WIMBLEDON, England — Used to be that players would dread the prospect of facing Serena Williams, especially at Wimbledon.

Nowadays, they seem to be eager to go up against her — not because they think they can beat Williams, mind you, but because, well, she’s Serena Williams, and what better way to create a memory for life than to share a court with one of the, if not THE, greatest in the history of tennis.

So that’s why Giulia Gatto-Monticone, a 31-year-old qualifier from Italy making her debut at the All England Club, was thrilled when the draw put her up against Williams in the first round Tuesday, and the schedule put them on Centre Court, to boot. So what if Gatto-Monticone fell behind 5-0 in 17 minutes and wound up losing 6-2, 7-5?

“Incredibly happy to play her,” Gatto-Monticone said afterward. “Serena is Serena.”

The whole day was, she said, “a dream come true,” filled with smiles and tears and goose bumps. From the tour of the stadium that she, her coach, her physiotherapist and her physiotherapist’s son were given in the morning: “We went through the club members’ area. Just a spectacular place. Truly beautiful couches, flowers. We saw the trophies. We saw the entrance to the court,” Gatto-Monticone said.

To the match itself, which was briefly even in the second set at 5-all, prompting an Italian reporter to ask whether Gatto-Monticone wondered whether maybe she had a chance: “No,” came the reply, “I never thought that.”

To the handshake after the highlight-worthy 12-stroke exchange that capped the result, including a trade of volleys with both women at the net: “She told me I’m an amazing player. I don’t know if she really thought so, but she was so nice. I told her she’s the queen of this tournament. I thanked her.”

And then came this: Gatto-Monticone asked the 37-year-old Williams if they could pose for a selfie together.

“She was sweet, because I was panicking and I couldn’t find my phone,” Gatto-Monticone recounted. “She said, ‘That’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll take it with mine and post it on Instagram.’ I said, ‘Perfect!'”

Two former Wimbledon winners who have struggled this season – Maria Sharapova and Garbine Muguruza – both lost, as did a pair of major champions elsewhere, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Sam Stosur. Sharapova, who recently returned to the tour after missing five months because of a right shoulder operation, quit while one game from defeat against Pauline Parmentier at 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-0, blaming what she said was “a tendon in my left forearm flaring up.”

Defending champion Angelique Kerber, two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova and Ash Barty – playing her first match at No. 1 in the rankings – all won in straight sets.

The men’s bracket lost its third top-10 seed, though, when No. 5 Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open runner-up, was eliminated by Sam Querrey of the United States.

Eight-time champion Roger Federer recovered from a first-set scare to record his 96th win at Wimbledon with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory over South African Lloyd Harris on Tuesday.

The 37-year-old Swiss star, who is aiming for a record-extending 21st Grand Slam title, struggled to find his rhythm, and a handful of mistakes saw him drop the first set of an opening Wimbledon match for the first time in nine years.

“I just struggled. As my legs weren’t moving,” Federer said.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios triumphed over five sets in a 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 7-6 (12-10), 0-6, 6-1 battle with compatriot Jordan Thompson. Kyrgios will play world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the second round after he claimed a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Japan’s Yuichi Sugita.


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