WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Novak Djokovic’s the game was nothing special, well, Djokovic-esque, at Wimbledon on Monday.
Even he acknowledged that.
He was broken early, trailing 3-1 as he began his bid for a fourth consecutive championship and seventh overall in the grass-field Grand Slam tournament. He recovered to take that set and dropped the next. He slipped and fell on the grass. He collected more casual errors than his opponent. Perhaps he was a little under the weather; he took tissues from a black box on the sidelines and blew his nose. Maybe he was just a little absent, haven’t played a game that mattered in almost a full month†
However, this is the highest placed Djokovic, and there’s a reason he extended his winning streak at the All England Club to 22, and his win tally there to 80 – making him the first player in tennis history to have at least that many at every major – by beating South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 at Center Court under the retractable roof.
And there’s a reason friends of Kwon’s coach’s wife, Daniel Yoo, held up decorated signs in a player’s box with Korean messages that Yoo said was “Fight!” and “Don’t hurt!”
So Kwon was nervous on the track. But after just two matches, the 81st-ranked Kwon said by Yoo’s translation, “I had a feeling, ‘Oh, this is doable. … I can hang out with him a bit.'”
With the exception of a loss to number 7 Hubert Hurkacz, a semi-finalist in the All England Club a year ago, Day 1 marked a fairly routine return to pre-pandemic normal, with packed crowds, zero masks, the Wimbledon queue in full effect and of course the occasional shower.
Hurkacz, who came off a grass title this weekend, lost 7-6 (4), 6-4, 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (10-8) to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in a match that featured Wimbledon’s new format of the final set: The women’s third sets and the men’s fifth sets finishing at 6 go to a first-to-10-and-win-by-two tiebreaker.
That might as well be called the John Isner rule, due to the American’s 70-68 fifth-set win over Nicolas Mahut in 2010 and Kevin Anderson’s 26-24 fifth-set loss in 2018, both on Wimbledon, both before the tournament was passed. decisive set tie breakers.
On Monday, Isner was back at Court 18, the site of the Mahut Marathon, hitting 54 aces in a 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 win Enzo Couacaud. Isner’s next match will be held at a bigger court as he will face Andy Murray, who has won two of his three major championships at Wimbledon.
Murray’s 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over James Duckworth came at Center Court, followed by another triumph by British major title winner, reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu.
“From the moment I walked out those gates I really felt the energy and the support and everyone was behind me from the word ‘go’,” said 19-year-old Raducanu after beating Alison Van Uytvanck 6- 4, 6-4. “I just really tried to cherish every point there is. I played every point as if it could have been one of my last points on that field.”
Djokovic, a 35-year-old from Serbia, hadn’t played since losing to rival Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of the French Open and it seemed to show. Kwon’s penetrating, flat foundations and soft drop shots were effective for stretching exercises.
“I didn’t start, or play, at my best,” said Djokovic, whose 20 Grand Slam trophies are tied with Roger Federer for the second-highest in men’s tennis history behind Nadal’s 22. I did. I think (my) service got me out of trouble at some decisive moments. I know I can do better.”
Also, keep in mind that this may well be Djokovic’s last major event of the season – and 11 more months until the 2023 French Open.
As things stand, he will not be allowed into the United States as a foreigner who has not received his COVID-19 injections and has to miss the US Open, which starts in August. He could also sit out a second consecutive Australian Open because he is not vaccinated – a status he said on Saturday he would not consider changing.
After Monday’s game, Djokovic said he is not thinking ahead to New York at the moment, but added: “I hope some things can change and that I will be able to compete. I would.”
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