LONDON — One of the most unique aspects of defending a Wimbledon title is the ritual around your return. Every year, the previous year’s winners has the honor of opening Centre Court play on the first Tuesday of the tournament. It had been 30 years since a defending champion last lost that match when Stefanie Graf fell to Lori McNeil in 1994.

Wimbledon 2024: Scores | Draws | Order of play

On Tuesday, the unheralded Jessica Bouzas Maneiro snapped that streak, stunning Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 6-2 with a nerveless performance. It was just the 21-year-old Spaniard’s third tour-level win, her first in a Grand Slam main draw, and her first over a Top 10 player. Indeed, Bouzas Maneiro had only defeated one previous Top 50 opponent — Arantxa Rus, in the Maspalomas ITF W100 event last October.

Get to know more about the Spaniard’s 2024 rise here:

Wimbledon was already the site of good memories for Bouzas Maneiro

Just over a year ago, Bouzas Maneiro set foot on a grass court for the first time as she made her Wimbledon qualifying debut. Despite being raised on clay, she found that she was comfortable on it from the off. Bouzas Maneiro defeated Ankita Raina, Clara Burel and Olivia Gadecki to make it to her first Grand Slam main draw.

“I had so good memories from the last year, of course,” she said after defeating Vondrousova. “My first qualifying here in this tournament. This time, my second time in Grand Slam with my ranking. Playing against Vondrousova in grass here in this place was another good memory. I think I’m going to love this tournament more than before. I love it also days ago. It goes better.”

It helps that Bouzas Maneiro is unfazed by grass — but then, she’s unfazed by different surfaces in general.

“With my legs, with my forehand and backhand, it’s a good surface,” she said. “I feel good in hard courts, clay courts and grass!”

Bouzas Maneiro credits a coaching change for her improvement

Bouzas Maneiro’s results at the start of 2024 were eye-catching. Between January and March, she won 21 out of 24 matches, sweeping up two ITF titles and her first WTA 125 trophy, in Antalya. Having started the year ranked No.158, she made her Top 100 debut in April and came into Wimbledon at a career high of No.83.

Bouzas Maneiro credits a coaching change for her improvements. Having previously worked with Javier Marti, she hired Roberto Ortega Olmedo last September.

“Last year was a bit tough mentally,” she said. “I change a lot of things, I change my coach. Roberto is a coach who gives me calm and no pressure. He just wants day-by-day work. I was losing a lot of matches last year, and he told me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s OK, I trust you.’

“He has an amazing family and friends, they’re so good with me. I feel so good out of the court, and that’s why I play good on court. He’s such a good person and that’s the main point about him.”

Bouzas Maneiro was hoping to draw a top player at Wimbledon

Bouzas Maneiro hasn’t had many tough losses in 2024, but two of them came at the year’s previous Grand Slams. At the Australian Open, she lost her first qualifying match to Ankita Raina from match point up, a match she said she needed a week to get over. At Roland Garros, she fell to lucky loser Jana Fett from 4-1 up in the third set. The latter was a particular letdown because it came just weeks after a statement win over compatriot Paula Badosa in Madrid. Bouzas Maneiro had higher expectations in Paris.

“I was so disappointed with myself,” she said. “[My team and I] stopped and we had to have difficult conversations. You have to do it. And now, we have these moments.”

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Bouzas Maneiro has learned that she plays with more freedom against bigger names such as Badosa and Vondrousova.

“I prefer these matches than playing a qualifier or lucky loser or someone with the same ranking as me,” she said. “Maybe you have more chances to win with those other girls, but in these moments I can play without pressure and just be myself.”

Bouzas Maneiro overcomes Badosa in all-Spanish Madrid opener

Bouzas Maneiro has two meaningful tattoos

Bouzas Maneiro’s body art may not match Vondrousova’s in terms of quantity, but her two tattoos still hold special meaning for her. The first, which she got when she was 16, comprises the letters “SHH” on the inside of one finger.

“When you’re a tennis player, you have a lot of persons who say that you cannot do it, you’re so bad, you don’t have tennis, you don’t have these qualities, your effort is not so good,” Bouzas Maneiro explained. “To these people it’s, like, shut up to them. Of course, not for the good people. It was funny for me also. I have feelings with this tattoo because I said one time if I do something good — for these people, I will do it.”

Her second tattoo is on the back of her neck and represents her love of home. It’s a triskel — a spiral design that’s a symbol of Bouzas Maneiro’s native Galicia.

“My grandma gave me a necklace when I was 12 with this,” she said.

After tennis, Bouzas Maneiro dreams of horses and festivals

Bouzas Maneiro has recently started horse riding lessons. She’s still a novice, but she’s had an affinity with horses for as long as she can remember.

“It’s a feeling since I was born,” she said. “I have a lot of pictures of me with horse soft toys when I was just a baby. Now, for my mind it’s so good when I ride.”

When Bouzas Maneiro was 6 years old, her father knocked back her pleas for riding lessons. She can decide for herself now, but the risk of injury means she still has to be careful.

“But I know that in one moment of my life I will do it,” she said. “I hope in the future I can have a horse, it’s a dream for me.”

Bouzas Maneiro’s career has also meant that she’s had to sacrifice a local custom. Her home town, Vilagarcía de Arousa, is known for its annual water festival, the culmination of the 10-day celebration of San Roque, the town’s patron saint. The town’s inhabitants parade through the streets as their neighbors throw buckets of water from windows, with the goal of drenching everyone.

“I love it, but I cannot do it because that party is before the US Open,” Bouzas Maneiro said. “All my friends there do it, but I have no time to go. And I have to be careful when everyone gets wet because I don’t want to be sick. But one day, I will do it!”


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