Wimbledon 2021: A scare, then normal service as world No.1 Novak Djokovic sees off the 'new Murray' Jack Draper

Wimbledon began on Monday like never before. But some things don’t change and Novak Djokovic, the world No.1, looks unbeatable.

Novak Djokovic began the defence of his Wimbledon crown against highly-rated teenage Brit Jack Draper
Novak Djokovic began the defence of his Wimbledon crown against highly-rated teenage Brit Jack Draper

In the time of Covid, in Department of Health-speak, the championships are part of the “events research programme”. They have “elite sports exemption”.

The players are being housed in a “minimised risk environment”. But there seems more chance of Matt Hancock getting his old job back than of the reigning men’s champion being deposed.

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The champ can't remember slipping more than he did yesterday

The Serbian opened his defence against Britain’s next great hope in whites.

That’s Andy Murray’s verdict on Jack Draper – “the best young player in the country”. With that build-up, the teenager thought he shouldn’t waste any time proving it and promptly grabbed the first set from the tennis god ranked 252 places above him.

Draper is 19, a Londonder, a student of criminology, and now and again a model. There’s something of Paul Mescal about him, and he wears a chain round his neck like the breakout heartthrob star of last year’s hit TV drama Normal People.

With the muscular look, there’s a muscular game. Under restrictions, Centre Court was only half full, and maybe after Wimbledon being cancelled last year, the returning fans would have cheered anything.

But here was a local boy standing up to the ruthlessly brilliant champ and they bellowed their support.

Draper broke Djokovic in the third game and when the latter threatened his serve later, to yelps of “Come on, Jack”, he held from love-40 down.

Novak glowered like only Novak can. The lad was staying cool, apart from when he had to swap his shirt for the start of the second set. No wolf-whistles, though. These are different times.

Normally robotically precise, Djokovic took a while to find his rhythm.

Although the court was covered against the opening day’s showers he slipped on a couple of occasions reaching for returns, but then he always contorts his body into impossible shapes, seeking out new angles not yet ratified by geometry professors.

Normal service then resumed. Djokovic tied the match in double-quick time and as soon as he edged ahead – a big compliment to Draper, this – the champ let rip with one of his trademark roars. In a little over two hours, Djokovic saw out a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

“I think I probably had one of my best serving performances that I can recall on any surface,” he said afterwards. In all, 25 aces.

Djokovic was impressed by Draper.

“He’s tall and strong with that lefty serve that is very awkward for right-handed players,” he said.

"I thought he was behaving nice on the court, he was backing himself and trying his best.” But the perfectionist had a tip for the young buck: “Probably can and should move a bit better.”

Draper’s arrival at Wimbledon more or less mirrors that of Murray in terms of their age, ranking and both having won two matches at Queen’s en-route. What will be in the newbie’s career will be, meantime there was plenty to savour from this contest.

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