Novak Djokovic takes aim at Australia for ‘challenging’ period after Open detention ahead of Kokkinakis match
Novak Djokovic has soaked up the love again on his winning return to Wimbledon and reckoned it was all a far cry from the way he felt in Australia at the start of his traumatic year.
The six-times champion was all smiles on centre court on Monday after shaking off the ring rust and indifferent form to still kick off his title defence in record-breaking mode.
Seeking a fourth successive Wimbledon title, Djokovic was made to work for his laborious 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory over Soonwoo Kwon under the centre court roof on a rainy opening day.
The No.1 seed, out of sorts at times, still notched up an extraordinary new milestone, becoming the first player, man or woman, to record at least 80 singles victories at all four grand slams.
His feat had him warmly applauded, leaving him to reflect on what he’d expected after a dramatic year in which his anti-COVID vaccination stance has made the 20-times grand slam champion such a polarising figure.
“I was very pleasantly surprised, I mean, in a positive way. I felt support,” Djokovic said.
“I thought they were very fair to me. I enjoyed my time very much on the court.”
John McEnroe, on the BBC, suggested Djokovic might have felt “bummed out” after his experiences in 2022, which started with his detention before the Australian Open, before he was deported and left unable to defend his title.
“Yes and no. Yes, because I’ve experienced something that I’ve never experienced in my life in Australia,” Djokovic said.
“So this post-Australian period of next several months was challenging emotionally for me.
“The sensation coming back on the court with everything that happened post-Australia, particularly first few tournaments, was a different feel. Not very pleasant to me.”
“(But) in terms of my motivation on the court, it hasn’t changed much, to be honest.
“Right now, I don’t feel the traces of that any more. I move on.”
With his 22nd straight win at Wimbledon stretching back to 2017, Djokovic set up a dream second-round date for Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis, a straight-sets victor over Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak.
And Djokovic got a vote of support from another Australian Max Purcell, who wants to see him back at Melbourne Park next year.
“What’s the point of playing without the best guy in the tournament? I mean, that’s why you play - to beat the best,” said first-round victim Purcell.
“So if he’s not playing, then it’s not great.”
In the tournament’s first big shock, seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz, semi-finalist last year, lost 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 5-7 2-6 7-6 (10-8) to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Victory for the young Spaniard, though, only came after he’d nearly paid the price for a cavalier baseline tweener when holding three match points at 5-3 for a straight-sets win.
Teenage rocket man Carlos Alcaraz, the youngest male in the draw at 19, clawed back from two sets to one down before finally subduing big-hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff 4-6 7-5 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-4.
French Open finalist Casper Ruud, the No.3 seed despite previously having lost four of his career tally of just six grass-court matches, battled through his opener for a maiden Wimbledon win, beating Spanish grinder Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (11-9) 6-2.
In a battle of the generations, Italian gun Jannik Sinner achieved his maiden win on grass, beating Swiss three-time slam winner Stan Wawrinka 7-5 4-6 6-3 6-2.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails