Novak Djokovic brushes James Ward aside

Djokovic surgically precise in his first Centre Court clinic of the year on Monday

Novak Djokovic reflects on his straight sets victory over Britain's James Ward in round one of Wimbledon. Video: Wimbledon

 

When Novak Djokovic carved his forehand away from James Ward for his first point of the championship, it appeared to impart a sense of directional certainty to the London crowd.

It wasn’t the certainty they wanted but after a week of political chaos it was just that. After the match and in an unusual departure from tennis, Ward publically counted himself among those who voted for Britain to leave the European Union.

A 22-year-old Brexiteer beating the world number one would have been quite a coup in every sense. It was that sort of day, the tournament beginning amid the sound of slamming doors in Labour party HQ as ministers resigned or were fired and the discomfiting mood of no-one knowing quite what is going on or who is making decisions.

The football team’s hold on the country is always feverish, massive and conditional, Wimbledon unchanging and as solid as Djokovic, the outstanding favourite for this year’s title.

Ward experienced Djokovic’s blemish free brand of tennis that has become the embodiment of consistency, less magical than Roger Federer or athletically bruising as Rafa Nadal, but his surgical precision in his first Centre Court clinic of the year was enough to brush Ward aside in straight sets, 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-4.

Ward, who apart from the first set, held up well in a match that was punctuated with stirring support from the crowd for each English point alternating with stunned silence as the Serb showed signs of cranking up a few more gears.

Ward earned break points in the second set at 5-5 but taking them against the defending champion was beyond the reach of a wild card entry ranked 177 in the world.

There is a lot more to come from the winner of the first two Grand Slams of the year, who is on course for a calendar Grand Slam (all four in the same year). He was not calculating enough, ruthless enough or as sharply precise as he can be. Still a win against a local player and back on the massage table after two hours was a good shift to start.

“Yeah, I voted out,” said Ward. “I’m not fussed about saying it. I don’t know others who are or not. But, yeah, I voted out. I’m happy with my decision. I think we’ll be all right. Everyone needs to stop panicking and we’ll be fine.”

He was asked but declined to explain why he voted to leave. Perhaps he knew Djokovic is a Unicef ambassador, who visited Belgrade last year to met some of the refugee and migrant children who are passing through the Republic of Serbia on their way to Western Europe.

At the time the world number one gave an impassioned speech urging Europe to do more to help. During the 1999 Nato bombing of Belgrade as his country Serbia was gripped in a genocidal war, Djokovic and his family spent many nights in his grandfather’s basement seeking shelter from the chaos. He subsequently moved to Italy to build a tennis career.

But tennis and football were the main course of the day.

“I honestly didn’t expect myself to start that well,” said Djokovic. “Nine games in a row, 6 0 (to) 3 0 (in the second set). 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.”

On a day when the top seeds largely glided through, court 17 provided some relief. The home crowd received an early tournament high when Britain’s Marcus Willis took out Ricardas Barankis. Upset would be an understatement.

The Slough born lefty, ranked 772 in the world, with no titles to his name this year and has earned just €323, took out the 54th ranked Lithuanian in three sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in just over two hours.

The 25-year-old, who has won a total of €86,382 in his career to date is now in line to collect €60,000 as a second round loser. If he can win the next match, that’s an €96,000 pay day.

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