Wimbledon: Djokovic taking nothing for granted in title defence
It’s been a stellar year for the world number one who remains as hungry as ever for success
Marian Vajda, Goran Ivanisevic and Novak Djokovic during a practice session ahead of action at Wimbledon. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
The majestic return game of defending champion Novak Djokovic will be tested on Centre Court as he opens his championship on the first Monday against the heavy-serving Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Lush grass, nerves ready to take hold and a 35-year-old opponent who knows he has nothing to lose. That means quick adjustment from Djokovic against the veteran German, who has not won on grass this year.
For the champion it is also a far cry from last season when he came from the French Open beaten and still recharging after issues with his elbow. This time he opens the competition as the world number one.
Despite the success accumulated over the years, the 32-year-old remains as hungry as ever for more.
“Obviously I’m approaching this year’s Wimbledon as defending champion, number one of the world,” said Djokovic. “Last year I was in top 20, but I did drop out of top 20 after the French Open I think.
“Coming off from the surgery, being unable to have a consistency with the results, this was a huge springboard for me, the win at Wimbledon last year. That’s what kind of gave me that push and also a huge relief.
“After that, it was all upwards, winning Cincinnati for first time, US Open. One Grand Slam can definitely change anyone’s career in few weeks. Even though after winning 15 slams, I still value these tournaments very much and understand the importance they have, importance of winning them on my entire career, my confidence, my future.”
On the first day the big names will always capture attention with world number two, Naomi Osaka facing Yulia Putintseva immediately after the men’s opener on Centre Court.
After her wins at the 2018 US Open and in Australia earlier this year, the former world number one is hoping to get past the third round, where her grass season has ended for her the last two years. So far these past few days she has been playing it flippantly, at least for the press when asked about her earliest memories of Wimbledon.
“I thought it was so fancy,” said Osaka. “They’re fancy over there. Then I thought strawberries and cream. Then I thought, hmm, I don’t know. I thought it would be pretty. Because it looks pretty on the TV.”
Her game is pretty. But for sheer intrigue fans will look no further than the evening match on Show Court one, where two Americans at polar ends of their careers come face to face on the biggest stage.
Venus Williams will be aiming to destroy 15-year-old Cori Gauff, known as Coco and who is the youngest women’s qualifier in Wimbledon history. Williams, who is 39-years-old, won two of her five Wimbledon singles titles before 2004, the year Gauff was born. Ughh...
Gauff is part of a new wave of young American players including 20-year-old Sofia Kenin and 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova. Her name is already familiar to players in the classy side of the locker room. Osaka certainly knows about her and also knows what she faces.
The Japanese player largely skipped junior tennis and went straight into the ITF Women’s Circuit, playing her first qualifying match in October 2011 on her 14th birthday.
“I actually hit with her two years ago,” said Osaka of Gauff. “I thought she was really good. When I was 15? I was playing, like, ITFs, so I’m really interested to see, like, where her path takes her.”
Last year’s beaten finalist Kevin Anderson takes to the grass against Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France on court three. The South African is seeded fourth because of his success in 2018 and his grass developed game behind a big serve.
But his match against John Isner will be the one most remembered for its epic proportions. Only the longest Wimbledon semi-final of all time, surpassing the four hours and 43 minutes set by Novak Djokovic and Juan Martín Del Potro in 2013. And the second longest match in grand slam history.
It had lasted six hours and 36 minutes, a light workout for Isner. The American took 11 hours and five minutes to win his first-round match against Nicolas Mahut in 2010.
All a little too much for day one perhaps.