Wimbledon 2022: Defending champ Djokovic reaches 80 match-wins; Ruud scores his first
Djokovic has become first player to win at least 80 matches at each of the four Majors
There were several high-profile men in heavyweight mode as the opening day wore on through sun and rain and wind, but none more high-profile than the six-time and defending champion, Novak Djokovic.
Even at this early stage of the tournament, there were milestones on the line. For a start, his opponent, the 81-ranked Soonwoo Kwon, was aiming to end the Serb’s first-round winning streak. Djokovic had never lost in the first round at Wimbledon in 16 previous visits.
The Korean was also aiming to be the first man since 2017 to beat Djokovic at Wimbledon: The mighty Serb had won the last three editions, from 2018 through to last year—that was the scale of the task for Kwon.
Even more significant, Djokovic was after his 80th match-win at the tournament, and thereby become the first player, man or woman, to record 80 singles wins at all four Major tournaments.
In contrast, Kwon was bidding to record only his fourth tour-level match-win on grass: He had previously reached the semis at Eastbourne in 2021. He had, too, failed to advance beyond the second round at a tour-level event since winning the title at Nur-Sultan last September.
And yet such is the range and depth of tennis at this elite level that, on any given day, a relative unknown can shake things up even against the giants of the game.
Kwon got off to a flier, broke in the third game and held with ease, 3-1. He could do no wrong, dropping balls short, finding acute angles, drawing forced errors. Djokovic held the fifth game, but there was certainly a buzz under the Centre Court’s closed roof.
The champion, who had opted not to play a grass event in preparation for Wimbledon, at last found his groove, and broke back, 3-3. And then there seemed to be no stopping him, he broke again, and served out the set, 6-3.
But in the second set, again Kwon took an early 3-1 lead, but this time fended off three break points to consolidate. He went on to serve out the set, 6-3, and he was not about to back off.
With the rain hammering down on the roof, he was pushing Djokovic to the limits of the court: It took almost half an hour to play half a dozen games, no quarter given on either side. Then all at once, the metronomic, penetrating striking of Djokovic ran Kwon down, and he got the break. With pin-point serving, the champion took the set, 6-3.
The top seed seldom looked entirely at ease, though, and faced three break points in the second game of the fourth set. He held, but Kwon replied with a love hold, 2-1. However, the Korean would rue his lost chance, as now Djokovic wasted no time in converting his own break chance, going 3-2, and he went on to serve it out to love, 6-4, his 80th on these famous courts.
He was certainly satisfied with the result:
“Yeah, it was nice to be back. I think it was a good win against a player who is very talented. He has a lot of quality from both forehand and backhand corner. I did not start, or did not play at my best, but I think when I needed to find the right shots, I did. I think serve got me out of trouble in some decisive moments. I know I can do better. But for the first match, I’m pleased.”
The measure of the test was clear: It had taken two and a half hours for the Serb to score his 22nd straight victory here. And his next match may be just as testing, against tall Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis, who has had to overcome shoulder surgery and illness in recent years, but has been making his way back up the ranks via Challengers, reaching his first final in five years in Adelaide in January. He has played Djokovic only once before, way back in 2015. Their second could be an interesting one.
Also in this quarter, there was a five-sets win for Nikoloz Basilashvili and for the teenage super-star, Carlos Alcaraz, who survived a real battle on Court 1 against Jan-Lennard Struff. The Spaniard finally advanced, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, after four hours 11 minutes, and will next play Tallon Griekspoor.
Also here, John Isner won in five sets, and Jannik Sinner beat Stan Wawrinka in four, scoring his first tour-level victory on grass.
Casper Ruud, the No3 seed, also attained a personal milestone. The Norwegian broke the top five for the first time a week after reaching the final at Roland Garros this year, but was aiming to win his first Wimbledon match after making two first-round exits.
The 23-year-old had already lost in the first round of Queen’s, looking very ill-at-ease on the grass. But he finally made the breakthrough here in a tough three sets over Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 7-6(1), 7-6(9), 6-2.
Of his notable performance, he was characteristically low-key:
“I was feeling surprisingly well, to be honest. I haven’t played much on grass this year, because I went for some holidays after Queen’s and before coming to Wimbledon. I had four days to get ready, so I was a little interested to see how I was going to play. But I felt well. I mean, I’m here at Wimbledon. There is something very special with these courts… I was playing well and, yeah, very happy with the level I was able to show.”
He next plays Ugo Humbert, another five-sets winner.
Footnote: In the fading light at gone 9.30pm, Andy Murray won against James Duckworth, in four sets, and will next play Isner.