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Spain's Carlos Alcaraz returns against Estonia's Mark Lajal during their men's singles tennis match on the first day of the 2024 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

London: Carlos Alcaraz defeated 269th-ranked qualifier Mark Lajal at the start of his Wimbledon title defence on Monday as Andy Murray decided whether or not to call a halt to his All England Club singles career.

As action got under way, Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka was heading home after withdrawing from the tournament with a shoulder injury.

Alcaraz, still only 21, is chasing his fourth Grand Slam title and hopes to become just the sixth man after Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back.

Opening the Centre Court programme, the Spanish star recovered from a break down in each of the first two sets to see off the dreadlocked Lajal 7-6 (7/3), 7-5, 6-2.

“He played a really good match, he obviously surprised me a little bit because I didn’t have the chance to see him play a lot,” said Alcaraz.

This time last year, Lajal was losing a first-round match at a second-tier Challenger event in the United States and earning a paltry $780 — on Monday he banked $75,000.

Two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabalenka, ranked third in the world, is one of eight players to have pulled out since the draw was made.

She had admitted she was not 100 per cent fit after suffering a shoulder injury at the Berlin Open and has been replaced by Russian lucky loser Erika Andreeva.

“Heartbroken to have to tell you all that I won’t be able to play The Championships this year,” wrote 26-year-old Sabalenka on X.

Russian fifth seed Daniil Medvedev reached the second round and admitted he was happy not to be playing on the All England Club’s famed Centre Court.

Medvedev, a semi-finalist last year, hit 16 aces in his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Aleksandar Kovacevic of the United States.

“I’ve still never lost on Court One so hopefully I can play a lot more matches on this court,” said Medvedev.

“Last year I said it was unfortunate I had to go to Centre Court for the semis and I lost.”

Eighth seed Casper Ruud, who has never been past the second round, saw off Alex Bolt of Australia in straight sets and revealed he had been laid low by a parasite since reaching the French Open semi-finals.

“I was mostly in bed for 10, 11 days, which was not what I was kind of hoping for,” said the Norwegian.

Three-time Grand Slam title winner Stan Wawrinka won his Wimbledon opener at the age of 39, beating British wild card Charles Broom 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

“I think there is enough reason to keep playing. I don’t want to go home,” said Wawrinka, who made his debut at Wimbledon in 2005.

World No 1 Jannik Sinner, a semi-finalist in 2023, starts against Yannick Hanfmann, the German world No 110.

The 22-year-old Sinner won a maiden Slam at the Australian Open and then deposed Djokovic as world No 1, becoming the first Italian man to reach such heights.

Sinner arrives in London having captured his first grass-court title in Halle.

‘Feel that buzz’

Murray, champion in 2013 and 2016, will reveal later Monday if he will play singles at his farewell Wimbledon.

The former world No 1 underwent surgery to remove a cyst on his spine last week and admitted he still has not fully recovered feeling in his leg.

Murray, whose 2013 triumph ended Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion at Wimbledon, is due to face Czech world number 39 Tomas Machac on Tuesday.

If he cannot make that date, he still hopes to play doubles with brother Jamie before bringing the curtain down on his Wimbledon career, which began 19 years ago.

“I’m hoping maybe for a bit of closure. I just want the opportunity to play one more time out there hopefully on Centre Court and feel that buzz,” said 37-year-old Murray.

Elsewhere on opening day, women’s second seed and US Open champion Coco Gauff takes on American compatriot Caroline Dolehide.

‘Need luck’

Four-time major winner Naomi Osaka tackles Diane Parry of France in her first appearance at Wimbledon since 2019.

Osaka, who only returned to the tour at the start of the season after maternity leave, is ranked at 113 and required a wild card to play at Wimbledon.

At the recent French Open, she gave world number one Iga Swiatek a mighty scare, holding a match point in their second-round clash before the Pole prevailed.