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Djokovic enthralls under the Centre Court roof

Novak Djokovic hits a forehand in his match on Centre Court.
by Kate Battersby
Wednesday 27 June 2012

With the Centre Court roof still closed and Royal guests departed, Novak Djokovic made a workman-like job of his second round match this evening. The defending champion and No.1 seed saw off the young American Ryan Harrison, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 56 minutes, in a match with entertainment value belied by the straight sets scoreline.

Harrison – “Harry” to his friends, so the ATP World Tour media guide has it – is a new name to many, arriving at the All England Club on a career-high ranking of 48. Yet to go beyond the second round in any Grand Slam, the 20-year-old is nonetheless useful on grass, having earned that new ranking by warming up for Wimbledon at Eastbourne where he reached the semi-finals. Never having played on the Centre Court before, of course, to him the closed roof was as new and unfamiliar as the legendary arena itself. Djokovic, by contrast, is an old hand at playing under the roof here. His matches beneath it include his 2010 joust with Olivier Rochus when the Serb grasped victory two minutes before 11pm, setting the record for late night play at Wimbledon.

With this match beginning a little before 8pm, it was never quite going to equal that mark. But Harrison showed some great touches early in the first set, earning roars of approval from the crowd. Alas, his brightest game was such a seesaw affair that it was also the one in which he was broken. At 2-2 he had a moment in the metaphorical sun, sprinting to the net to reach a ball which would have been beyond many, and then passing Djokovic crosscourt with a forehand. The champion challenged, and when HawkEye vindicated the original call, applauded his opponent. Next point Harrison was brought down to earth with a double fault. Then came glory again – a long testing rally concluding when Harrison left Djokovic stranded on the baseline with a total wrongfooter. But only seconds after that, the American send a wild forehand way long for break point, and then Djokovic controlled the rally to press home the advantage. From there he made short work of the set.

The crowd had warmed hugely to Harrison, and their excitement was palpable when Djokovic double-faulted at 2-3 for 0-40. But, in what became a 12-minute game, the fates conspired against Harrison. Those three break points, and three more again, came and went with not one of them sticking. Perhaps feeling the mental bruise, Harrison promptly dropped his own serve next game. Djokovic, playing with strapping supporting his right elbow, did not let the set slip from his grasp.

But Harrison is an interesting player of whom great things are expected by his mentor, Nick Bollettieri. He remained full of spirit and no little invention until tiredness really set in at 4-4. A double fault sandwiched by two unforced errors gave Djokovic three break points, and he converted with a lovely touch at the net. It was the killer blow. Harrison lost the match, but by the manner of his play he won a lot of friends.

“The match was much more difficult than the scoreline suggested,” agreed Djokovic afterwards. “I was in trouble in the second set and it could easily have gone the other way. Ryan was serving fantastic. It was a close match because he performed really well but I got the crucial breaks in every set and that was enough to win.”

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