NOVAK Djokovic made a first-round clash against a potentially tricky customer look like routine hitting practice, with Germany’s Florian Mayer the unwilling victim in a 6-3 7-5 6-4 defeat at Wimbledon yesterday.
The top seed and 2011 champion has unparalleled reserves of grit and mind-boggling physical capabilities, but his Wimbledon campaign began with the Serb playing percentages and applying enough gentle pressure to move into the second round.
The world No 1 rolled into the grounds of the All England Club just minutes before he was due on court and his relaxed demeanour remained largely unruffled for the one hour and 56 minutes he was in action.
The pair had met in last year’s quarter-final and, although Djokovic also won that encounter in straight sets, he saw enough to be on his guard against an upset this time around.
Following fifth-seed Rafa Nadal’s shock exit on Monday, a whiff of mutiny was in the air among the tour’s lesser lights and the Serb was not taking any chances.
“Knowing his quality, knowing that we played in the quarter-final last year obviously gave me enough reason to not underestimate him and respect the fact that I need to be 100 per cent focused from the start and try to have the control of the match,” Djokovic told reporters. “And that’s what I did. I played well in the important moments.”
Djokovic was back in action for the first time since losing a semi-final epic against Nadal at the French Open and looked sharp on the lush grass.
His returns frequently found their intended targets, hitting the lines, driving Mayer deeper and moving him to and fro on court and further out of his psychological comfort zone.
Djokovic was able to up the tempo with weapons missing from the German’s arsenal, while his familiar ability to stay in points to the bitter end frequently paid dividends.
After breaking Mayer in his opening service game and cruising through the first set, the Serb sought to turn the screw at the start of the second.
In a rare moment of resilience, the German, ranked 34 in the world, survived six break points in the third game to keep his nose in front.
Any lingering hopes of causing an upset, however, were wiped away when he was broken in the 11th game, with Djokovic striking the decisive blow with a scorching backhand winner at the end of a tiring rally in which Mayer had missed an easy overhead.
After serving out the second set, Djokovic broke in the first game of the third then turned off the afterburners to cruise home. His next opponent will be an American in the form of either qualifier Bobby Reynolds or wildcard Steve Johnson, but Djokovic will be taking nothing for granted.
“The sport is evolving, like everything in life,” he added.
“Everybody is getting better. At the opening stages of grand slams, there are a lot of quality players who have nothing to lose really coming on the Centre Court or Court One, playing in front of 10,000 or more people.
“Against one of the top players, you know, what can you really lose? You’re going to play your best tennis.”
FOURTH seed David Ferrer was made to work hard yesterday for his place in the second round at Wimbledon.
After the controversy of Ferrer being seeded ahead of fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal, Ferrer managed to achieve more than his countryman but only after a four-set slog against Argentine Martin Alund on Centre Court. A 6-1 4-6 7-5 6-2 win was an unspectacular but successful start to his campaign.
He will face another Spanish player, Roberto Bautista Agut, in the second round.
Grigor Dimitrov, meanwhile, says he is ready to shed his ‘Baby Fed’ nickname and carve his own identity at this year’s Wimbledon Championship.
The 22-year-old Bulgarian earned the nickname not just because of a similar playing style to Swiss great Roger Federer, but also owing to his boyish good looks and charm.
He followed Federer into the second round yesterday with a 6-1 6-4 6-3 win over Simone Bolelli but declared it is time for the comparisons to stop.
“I think this is getting pretty old, that’s the one thing I have learned in the past months,” he said. “I’m building up my own style and becoming Grigor Dimitrov, which is great. It’s nice to hear but this thing has come to an end.”
Philipp Kohlschreiber’s campaign came to an abrupt halt after he was forced to quit his first-round match against Ivan Dodig.
The 16th-seeded German was expected to fare well at the All England Club after reaching the quarter-finals a year ago, but after taking the first two sets he allowed Dodig to level and then walked off court at 2-1 down in the decider.
“I’m totally exhausted,” said Kohlschreiber. “In the last two or three days I was almost entirely in bed. I have had flu and felt like my body was pretty bad. I had no energy left.”