LONDON • It was not quite the triple bagel Novak Djokovic was aiming for during the opening 41 minutes of his first-round match, but the Serb is unlikely to be too disappointed after he beat Britain's James Ward 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 at Wimbledon yesterday.
The holder of all four Grand Slam titles appeared to be hurtling towards his 29th successive win at a Grand Slam when he opened his Wimbledon defence by racing to a 6-0, 3-0 lead.
But Ward, the son of a London black cab driver, did not want to make a quick getaway on his Centre Court debut, and held both arms aloft after finally getting a game against his name on the scoreboard.
"Come on Wardy!" the crowd screamed, in un-Wimbledonian fashion. When he grabbed three break points there was a danger the gathering would explode in raptures. They settled for more wild cheering when the Serb hit long, and Ward had won two games in a row after losing a string of nine.
The Briton held with a sublime running forehand: three games on the spin.
Men's singles, 1st rd
Damir Dzumhur (Bih) bt Denis Kudla (USA) 7-6 (7-5) 7-5 2-6 1-6 6-3, Nicolas Almagro (Esp) bt Rogerio Dutra Silva (Bra) 6-3 7-6 (8-6) 5-7 3-6 6-3, Lukas Lacko (Svk) bt Paolo Lorenzi (Ita) 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 6-3, David Ferrer (Esp) bt Dudi Sela (Isr) 6-2 6-1 6-1, Ivo Karlovic (Cro) bt Borna Coric (Cro) 7-6 (10-8) 7-6 (9-7) 6-4, Adrian Mannarino (Fra) bt Kyle Edmund (Gbr) 6-2 7-5 6-4, Pierre-Hugues Herbert (Fra) bt Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) 7-5 6-3 3-6 6-3, Marin Cilic (Cro) bt Brian Baker (USA) 6-3 7-5 6-3, Sergiy Stakhovsky (Ukr) bt Yoshihito Nishioka (Jpn) 6-3 6-4 6-4, Novak Djokovic (Srb) bt James Ward (Gbr) 6-0 7-6 (7-3) 6-4.
Women's singles, 1st rd
Ekaterina Alexandrova (Rus) bt Ana Ivanovic (Srb) 6-2 7-5, Sara Errani (Ita) bt Patricia Tig (Rom) 6-4 6-4, Kirsten Flipkens (Bel) bt Nicole Gibbs (USA) 6-3 6-1, Samantha Crawford (USA) bt Paula Kania (Pol) 7-5 6-3, Anna- Lena Friedsam (Ger) bt Zarina Diyas (Kaz) 6-4 6-0, Kurumi Nara (Jpn) bt Madison Brengle (USA) 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-3, Lara Arruabarrena Vecino (Esp) bt Olga Govortsova (Blr) 6-2 1-6 8-6, Maria Sakkari (Gre) bt Zheng Saisai (Chn) 6-3 6-2, Jana Cepelova (Svk) bt Mariana Duque (Col) 7-5 7-5, Samantha Stosur (Aus) bt Magda Linette (Pol) 7-5 6-3, Carina Witthoeft (Ger) bt Irina Begu (Rom) 6-1 6-4, Sabine Lisicki (Ger) bt Shelby Rogers (USA) 6-1 6-3, Darya Kasatkina (Rus) bt Victoria Duval (USA) 6-0 7-5, Venus Williams (USA) bt Donna Vekic (Cro) 7-6 (7-3) 6-4, Madison Keys (USA) bt Laura Siegemund (Ger) 6-3 6-1.
Whatever next? The world No. 177 held from 0-40 for 4-4, which was admirable, and he was much buoyed, no doubt, by the interjection of a fan who pointed out: "He's only human, James!"
Perhaps. Super Novak looked as angry as any, well, human when a Ward forehand dribbled kindly across the tape for break point - and similarly unsettled when he netted a low volley to give the underdog hope for a second time. Ward got a third look with a big return off second serve but Djokovic held. So did Ward.
They went to the tie-break, where Djokovic was 200-120 in his career while Ward was 13-20. One lazy backhand too many, and the champion had his 201st shoot-out in the bag to lead 2-0 after one hour and 22 minutes.
Loosened up and hitting freely, Ward had already turned the feared stroll into a sweaty jog in the park, but the right knee that has troubled him throughout his career probably throbbed a little harder as Djokovic stretched him on both wings. The break came in the third game, courtesy of more pressure on Ward's backhand.
From there to the finish line, the match took its expected course. For all his fine qualities, Ward has always seemed to lack intensity to go with his power, while Djokovic could rent out his spare resources of fire and energy.
Although Ward resisted stubbornly - three of his 10 aces came in the final set - Djokovic needed to only keep the shape of his tennis sound and he was over the line. He finished the job with a wide, slow ace - pure class.
"James was serving with a lot of precision and it was not easy to break his serve. There is really not much to say about the first nine games - it was flawless," Djokovic said after the match.
"I felt great and nerves kicked in for James. He started playing better in the second set and it got close - it was a solid performance from me though.
"This is probably the most unique experience in tennis, playing as the defending champion, on untouched grass.
"It is really special to feel this tradition."
Djokovic goes on to face France's Adrian Mannarino for a place in the last 32.
Elsewhere, former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic suffered a shock exit out of Wimbledon in the first round, losing 2-6, 5-7 to Russia's Ekaterina Alexandrova, the world No. 223.
Ivanovic, the 2008 Roland Garros champion and a semi-finalist at the All England Club in 2007, fell to just her second opening-round loss at Wimbledon in 12 visits.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN
WIMBLEDON 1ST ROUND
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