Australians will have extra reason to cheer for Novak Djokovic’s downfall at Wimbledon after the Serbian star made history in London.
Novak Djokovic became the first player to win 80 matches at all four Grand Slams as he made a successful start to his Wimbledon title defence.
Six-time champion and top seed Djokovic saw off South Korea’s Kwon Soo-woo 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
But 20-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic was made to work after falling a break down in the opening two sets against his 81st-ranked opponent.
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“Now we have got to 80 wins, let’s get to 100,” said Djokovic. “I didn’t play any lead-up tournaments before Wimbledon so you always feel less comfortable.
“Kwon stays close to the lines, hits clean forehands and backhands so I had to find a way to go through him.
“That meant figuring out tactically how to get control of the points.”
Djokovic, 35, is attempting to win a fourth successive Wimbledon title and join a select group.
In the Open era, only Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have managed such a streak at the All England Club.
After his win, Djokovic spoke about the warm reception he received from the crowd — not something he’s always experienced at Wimbledon — and also opened up on his deportation ordeal in Australia earlier this year.
“I was very pleasantly surprised, I mean, in a positive way. I felt support,” Djokovic said of the Centre Court crowd.
“Of course, the crowd was engaged in the match. They supported both players. I thought they were very fair to me.
“I’ve experienced something that I’ve never experienced in my life in Australia. So this post-Australian period of next several months was challenging emotionally for me because of a lot of different factors.”
Djokovic’s anti-vaccination stance may keep him out of the US Open in a couple of months but he’s still keeping his mind on the job of adding more silverware to his trophy cabinet.
“In terms of my motivation on the court, fulfilling my everyday chores, trying to win more titles and be one of the contenders for more Grand Slams, it hasn’t changed much, to be honest,” he said.
“I try to keep it together with the team in such way where we stick to the routines that we know that work for us.
“The sensation coming back on the court with everything that happened post-Australia, particularly first few tournaments, was different.
“It was a different feel. Not very pleasant to me. Right now I don’t feel the traces of that, so to say, any more. I move on. I play tournament by tournament.
“I try to make the most out of experience.”
The Serbian will do battle with Australia again this week, though in a very different sense to what he experienced in January. Next up for the Serbian is Aussie favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis, who beat Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak 7-6 6-2 7-5 to record his first ever win in the main draw of Wimbledon after so many injury-riddled years.
“Novak, the thing that separates him is he moves so well, especially on the grass as well,’’ Kokkinakis said ahead of the pair’s clash.
“That’s, for me, the biggest challenge on grass. It feels like he slides out there and he can cover sort of defensive balls on grass that not many people can. I’m going to have to hit one, two, three, four, five, which almost normally would be winners against other players to just kind of have a chance of winning the point.”
“Grass is a surface that I haven’t been too comfortable with in the past. But yeah, I felt pretty great out there today. It’s obviously going to be a really tough challenge. He’s won the last how many years? I’m probably not the favourite, let’s put it that way.
“It’s going to be good fun out there and I’m going to swing free hopefully and play my game. He’s a brick wall, so you … have got to beat him. He’s not going to beat himself. So that’s going to be fun.”
Murray topples Aussie, semi-finalist knocked out
Two-time Wimbledon winner Andy Murray showed plenty of emotion as he made it through to the semi-round, coming from a set down to see off Australia’s James Duckworth, who hasn’t registered a single win in 2022.
Murray won 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
“I’m getting on a bit now so don’t know how many more chances I’ll get to play on Centre Court,” said the 35-year-old.
Meanwhile, teenage star Carlos Alcaraz battled over five sets to make the second round.
Alcaraz, a potential quarter-final opponent for Djokovic, came back from two sets to one down to defeat Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.
The 19-year-old fired 30 aces and 73 winners in a dazzling display of shot-making to win 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.
“Last year, I played five sets in the first round here as well so this shows how much I like grass,” joked Alcaraz.
Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina knocked out 2021 semi-finalist Hubert Hurkacz courtesy of the tournament’s first final-set 10-point tiebreak.
World number 37 Fokina triumphed over the seventh-seeded Pole 7-6 (7/4), 6-4, 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (10/8) in a match interrupted twice by rain.
“When the rain came at 5-5 in the third set, I didn’t know whether to have lunch or take a siesta,” admitted 2017 junior champion Davidovich Fokina, who needed five match points to seal the win.
Casper Ruud won a match at Wimbledon for the first time with a straight-sets victory over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
Third seed Ruud, who was runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the French Open, came through 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (11/9), 6-2.
John Isner fired 54 aces and 97 winners to knock out French qualifier Enzo Couacaud 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 and will next face Murray.
However, Marin Cilic, the 2017 runner-up, withdrew before hitting a ball after testing positive for Covid-19.
After a cancelled edition due to the pandemic in 2020 and a reduced-capacity tournament last year, Wimbledon has returned to full crowds for 2022.
However, missing from the line-up are a host of Russian and Belarusian players who were banned following the invasion of Ukraine, including men’s world number one Daniil Medvedev.