Novak Djokovic advances without fuss as new wave falls
Both the of world’s brightest talents failed to find their way past the Wimbledon foothills
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece acknowledges the fans as he leaves the court after defeat to Thomas Fabbiano. Photograph: Getty Images
An old hand on a well worn path, Novak Djokovic advanced without show or fuss, a tremble at the beginning and then cruise control.
On a day a clutch of the new wave of players struggled and then fell in their first round matches, the defending champion pressed home his case as a world number one in command.
First Djokovic tamed the power of Germany’s veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber before schooling him to a straight set victory.
All seamless and smart from the 32-year-old champion, who was off for his massage and shower with 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 ringing in the ears of Alexander Zverev - seeded six - and seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who together played out their matches simultaneously on court one and two.
Both have great mops of blonde hair belching out from bandanas, almost throwbacks to Bjorn Borg’s beach chic, threadbare look. Like the great Swede, tanned and young a surf board or a racquet it doesn’t matter, the look suited both.
But the two represent change in a tennis world dominated by three players and in their ascent they have been burdened. On the opening Monday that burden became a hindrance and the hindrance became fatal. In a seven match tournament, both the of world’s brightest talents failed to find their way past the foothills.
At the end of an afternoon stretch, the German tennis project, Zverev, lay in tatters and the Greek tennis god Tsitsipas was shown to have feet of clay.
The 22-year-old Zverev won the first set 6-4 against left hander Jiri Vesely. Then just as it looked sweet he tumbled out of the draw in a succession of anguished screams and wails over 2 hours 31 minutes, losing the next three sets 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
Vesely, ranked 108 in the world, had never before played the German.
The 20-year-old Tsitsipas, a full head taller than Italy’s punchy Thomas Fabbiano, was as equally dumbfounded after 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(8), 6-3, his painful five set exit lasting 3 hours 23 minutes.
It wasn’t supposed to begin or end this way. An Italian ranked 89 in the world and a journey man Czech, who had to qualify at Roehampton to get through the All England Club gates, ripping through the talent.
Tsitsipas will look at 43 unforced errors and a conversion rate of two out of 10 break points against Fabbiano and wilt.
“He was just playing better. I wouldn’t even deserve the victory even if I had won,” said Tsitsipas. “He played much better today. I give him credit for every single...I don’t know. He was just better than me today. The way I played it should have been a three (set match) not a five.
“I didn’t even get close to the level I got to last year,” he added despondently. The two had met in Wimbledon last year with the Greek player ratting through Fabbiano 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
“People expected things from me. I didn’t deliver. It’s devastating. I should be the one creating, the one playing my game. I can’t see a way of doing that.”
Zverev with 22 for the match had less unforced errors than Vesely and with 49 hit more winners. But he won only 46 per cent of the total points to his opponents 54 per cent.
His points won on serve were also down on Vesely with a 63 per cent conversion rate compared to his opponent’s 70 per cent. All his numbers for the day were wrong and with the two young seeds a little vibrancy, a sense of renewal, a shine departs.
“There’s a lot happening obviously when you step into the court as defending champion,” said Djokovic, who has the wisdom of Goran Ivansevic in his player’s box this year. “But still I’m a human being as anybody else. I do feel nerves. At the same time I had a great quality tennis player across the net who is very dangerous. I lost to him earlier in the year.
“Of course, the first match, you slip few times, still kind of finding the right position on the court, the right place. But I’m overall satisfied.”
The Rolls purrs along. The sports cars go off the road. It’s Wimbledon moving with the times and gloriously unchanged.