June 29, 2015
On the face of it, Novak Djokovic had a relatively easy day. His 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber was as straightforward as he could have hoped for against a notoriously tricky customer.
But look a little more closely and you saw a man under pressure. The clue came when he complained about the officiating on a point that ultimately gave him a 3-1 lead in the second set.
There was no “out” call when Kohlschreiber hit long, so Djokovic correctly referred the matter to Hawkeye. Sure enough, the ball was narrowly out and the Serb secured the game.
But it was the way the champion reacted that showed he is rattled inside. He mumbled and gestured and suggested it was just plain wrong that it had fallen to him to highlight the error from the line judge.
But isn’t that precisely what Hawkeye is for, Novak? Hasn’t everyone in tennis acknowledged that line judges are imperfect, just as players are imperfect? Did Djokovic have to make the line judge feel so uncomfortable with his antics?
On the following point, Djokovic fired the ball low into the net. How wonderful it would have been if the officials had risen collectively, then gestured and shaken their heads in mock despair and protest against the fact that the world number one had – horror of horrors – made a mistake too.
Of course, the officials are bigger than that; and so they didn’t react at all. Djokovic should be bigger than that too – particularly when he had control of the match already.
So what is going on in the mind of Novak Djokovic? The answer seems to be plenty – and not all of it good.
He admits to having had his confidence shaken by that Roland Garros final defeat to Stan Wawrinka (who also won in straight sets on Wimbledon’s first day). Then there is the controversy over Novak’s communication with his coach Boris Becker during matches.
Djokovic claims that they are doing nothing different to most teams, that he wants to draw a line under the whole matter, because if it carries on, pretty soon the authorities will see fit to place some kind of ‘James Bond’ next to Becker, to try to work out what the secret code is between coach and player. It’s a good line, but Novak is clearly annoyed at being subjected to extra exposure.
Then there are the comments from Andy Murray, who has suggested that he can beat Djokovic again on grass (as he has done twice already), partly because Novak can’t slide as far or as well into his shots on Wimbledon’s courts. The surface also allows Murray to attack more, though the Brit doesn’t want to reveal further tactical details.
People seem to be trying to do a psychological job on Djokovic, a man who desperately wants to be loved by the world and admired for his extraordinary tennis ability. Right now it might just seem to Novak as though everyone is ganging up against him. He is feeling the heat, and it shows.
How will he react for the rest of Wimbledon fortnight? Make Novak angry and you normally bring the best out of him. It will be fascinating to see if Murray is forced to eat his words, or whether Djokovic finally crumbles under increased pressure from all sides.
Elsewhere on day one, the big shock came when women’s ninth seed Carla Suarez Navarro was dumped out by the eighteen-year-old Jelena Ostapenko.
The Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova sailed through, while back in the men’s singles, Kei Nishikori needed five sets to defeat Simone Bolelli. Aussie legend Lleyton Hewitt said farewell to Wimbledon with a dramatic 9-11 final set defeat to Jarkko Nieminen. His fighting spirit will doubtless be missed