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Novak Djokovic hits ground running with masterclass

by Michael Beattie
Monday 23 June 2014

How do you beat the top seed at Wimbledon in the first round?

It’s a question Andrey Golubev would have wrestled with since Friday, when the draw lined him up against Novak Djokovic. Sufficed to say, the world No.56 did not happen upon an answer in the face of a grass court master class from the 2011 champion, who wrapped up a 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 victory in just 87 minutes.

Djokovic eschewed his usual grass court preparations for a holiday in Ibiza, a welcome chance to recharge after another gruelling – and ultimately unsuccessful – assault on the Roland Garros title missing from his Grand Slam collection. For the third year in a row, he fell to Rafael Nadal; for a second time, he fell in the final.

“Last year’s semi-final took maybe even more emotionally out of me,” Djokovic admitted. “This year, again, it was a disappointing loss. Got a bit closer. But tennis requires a player to just recover and come back to the court very quickly in a matter of a week or two, so you don't have much time to think about what's happened.”

In that sense, Golubev was the perfect opponent for Djokovic, who was quickly into his stride on his return to Centre Court. The 26-year-old is equal parts weaponised and wayward, allowing the Serbian to sharpen his reflexes against some stinging drives while picking up plenty of cheap points into the bargain.

And yet, there was method in Golubev’s approach. He can be trigger-happy and can be deadly when timing the ball well, but he showed patience and craft, trying to build points and work his way to the net. However laudable, it was a flawed strategy when it mattered: without the consistency to back it up, Golubev either gave up cheap points or played into Djokovic’s hands. In contrast, the world No.2 was ruthless, holding to love in the opening game before breaking the Kazakhstani’s serve at the first attempt and racing through the first set, sealing a third break with a trademark backhand down the line.

Little changed in the second set, and talk of records began when Djokovic reached 5-0. Nobody has delivered a ‘triple bagel’ at the Championships since 1987, but Golubev avoided that fate with his first service hold of the match. Still, the damage was done. Djokovic was too good in every department. His movement was slick – at one stage in the first set, he slipped midcourt while chasing a short ball only to recover and win the point – and his ball-striking showed little signs of rust. Golubev had no answer to the Serbian’s serve, failing to bring up a single break point.

Leading by two sets after little more than 45 minutes, Djokovic eased off, and a break in the penultimate game was all he needed to seal an emphatic first-round victory. Tougher tests lie ahead, but as statements of intent go, however, the world No.2 underlined exactly why he has been given top billing at the Championships.

“Coming into Wimbledon with no official matches, it always gives you an extra reason to get that commitment and focus from the start and try to play as best as you can,” Djokovic said. “You know, in the third, credit to him coming back, playing some good points. But generally it was a match that I had control over, and [I’m] just happy with the performance.”

He was also happy to move on from his last appearance on Centre Court, across the net from Andy Murray. Having lost five of his last six Grand Slam finals, he arrived at this year’s Championships without a Grand Slam title to his name for the first time since 2010.

“He deserved to win because in the important moments he was the better player,” Djokovic said of Murray’s 2013 triumph. “Yes, I haven't played the way I wanted to play or maybe the way I played throughout the tournament. But, you know, he rose up to the occasion. For him it was his second Wimbledon final, so many expectations, pressure to be the first British man to win a Wimbledon title after many years. He was the more stable player and he deserved to win.”

Up next for Djokovic is Radek Stepanek, his friend and a wily opponent on grass. “We just actually practiced on Thursday before the event started,” Djokovic said. “This win against Andy [Murray] at Queen's must have given him a lot of confidence coming into Wimbledon. I always thought that his game is very good for this surface because he has touch, he anticipates well, he comes to the net. He's one of the very few serve-and-volley players nowadays, and has this flat forehand – very good game for this surface.”

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