Wimbledon: Classy Djoko hits the ground running
James Ward always knew he would be in for one of the toughest tests of his life, but after nine games of Wimbledon's opening match on Centre Court the 29-year-old Briton might have wondered why he had bothered to turn up.
With Novak Djokovic leading 6-0 3-0 in their first-round encounter, statisticians and historians were no doubt starting to flick through their record books in search of the last time that any player had suffered a 'triple bagel' at the All-England Club.
To his credit, however, Ward went on to make a match of it. He won three games in a row to level the second set at 3-3 and eventually made Djokovic work for his 6-0 7-6 6-4 victory.
In the second round the World No.1 will meet Adrian Mannarino after the Frenchman ended the hopes of another Briton when he beat Kyle Edmund 6-2 7-5 6-4.
Ward has had a difficult 12 months since enjoying his best run at Wimbledon last year, when he reached the third round. He has struggled to come to terms with the death of his previous coach, Darren Tandy, and he has been dealing with a recurring knee problem.
He is down to No.177 in the world rankings and is likely to drop out of the top 200 at the end of this tournament.
Ward said: "It was an ugly start, but I felt like I was in a few of those games. I had three break points. It could easily have been 2-2 because I had advantage and I was up as well. I didn't get too discouraged with that start.
"But the more the games go on, you start panicking. My first serve percentage wasn't great in the first set. Sometimes you think you have to do more than you have to. Then things start going really quick. You have to try and calm down a little. I'm proud of myself."
The Briton said it had been "a day you remember for the rest of your life". He added: "I didn't want to get back home and regret anything. I think I made the most of my chance."
Djokovic said: "After the first nine games there was not really much to say about my game. It was really flawless. I felt great. Nerves kicked in for James but he started to play better in the second part of the second set and it wasn't easy to break his serve after that."
Although grateful for his wild card selection, Ward cursed his luck when he was paired with Djokovic in the first round. Earlier this month the Serbian became the first man for 47 years - and only the third in history - to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.
In winning this year's Australian and French Opens he is already halfway towards achieving the first calendar Grand Slam since 1969.
It was no surprise that Ward looked nervous at the beginning of his Centre Court debut. Djokovic, in contrast, was on his game from the start. The Serb took the opening set in just 27 minutes and was soon 3-0 up in the second.
But Ward picked himself up from the floor and at last made a fight of it. The biggest cheer came when he got on the scoreboard in the 10th game of the second set by holding serve for the first time at the fifth attempt. He followed that by breaking Djokovic for the only time and was soon level at 3-3.
When Djokovic served at 5-5 Ward had three break points, which proved to be the Briton's last big chance. Djokovic, who is aiming to win the title for a third year in a row, saved them and won the tie-break 7-3.
Ward, who had been given some pre-match advice by Andy Murray, again kept up the pressure in the third set. The Briton stayed in the match by holding serve at 3-5, but it was delaying the inevitable.
In the following game Djokovic went to match point with a splendid drop shot and completed the job with an ace.