Novak Djokovic recovers from early scare to demolish teenager Jack Draper in Wimbledon first round

Defending champion defeats British 19-year-old 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2

epa09308071 Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates winning against Jack Draper of Britain during their first round match at the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament in Wimbledon, Britain, 28 June 2021.  EPA/NEIL HALL

Novak Djokovic suffered an early scare in his Wimbledon first-round match with world No 253 Jack Draper before sealing a comfortable victory.

The world No 1 and defending champion struggled on a slippery Centre Court surface and lost the first set but regained his composure to complete a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over the British 19-year-old.

Djokovic is chasing a sixth title at SW19 and 20th Grand Slam and is halfway to becoming just the third man in history to complete a calendar Grand Slam.

Left-handed Draper, playing just his fifth match on the main tour, saved seven of seven break points in the opener to stun his Serbian opponent – and the All England Club crowd that was at 50 per cent capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Djokovic had not played a singles match on grass since his dramatic five-set victory over Roger Federer in the 2019 final and it took a while to find his feet back on the surface – literally.

He slipped twice during the first set while shooting frustrated looks towards his coaches. "I don't recall falling that many times on the court," he admitted afterwards.

It was the first set that Djokovic had dropped in the Wimbledon first round since 2010 but the 34-year-old had no plans to become only the third defending champion to lose in the opening round.

The teenager struggled to make any impression on the Djokovic serve – the Serbian hit 24 aces in all – and the top seed clinched victory after exactly two hours.

Draper, though, was given another standing ovation when he walked off court and can be proud of his efforts on the biggest of stages against one of the greatest tennis players of all-time.

"He definitely deserves a round of applause," said Djokovic. "Only 19, I haven't seen him play too much prior to Queen's where he won a couple of matches against high ranked players. He has done extremely well, he deserves credit and I wish him all the best for the rest of his career."

Djokovic will play either South Africa's Kevin Anderson, who he beat in the 2018 final, or Chilean qualifier Marcelo Barrios Vera in the second round.

In the women's draw, second seed Aryna Sabalenka made short work of Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu to seal her place in the next round with a  6-1, 6-4 victory.

The withdrawal of Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep from the grass court Grand Slam, which was cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meant world No 4 Sabalenka is at her highest seeding at a major.

With persistent rain preventing play on the outside courts, the Belarusian kicked off the Championships under the closed roof on Court One and set the green grass on fire with her aggressive tennis.

"In the beginning I was really nervous to open the Wimbledon and also be first playing on first court," Sabalenka told reporters.

"I was nervous a little bit because I haven't played in the stadiums at Wimbledon. The atmosphere there was unbelievable."

Sabalenka will take on either American qualifier Danielle Lao or British wildcard Katie Boulter in the second round.

American Sloane Stephens defeated two-times Wimbledon champion and 10th seed Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-4 on Centre Court.

It was the 28-year-old's first appearance on grass since a third-round defeat to Johanna Konta here two years ago, but the former US Open champion quickly hit her stride and never looked back.

Spanish 11th seed Garbine Muguruza strolled into the next round after smashing Fiona Ferro of France 6-0, 6-1 in 49 minutes.

epa09307907 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus celebrates winning against Monica Niculescu of Romania during their first round match at the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament in Wimbledon, Britain, 28 June 2021.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA
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