Azarenka Withdraws from Wimbledon Amidst Day of High Drama and Returns

The first day of Wimbledon saw the dramatic exit of two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who pulled out due to a shoulder injury. Azarenka’s withdrawal was part of a cascade of significant changes to the tournament draw, which also included the withdrawal of third seed Aryna Sabalenka and 22nd seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Azarenka’s withdrawal added to the growing list of top players unable to compete this year due to injuries. The Belarusian was set to play against American Sloane Stephens, but her place was taken by Frenchwoman Elsa Jacquemot. Azarenka expressed her disappointment on social media, stating simply, “ugh,” summarizing the frustration felt by many fans and players alike.

This development left a significant gap in the women’s draw and altered the competitive landscape of the tournament. Sabalenka, who was one of the favorites for the title, cited a persistent shoulder injury that hindered her serving ability. She made an emotional statement on Instagram, sharing her efforts to compete despite the injury and her ultimate decision to withdraw for the sake of her long-term health.

“Heartbroken to have to tell you all that I won’t be able to play The Championships this year,” Sabalenka wrote. “I tried everything to get myself ready but unfortunately my shoulder is not cooperating. This tournament means so much to me, and I promise I’ll be back stronger than ever next year.”

The first day of Wimbledon also saw Naomi Osaka’s triumphant return to the All England Club after a five-year hiatus. Osaka, who had not won a match at Wimbledon in six years, overcame France’s Diane Parry in a thrilling three-setter, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4. This match marked a significant milestone for Osaka, who had been off the tour for 15 months due to maternity leave. Reflecting on her journey, Osaka said, “I’m just really excited to be here. Wimbledon was the first tournament I watched after pregnancy.”

The day also highlighted the successes of other prominent players. Reigning U.S. Open champion Coco Gauff advanced to the second round with a decisive victory over fellow American Caroline Dolehide, 6-1, 6-2. Emma Raducanu, the 2021 U.S. Open winner, won her match against Renata Zarazua, stepping in as a late replacement for Ekaterina Alexandrova, who withdrew due to illness.

Defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, fresh off his French Open victory, overcame early jitters to defeat Estonian qualifier Mark Lajal, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-2. Alcaraz acknowledged the nerves he felt playing at Centre Court, a sentiment echoed by Lajal, who described his own overwhelming excitement and stress ahead of his Grand Slam debut.

Reflecting on her own Wimbledon history and challenges, Osaka shared her experiences of returning to the court after giving birth to her daughter Shai, who turned one the day after her match. “My mindset last year was just trying to survive. Honestly, I didn’t really know what was going on after I gave birth; just trying to piece myself back together,” Osaka recounted.

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