Novak Djokovic raced to a 6-0, 3-0 lead, then held firm the rest of the way as he opened his bid for a third straight Wimbledon title and fifth straight Grand Slam championship with a straight-set win over Britain’s James Ward on Monday.
In keeping with tradition, Djokovic played the first match on Centre Court as the men’s defending champion, and he came through 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in just over two hours to extend his Grand Slam winning streak to 29 matches.
“This is probably the most unique experience in tennis playing as the defending champion in Wimbledon — untouched grass, first match, 1 o’clock Monday,” Djokovic said. “It’s really special to feel this tradition and history, to come back to the cradle of our sport. It was a wonderful experience.”
Djokovic holds all four Grand Slam titles. Having won the Australian Open and French Open, he’s also seeking to become the first man to capture the first three legs of a calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver swept all four majors in 1969.
Djokovic looked right back at home Monday as he ran off the first nine games against Ward, ranked 177th in the world and granted a wild-card entry into the grass-court Grand Slam.
“Not much to say about my game, it was really flawless. I felt great,” Djokovic said of the early going.
When Ward finally won a game, hitting a service winner to make it 3-1 in the second set, the Briton threw up his arm in mock triumph and basked in a loud ovation from the home crowd. Ward broke in the next game and the two players went to a tiebreaker, which Djokovic dominated to reassert control.
“Nerves kicked in for James, obviously, but he started playing better, second part of the second set and it was very close,” Djokovic said. “It wasn’t easy to break his serve.” – AP
Five-time women’s champion Venus Williams, meanwhile, had a stiffer test, overcoming Donna Vekic of Croatia 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the opening match on Court 1.
The 36-year-old Williams, the oldest woman in the draw and playing in her 19th Wimbledon, saved two set points when the 20-year-old Vekic failed to serve out the first set at 6-5.
In the second, Vekic had a break chance to go up 5-3, but squandered the chance. The eighth-seeded Williams broke for 5-4 and served out the match.
“I felt like I couldn’t hit a winner against her today, she ran everything down and played amazing tennis,” Williams said. “The first set, there were some hairy moments there, down some set points, but I guess that’s where experience sets in. I started to feel like maybe I had the chance to win the most important points.”
Williams made her first appearance at Wimbledon in 1997. Her career has been slowed in recent years by Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that can cause joint pain and saps energy.
“You only live once,” she said. “You have to enjoy, do it while you’re fairly young, and I guess somehow I’m still fairly young. You just have to live in the moment, and when it’s over, it’s over.”
In the tournament’s first big surprise, former top-ranked Ana Ivanovic was beaten 6-2, 7-5 by Ekaterina Alexandrova, a Russian qualifier ranked 223rd and making her Grand Slam debut.
The 23rd-seeded Ivanovic blamed an injured right wrist, and said she won’t play between now and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.
Among the seeded men who advanced were former U.S. Open champion and No. 9 Marin Cilic, No. 13 David Ferrer and No. 23 Ivo Karlovic. Sam Querrey, an American seeded No. 28, overcame Lukas Rosol in a marathon match that went to 12-10 in the fifth set.
The first seeded player ousted was No. 21 Philipp Kohlschreiber, who fell in four sets to Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Kevin Anderson, a South African seeded 20th, lost later in five sets to Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in a match that lasted more than 3½ hours.
Women’s winners included No. 9 Madison Keys, No. 14 Samantha Stosur and former finalist Sabine Lisicki, while No. 25 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania was ousted in straight sets by Carina Witthoeft of Germany.