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Novak Djokovic into thick of Wimbledon action with hard-fought win

By Simon Peck

Published 30/06/2015

Serbia's Novak Djokovic
Serbia's Novak Djokovic

It is surprising, given the magnitude of his talent, that Novak Djokovic has only twice had the honour awarded to the reigning men's champion of reopening the world's most famous tennis court, while its painstakingly kept lawn is still, for a short while, immaculate.

Two sunlit hours later, the great man was safely through to the second round, and in straight sets too, 6-4 6-4 6-4, but the skidmarks in their multitudes all over both base lines told the tale of a victory that was not won anywhere near as easily as the stand-out favourite for the tournament would have liked.

Phillip Kohlschreiber is ranked 33 in the world, technically the toughest draw a seeded player can get for the first round of a tournament with 32 seeds. And the large, powerful, fluid but stubborn 32-year-old German, who was once ranked 16, certainly made Mr Djokovic earn his victory.

At the end of the second set, which Djokovic won by breaking the Kohlschreiber serve in its final game, he glowered down at the surface of the court, pumped his fists and let out what can only be described as a growl. It had not been easy by any means.

For all the Serbian's powerful serves and flashing, accelerating returns, Kohlschreiber stayed at the baseline and made a contest out of almost every point.

"It was great to be back in Wimbledon, to play on the untouched grass and open the Wimbledon 2015 campaign on Centre Court as the defending champion," Djokovic said, before calling his match "a great performance against a quality opponent".

For his part, his opponent said it had been like "playing against a ball machine. Everything comes back, especially the return."

It was a win in which Djokovic's coach Boris Becker, we were assured, had provided no undue assistance. When asked about the continuing questions over the legality of advice handed down from Becker with the assistance of the Serbian-speaking members of Djokovic's team during matches, he looked visibly riled.

"I'm trying to figure out what you want to achieve with this story. I don't understand what you really want. Do you want to say I'm cheating?" he asked.

"If I am breaking any rules, or my team is, I would be fined for that, right? The chair umpire or the supervisor or whoever would say, that is a coaching penalty, and that's it."

If the weathermen have it right, and this does indeed turn into the hottest Wimbledon ever, the energy expended on a safe passage through the early rounds, when the temperatures are expected to be at their most punishing, might well count for something at the crucial end of the tournament.

Having gone a break up early in the third set, Djokovic threw his advantage away a game later, dropping his serve via three unforced errors.

It counted for almost nothing in the end, but it was a reminder of that occasional Djokovic tendency to suddenly turn mortal. Such instances are almost always brief, but this is Djokovic's tournament to win or lose, and whether he does or does not do so is likely to depend on the opportunities he hands out to more dangerous opponents than Kohlschreiber.

Elsewhere, Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori took five sets to beat Italian Simone Bolelli, but Stanislas Wawrinka, the unlikely French Open champion and fourth seed, moved past Joao Sousa of Portugal with little difficulty.

Belfast Telegraph

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