How does he do it? Novak Djokovic once again showed he is a man completely oblivious to the concept of rustiness as he made a flawless start to his Wimbledon campaign.
Playing his first grass court match of the season, with no tournaments on the surface under his belt and no competitive contests since his French Open victory three weeks ago, Djokovic stepped on Wimbledon Centre Court and won the first nine consecutive games of his clash with British wildcard James Ward.
The world No1, seeking a fourth trophy at the All England Club, began his Wimbledon title defence with a 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over fellow 29-year-old Ward to book a second round with Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Ward was asked after the match if he saw any signs of rustiness from the Serb.
“Best question of the day, that one,” Ward responded with a laugh.
It was an appropriately sarcastic answer.
Ward had no answer for Djokovic’s consistency and dominance in the opening nine games before he finally stopped the bleeding and took three games in a row himself to draw level at 3-all in the second set.
But despite making it tight for Djokovic, the top seed still took the tiebreak for a two-set lead, and was untouchable on serve in the third.
“I honestly didn’t expect myself to start that well,” said Djokovic, who is looking to become just the second man in history to win five majors in a row and the first since 1938.
“Nine games in a row, 6-0, 3-0, I think it was just a matter of time when James will win his first game. I knew that the reaction of the crowd, and his own reaction, will be the way it was.
“Obviously him as a home player, you know, enjoyed a lot of support today, especially when he won his first game. That’s when the energy kind of shifted on his side. He felt huge relief obviously winning the first game.
“The first part of the match was almost flawless, so I’m very pleased with the way I started Wimbledon.”
Late on Centre Court, seven-time champion and No3 seed Roger Federer had a much tougher time against Argentinean lefty Guido Pella before advancing with a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3 triumph in two hours and six minutes.
Having spent a large portion of the season recovering from knee surgery and a back injury, Federer admits he is still uncertain about his fitness, but was pleased to get through the match unscathed.
“Nobody knows, not even myself,” Federer said of the state of his fitness.
In the second round, the Swiss takes on British qualifier Marcus Willis, whose remarkable story – fit for a Hollywood movie – has made him a sensation here at Wimbledon.
Willis, ranked 772 in the world, got through three matches of pre-qualifying, and three matches of qualifying, to claim a place in the main draw. Remarkably, he had decided to quit tennis earlier this season and was planning on leaving England and moving to Philadelphia to coach. Except he fell in love with a girl, who told him he should stay.
The 25-year-old coaches tennis at Warwick Boat Club alongside his training and was the last entry into the Wimbledon pre-qualifying draw.
Yesterday, he beat Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the second round at the All England Club and book a showdown with Federer.
“I think it’s exactly the kind of story our sport needs,” Federer said.
Willis walked into the press conference room and charmed everyone with his reaction to his situation.
“Not much going on in my head right now. It’s a bit of a blur. But it’s all positive,” he said.
Sixth-seeded Milos Raonic, a potential quarter-final opponent for Djokovic, was also a winner on day one, but was tested before overcoming Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4.
The Canadian, who is being coached by John McEnroe and Carlos Moya at Wimbledon this fortnight, next takes on Andreas Seppi.
2014 semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov snapped his six-match losing streak by defeating American qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
Fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori survived 15 aces from Sam Groth en route to a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 victory over the Australian to set up a second round with Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
No17 seed Gael Monfils crashed out to fellow Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-7 (4), 6-0, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Tunisian Malek Jaziri fell to freshly-crowned Nottingham champion 7-5, 7-6(2), 6-4.
You just never know what’s going to happen, or who is going to show up, when you’re in a press conference talking to a player at Wimbledon.
We were in with Grigor Dimitrov, and the Bulgarian was reminding us of his glory days at Wimbledon, when he made it to the semis in 2014.
“Hey, I have gone pretty far out here. The thing is I’m not fearing anyone. I’m not fearing…” Dimitrov said before Novak Djokovic opened the door and popped his head in.
“Are you sure you’re not?” said Djokovic sarcastically.
To which Dimitrov responded to with a laugh: “No. Especially you. Especially you,” before Djokovic hopped off to his own interview.
During his press conference, I asked Djokovic about a story published in one of the British tabloids that said he was “banned” from cycling around Wimbledon grounds after he “narrowly avoided crashing into a supply vehicle last week”.
Djokovic enjoys riding his bike to and from the All England Club, since he stays in a house nearby.
“There is no truth to that,” he said smiling. “Actually I did come for a few days in the beginning of the week before Wimbledon (started) with my bicycle. I was asked for my own safety not to arrive with the bicycle inside of the All England Club territory.
“So from the gate of Aorangi where I enter with the bicycle to the transportation desk, which is a little uphill, literally 20 metres away, it’s very dangerous traffic around there,” he added sarcastically.
“So for my own safety, I accepted their suggestion. I did not use the bicycle ever since to come to the club. But I did not have any kind of truck or supply vehicle accident or something like that that was mentioned in the papers. Not even close, no. Thankfully.”
Meanwhile, Ana Ivanovic revealed she might pop down to France to support her fiancée Bastian Schweinsteiger and his German side in the Euros now that she has time on her hands following her early Wimbledon exit.
“I’m not sure (if I’ll go to the Euros). Maybe. But I’ll definitely be supporting them,” she said, referring to Die Mannschaft.
“Well, of course, Serbia is not playing, so it’s a little bit tough. Then I have to support the best team in the world, right?” she jokingly added.
Things got political in the James Ward’s press conference following his defeat to Djokovic as the Brit revealed he voted ‘out’ in the Brexit referendum.
He refused to reveal the reason behind his decision though.
“Yeah, I voted out. I’m not fussed about saying it. I don’t know others who are or not. But, yeah, I voted out. I’m happy with my decision. I think we’ll be alright. Everyone needs to stop panicking and we’ll be fine,” said Ward.
Two years ago, Amra Sadikovic quit tennis because she felt she no longer enjoyed it and struggled financially to sustain her career.
On Tuesday, the 27-year-old Swiss takes on one of the greatest players of all-time, Serena Williams, on the most iconic centre court in the sport, at the most prestigious tournament in tennis.
Sadikovic, a Bosnian born in Macedonia, who moved with her parents to Switzerland during the war when she was young, did not drop a set through her three Wimbledon qualifying matches last week in Roehampton to reach the main draw of a grand slam for the first time in her career.
A little over a year ago, she was coaching adults, kids and juniors at the TIF academy in Basel, having given up on her tennis dream.
It’s fair to say that dream, today, is alive and well.
“It’s kind of a dream coming true. You don’t get these chances every year, to play one of the best players ever, on centre court, at Wimbledon… what else? To me it’s just, I’m going to out there and fight and enjoy every single moment,” said Sadikovic.
“There were a lot of players who told me ‘bad luck, tough draw’ and I was like ‘yeah, it is a tough draw definitely’ but I don’t look at this negatively at all. To me it’s positive, I could only win, I don’t feel pressure.”
The daughter of a basketball player, Sadikovic decided to try her hand at tennis after watching a match between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. She went to a club close to her house in Birr and immediately started playing three times a week. She won the first club competition she ever played and she was surrounded by people who told her she was the real deal and would go places, but Sadikovic says the main problem is that she never believed it herself.
“I really gave up on pro tennis when I was 25. In the end it was because I was on court and I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I asked myself ‘what am I doing here? I don’t want to be here’. It was also a little bit connected with money because it was not so easy to afford all of these things. My parents were not in a situation where they could afford all of this. But in the end, the last three or four months I really didn’t enjoy it on court anymore,” she said.
“I don’t regret it. It was the best decision I ever made.”
She didn’t play a professional match between May 2014 and June 2015.
“After a while I started missing competition, when you turn on the TV and you see the players playing the grand slams and you beat them before. It hurts,” said Sadikovic, who had posted wins over the likes of Eugenie Bouchard before deciding to quit.
Upon her return to tennis, Sadikovic immediately posted good results, lifting herself to her current career-high ranking of 148.
She wanted to make sure she came back strong so people would take her comeback seriously. Any hesitation she had about returning to the game vanished when she saw how her compatriot Timea Bacsinszky came back from her hiatus to go on and enter the top-10 and make the French Open semi-finals.
“I’m happy I have really the best family I can have, they supported me in every step. Even my sister and her husband they said ‘if you need money, we’ll help you out, just go and do your thing’. Because I didn’t reach my potential,” she says.
“People they told me ‘you have a game, you can be top-100’ but it was me, I didn’t believe, I was not like 100 per cent convinced that I could make it. And now that’s a totally different story.”