Though his early steps were occasionally shaky ones, Novak Djokovic embarked safely enough in his bid to become the first Wimbledon champion to successfully defend his title since Roger Federer in 2007 by recording a straight-sets victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, in one hour 38 minutes on Centre Court.
Perhaps it was because Djokovic had opted not to play in a pre-Wimbledon warm-up tournament, but the Serb's play was untypically wild and slovenly after he had held serve confidently to love in the opening game. In his next service game the champion sprayed ground strokes long, wide and into the net, as well as perpetrating a double-fault, dropping serve embarrassingly by falling over on the baseline as Ferrero walloped a forehand winner.
Ferrero, of course, was not the normal run of first round opposition since, like Djokovic, he has known the honour of being world No.1, albeit for just eight weeks nine years ago following his only Grand Slam success at the 2003 French Open. However, and like many of his compatriots, grass is the 32-year-old Spaniard's least favourite surface. Having missed the 2011 Championships because of a shoulder injury, this was Ferrero's 11th Wimbledon, where his best performances have been quarter-final places in 2007 and again in 2009.
But as Djokovic eventually found his feet the winners began to flow, along with the aces from a right arm which sported blue tape on the elbow. Once he had gone a set up in 32 minutes it was clear there would only be one winner, a fact which Djokovic underlined with more of the sort of tennis which has seen him in possession of three of the four Grand Slam singles titles.
Still he remained some way short of his very best, though he was able to get away with some indifferent play against an opponent whose distaste for the surface was more evident as the match progressed. Even so, Ferrero was able to induce errors and once puffed out his cheeks in frustration at missing a break point which would have seen him pull level at 4-4 in the second set.
But the opportunity slid away, Djokovic held serve and then took the next two games to go two sets in front. This was virtually the signal for Ferrero to concede that the day was not to be his as the champion rushed into a 5-0 third set lead with a trio of aces and then finished it off with his 13th ace to a standing ovation. But he knows well enough that he must improve another, less impressive statistic in his forthcoming matches. He was guilty of 19 unforced errors. As Boris Becker commented, "Too many for my liking."
Afterwards Djokovic called his participation as defending champion in the opening Centre Court match "a unique feeling", adding, "You feel the tradition and history. So many legends have won trophies here that made them big tennis stars. This is the most respected tournament in the world, Centre Court feels like a theatre, the crowd have great knowledge about tennis."