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Novak Djokovic slips on Wimbledon title defence but downs Jack Draper

Djokovic was left flat on the turf on numerous occasions (Picture: Getty)

Novak Djokovic made a winning start to his Wimbledon title defence on Centre Court, beating Jack Draper in four sets, but it was far from a straightforward afternoon’s work for the world No. 1.

Djokovic, who has won 19 Grand Slams including five Wimbledons, found himself lying flat on the grass on multiple occasions while he also let a set slip against the plucky British wildcard.

With relentless drizzle overshadowing the first day of The Championships, the Centre Court crowd was giddy with excitement when Draper came flying out of the blocks against the top seed, upsetting Djokovic’s rhythm with huge left-handed serves followed by crunching forehands.

This was a perhaps a day many will look back on as the moment Draper – widely tipped to be Britain’s next big thing in the men’s game – truly announced himself to his home audience, even if Djokovic, 34, ultimately cruised to a 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-2 victory in two hours.

Draper, a junior Wimbledon runner-up making his main draw debut, didn’t seem fazed by the occasion. Rather, he thrived as the roar of the crowd urged him on.

Britain's Jack Draper celebrates winning a point against Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their men's singles first round match on the first day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 28, 2021.

Draper impressed on his Wimbledon main draw debut (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Of course, this was a lesson for the world No. 253 in how far he still has to go to reach the top. The man on the other side of the net is the sport’s most immovable object in current times. Perhaps of all time.

He is expected to equal Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s joint men’s Grand Slam record by the end of this fortnight and few would bet against him going on to complete the Golden Slam – surpassing his greatest rivals in the process – by the end of 2021.

And while there may be the odd slip here and there, the end result always seems to be the same: game, set, match, Novak Djokovic.

Both players were warmly welcomed to Centre Court in what was the first Wimbledon for two years. The 2020 edition had, of course, been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and it was clear the crowd were itching for action.

Heroes of the pandemic, including NHS staff and vaccine developers, were warmly welcomed to the Royal Box, while Sir Captain Tom Moore’s daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, also received a standing ovation.

The first set was one of several slips – and costly ones for Djokovic.

Jack Draper of Great Britain falls in his Men's Singles First Round match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during Day One of The Championships - Wimbledon 2021 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 28, 2021 in London, England.

Draper also slipped on the turf (Picture: Getty)

First, he hit the turf hard on break point in the second game of the match. Knocked out of his groove, he not only failed to break but saw his serve broken in the following game as he dumped a forehand into the net.

Draper felt his bum slap against the grass shortly after but it was Djokovic who again endured the more costly moment, slipping when trying to recover the break as the young Brit kept his nose in front.

There was no slip in the eighth game when Draper saved four break points, the majority of which saw Djokovic denied by the 19-year-old’s booming lefty serve.

He made no mistake in holding his nerve to see out the opener – and was greeted with a Centre Court ovation similar to the one received by those who played a key role in developing the vaccine and Sir Captain Tom Moore’s daughter in the buildup to the match.

It was about as good as it got for the British wildcard. A double fault gifted Djokovic a break lead early in the second and the Serb began to find chinks in Draper’s armour.

Another slip from Djokovic in the fourth game did help Draper get on the board but a further break saw his momentum slip away.

Djokovic was ultimately too strong (Picture: AFP via Getty)

Draper was left flat on his backside again early in the third. He failed to put Djokovic away with a huge forehand and subsequent smash and he thudded against the luscious grass as the top seed wrong footed him with a cross-court forehand.

Still, he held from 0-30 down and let out a huge roar, much to the delight of the desperately hopeful British faithful.

But Djokovic is not a man who allows hope to linger for too long. Draper failed to connect with a smash on break point in the third game of the third set and couldn’t retrieve his air shot, with Djokovic punching his fist towards his box after converting.

The fourth set followed the now established pattern. Djokovic – who endured yet another fall – probed and wore down the Draper resistance.

It was a valiant effort from the young Brit but Djokovic remains the man to beat, no matter where he plays.

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