June 27, 2016
Novak Djokovic didn’t have it all his own way during his opening match of Wimbledon 2016.
And his compatriot Ana Ivanovic was knocked out by the Russian qualifier, Ekaterina Alexandrova.
The 23rd seed was stunned by her unfancied opponent in the opening set – and blown away 6-2 before she had even found her feet.
The 21-year-old started strongly in the second too. Then Ivanovic called upon the experience that had once made her one of the finest players in the world.
The Serb soon looked ready to level and the crowd began to look forward to a third set.
Instead it was Alexandrova who found fresh impetus to close out the match 7-5 and register the first shock of the 2016 Championships.
Djokovic, meanwhile, had won the first set 6-0 against brave Brit James Ward – and had done so in some style.
The champion couldn’t have expected Ward to take him all the way to a tie-break in the second set. Not after dishing up that early bagel.
Even though the British number 5 hadn’t played badly in the first half-an-hour, Djokovic had been so imperious that he seemed untroubled by his opponent’s fluid strokeplay.
That changed somewhat in the second set. Ward was determined to go down fighting at the very least and loosened up nicely.
Gradually he realised that he could hold his own against the very best if he believed in himself.
The Centre Court spectators, who had already been appreciative of Ward’s early efforts, burst into rapturous applause as they sensed they were to be treated to a proper contest after all.
Indeed, if the home favourite had held his nerve in the breaker when it mattered, who knows what might have happened.
But Djokovic raised his game for the big points, as all great champions do. And from that moment, the result was almost as inevitable as it had seemed before they began.
Before we knew it, Novak had built a 6-2 lead, eventually closing out the breaker and the set 7-3.
Who knows whether such stiff resistance from Ward might help his fellow Brit Andy Murray in some small way much further down the line, when energy reserves are so important?
At least Ward showed that Djokovic is not unplayable, that you can win games and take him close for extended periods if you believe in yourself.
Unfortunately for the underdog, the disappointment of losing the tie-break seemed to dent his momentum, and Djokovic was back in cruise control for the third set, which he closed out 6-4.
Ward had made new friends and fans on Centre Court, however. And the fans gave him a loud round of applause as he left the stage, his head held high.
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