Wimbledon 2015: Djokovic buoyed up in ‘the cradle of our sport’ against Kohlschreiber

Novak Djokovic opens his Wimbledon title defence with a straight-sets victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber

While the best woman in the tennis world was working her way back from an early challenge on Court 1 to take a straight-sets opening win, the best man in the tennis world, Novak Djokovic, was working his way towards his own straight-sets victory on Centre Court, the privilege accorded the defending champion at the All England Club.

The top two seeds both stand atop their rivals by a huge margin, more than 4,000 points, and both had arrived here via finals at Roland Garros—Williams with the title and Djokovic as runner-up—without playing a grass tournament.

It had shown in Williams’ early break to her qualifier opponent, but her Grand Slam winning mentality soon had her back on course.

It showed early in Djokovic’s match, though perhaps that was more expected against an altogether tougher opponent in the No33 Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German may well have been seeded had he not also had the misfortune to draw the top seed, Roger Federer, in last week’s Halle tournament.

Djokovic, bidding to win his third Wimbledon title, knew it was a tough opener: “It’s one of the toughest first rounds I could get. But this is a Grand Slam. This is what it takes. You know, you need to step out there and perform your best, win against the best players in the world if you want to keep on going.”

But he had few qualms about his decision not to play a grass tournament before today.

“It’s not my concern, honestly. I just want to get myself in a best possible shape. I’m aware of the adjustment that is required movement wise, game wise, and also mentally for the grass courts coming from clay courts, playing for three months on the slowest surface where you can slide, where you have a completely different balance, different tactical approach.

“Last couple years I haven’t been playing any lead up tournament to Wimbledon and I still managed to play finals two years ago and to win the title last year…”

He had a point. He was, after all, not just a two-time Wimbledon champion but the form player this year: Australian champion, with four Masters titles, a 41-3 run.

To add to his weight in the balance, he had not lost to a player ranked as low as today’s opponent since he was defeated by Michael Llodra at the 2010 Paris Masters 1000.

And while both men were playing their 11th Wimbledon, Djokovic’s success rather put Kohlschreiber’s record in the shade: the German’s one Grand Slam quarter-final was here in 2012, and while the Serb went on to win the title last year, Kohlschreiber lost in the first round.

Even so, the German is a quality player with a game suited to grass better than any surface—nimble, varied, with a blistering down-the-line one-handed backhand that also produces destructive slice and chip returns.

There was little to choose between them in the opening set. Djokovic got an early break, but Kohlschreiber wielded his favourite shot, his backhand, to twice break the Serb’s defence on return of serve, and broke back.

Both faced more break points in the sixth and seventh games, but Djokovic saved his best for a devastating attack on the German serve to break in the timeliest fashion, 6-4.

As if working to a pre-determined script, Djokovic did just the same in the second set, signalled by a winning lob and then a wonderful backhand pass. From deuce, it was the work of a moment to convert break point into set, 6-4.

And it was the same story in the third set, as well: an exchange of breaks in the fourth and fifth games and then all square until Djokovic led 5-4. On break point, Kohlschreiber hit a forehand wide for 6-4, and the defending champion let out a roar of celebration before bending to touch the grass.

It was a high-quality and entertaining match, with both men playing more winners than errors. But Djokovic had the edge, and appeared to play within himself almost throughout—upping the level to break at the opportune moment three times. He hit 12 aces among 36 winners and only 21 errors in almost 200 points played—and that was just how Kohlschreiber saw it, too: “Honestly I think the only little, little, little chance was when I had the chance to go up a break in the first set. I missed quite a good opportunity pretty close. After that he was in his mode. He was winning his service games easier, more chances. Overall I think he played just a better match than I did.”

He added, a little ruefully: “Novak, you know, he’s moving like a ball machine, not giving you easy points and he’s bringing too many balls back. And especially the return, I think I played some great serves but it just came back much harder, and it’s pretty tough.”

Djokovic summed it up, with admirable brevity: “I thought return was exceptionally good from my side. Serving efficiently. Just overall a great performance against a quality opponent.”

His next match will be against a man who is playing his last Wimbledon, Jarkko Nieminen, who was one half of a thriller, an emotionally-charged five-setter against fellow retiree, Lleyton Hewitt.

Hewitt, a former Wimbledon champion and world No1, was playing his 17th and last Wimbledon on a packed No2 court. It took four hours and an 11-9 fifth set in Nieminen’s favour to decide the outcome, but it was Hewitt who took a prolonged and emotional standing ovation, from his opponent and the crowd.

Nieminen admitted afterwards that he was tired—not a great omen ahead of the toughest match-up in tennis—but win or lose, the gentle Finn, like the dogged Hewitt, will be sorely missed when he hangs up his racket at the end of 2015.

Djokovic’s predicted quarter-final opponent, No5 seed and US Open runner-up, Kei Nishikori, took five sets for the second year in a row to beat Simone Bolelli, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. He will next meet Santiago Giraldo, who beat Joao Souza, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Nishikori could face a repeat of that US Open final against Marin Cilic in the fourth round. The No9 seeded Croat beat Hiroki Moriya, 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(4). He will next play former junior No1 Ricardas Berankis.

Also in this quarter, No4 seed and French Open champion Stan Wawrinka put on a stunning serving display of 25 aces to beat Joao Sousa, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6(3). No17 seed John Isner, No7 seed Milos Raonic and No14 seed Kevin Anderson also advanced.

Elsewhere, Grigor Dimitrov secured a 6-3 6-0 6-4 win over Argentina’s Federico Delbonis.

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