Wimbledon: Novak Djokovic makes flying start

WHO is going to win Wimbledon? Novak Djokovic clearly believes a little birdie’s appearance has decreed it will be him. Who are we to disagree?

Novak Djokovic watches the birdie as a feathered friend - 'all the way from Belgrade' - arrives  on Centre Court. Picture: AFP
Novak Djokovic watches the birdie as a feathered friend - 'all the way from Belgrade' - arrives on Centre Court. Picture: AFP

An inquisitive sparrow might have held up proceedings slightly, but the Serbian yesterday made swifter work of Philipp Kohlschreiber than many, including himself, had hypothesised. The German world No 33, the highest ranked non-seed at the Championships, was dispatched in straight sets.

The only hand signals spotted in Djokovic’s box were clenched fists. The defending champion is up and running and heaven help those who prolong further the issue of whether he is partial to a bit of on-court coaching. This thorny subject had dominated the run-up to his appearance on Centre Court in the traditional 1pm reigning champions’ slot.

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Someone tried to bring it up later. This line of discussion is beginning to try the patience of someone who was expecting to be feted on these lawns as defending champion rather than labelled a cheat on his return, 11 months and three weeks after victory over Roger Federer earned him a second Wimbledon title.

Novak Djokovic watches the birdie as a feathered friend - 'all the way from Belgrade' - arrives on Centre Court. Picture: AFP

“I’m really trying to figure out what’s behind this,” Djokovic replied, testily. “I mean, are you asking only me or are you asking other players, as well?”

As many eyes were on Boris Becker as were on Djokovic and Kohlschreiber in the opening stages. Is that Boris sweeping a hand through his lustrous head of hair or is it a sneaky way of indicating to Djokovic that he should send his next serve to his opponent’s right side rather than his left?

Everyone was alert to each movement poor old Boris made. Not that he could have expected to be able to blend into the background in any case. Becker was already guaranteed to be in the spotlight given the special significance of the year. It is 30 years since he came from nowhere to secure the men’s singles title aged only 17.

Perhaps reasoning that he is sick and fed up talking about this particular achievement, Djokovic’s coach has put the cat among the pigeons by appearing to confess to communicating with his charge via looks, glances and other such signals.

Djokovic later admitted that he does look to his coach for reassurance at times, but wondered, probably reasonably, what can anyone do about it? Stop them looking at each other? After his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over Kohlschreiber, Djokovic was predictably asked whether there had been any coded exchanges between him and his coaching team.

“I mean, I got this question already two times in the last couple days,” he said, wearily. “I don’t understand. What I can say that I haven’t said already before. I’m going to repeat myself.

“I’m going to say that there are certain ways of communication which is encouragement, which is support, which is understanding the moment when, you know, they might clap or say something that, you know, can lift my energy up, that can kind of motivate me to play a certain point. But it’s all within the rules.

“If I am breaking any rules or my team does, I would be fined for that, right? The chair umpire would say, ‘Coaching penalty’, and that’s it. Or the supervisor, or whoever.

“I think it has happened in my life, no doubt about that. Of course, I accept the fact if my coach, Boris or Marian [Vajda], do say something that is against the rules that are in place, I have no complaint about the code violation that I get for coaching. So, I mean, I’m completely fine by that. I just don’t understand why this same story is repeating over and over for days.”

Handily for Djokovic, who is clearly tiring of this particular theme, the repeated appearances of a determined sparrow on court helped provide a diversion afterwards. “The bird didn’t want to go away,” smiled Djokovic, glad to have an uncontroversial topic to focus on. The creature did, indeed, prove an impressively stubborn interloper as it pecked away at the virgin grass after first intruding midway through the opening game.

Kohlschreiber had just managed to draw level at 30-30, so Djokovic welcomed the appearance of something he interpreted as a good omen. Who knew the sparrow is a symbol of Belgrade, Djokovic’s home city? Since the bird was so small and hard to make out from the press seats, someone wondered whether he could help with the identification of the species?

“In English you say sparrow, right?” replied Djokovic. “That’s how you call the bird, right?”

“I believe this bird came all the way from Belgrade to help me,” he added. “But I was fearing for its safety, honestly. I remember at one point, because I could not not notice it. I mean, it just loves tennis, I guess.”

If so, our feathered friend might not have been overwhelmed by the quality of drama on show. Faced, as he was, by the highest ranked man not to be seeded, Djokovic had anticipated a “tricky” afternoon.

Although guilty of making several uncharacteristic unforced errors, Djokovic was able to overcome any sticky spells, specifically in the seventh game of the first set, when Kohlshreiber came with about half an inch of breaking his opponent and going 4-3 up. However, Hawk-Eye came to Djokovic’s rescue. The Serbian’s judgment looked a bit off and, dare we say it, he did betray some signs of rustiness following his break after so surprisingly losing the French Open final. But his opponent was also guilty of making too many unforced errors, a fatal failing against someone like Djokovic. In the end, it was a rather weak forehand that did for Kohlschreiber as the No 1 seed across the net managed to avoid the fate that befell Lleyton Hewitt, who was the last defending Wimbledon champion to be beaten at the first hurdle when he lost to Ivo Karlovic in 2003.

Speaking of whom, Djokovic won’t have to be concerned about expelling the popular Australian from the tournament and Wimbledon full stop. Hewitt’s final act came on Court Two as he succumbed after an epic five-set tussle with Jarkko Nieminen. The Finn’s reward is a second-round date tomorrow with someone whose feathers might have been ruffled, but only ever so slightly.