“I have been practicing and playing practice sets and matches and stuff, but it’s totally different when you get into a match situation,” she said. “It’s been a while, so it was different than practicing with people that I’m comfortable with.”
Riske’s first 13 tour-level wins in main-draw matches, from 2010 to 2013, all came on grass, a remarkable statistic given the small window of the grass season (and the lack of grass courts in her native Pittsburgh). Since then, she has improved on the other surfaces, but this stretch of the calendar remains special to her.
“I definitely have an affinity for it,” Riske said.
Though sure of her footing on a surface that perplexes many, Riske did not know what to expect from her opponent. In fact, until she heard the name of her first-round foe, she thought Stephens would be out until the hardcourt season.
“It was too bad I had to play a fellow American,” Riske said, “and especially because it was her first tournament back, so you weren’t sure exactly what you were going to get.”
Stephens had planned to return at the beginning of this season. She had a full off-season of training, and even traveled to Sydney for an Australian Open warm-up event. But after she felt further pain, a magnetic resonance imaging examination revealed a stress fracture in her left navicular, a bone at the top of the foot near the ankle.
Stephens had surgery in January and had to wear a boot and walk with her left leg propped up on a scooter. During that time, she worked for the Tennis Channel, which she said was a revelatory experience.
“There are so many things that commentators don’t see because, obviously, they are not in the locker room and not physically with us all the time,” she said. “It was just weird to be like, ‘Oh, that’s why they say that,’ or, ‘That’s why they, like, don’t know what’s going on.’”
She said she had thought: “Do you not read the paper? Do you not look at our Instagram?”
Currently No. 336 in the world because of her time away, Stephens entered Wimbledon with a protected ranking, which allows her entry into tournaments based on her old status. Stephens will be able to use the protection at seven events within the next year. She has agreed to play in World TeamTennis for the Philadelphia Freedoms, whose season starts in the middle of this month and ends in early August, and then return to the WTA Tour.
The top of the WTA Tour may be changing soon, with third-ranked Karolina Pliskova in position to claim the No. 1 ranking from Angelique Kerber during Wimbledon. Pliskova won convincingly, 6-1, 6-4, in her opening match against Evgeniya Rodina.
Kerber, who reached the final here last year, needs to do so again to have any chance of retaining the top spot. On Tuesday, she beat the American qualifier Irina Falconi, 6-4, 6-4.
Another past finalist, the ninth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, beat Jelena Jankovic, 7-6 (3), 6-0.
Aside from the Riske-Stephens match, there were two others between American women on Tuesday: Shelby Rogers defeated Julia Boserup, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, and Varvara Lepchenko beat the 28th-seeded Lauren Davis, 6-4, 7-5.
The highest seed to lose Tuesday was No. 16, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who was defeated, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 9-7, by Arina Rodionova, an Australian qualifier.
Rodionova was the only one of the nine Australians in the men’s and women’s singles draws to advance to the second round. Australia’s top woman, the 20th-seeded Daria Gavrilova, lost 6-4, 2-6, 10-8, to a qualifier, Petra Martic of Croatia. Martic recently reached the fourth round of the French Open, also as a qualifier.