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.