The top seed and now World No.4 Novak Djokovic breezed through an opening set before facing a real challenge from the American player Donald Young, but eventually survived in straight sets. Djokovic had looked impeccable in his opening round against Vasek Pospisil and has played only two competitive matches on grass this year, but is in dire need of the feel of a competitive ball ready for Wimbledon in a week’s time.
Djokovic expressed his contentment of having a real battle in that second set when he talked to press afterwards: “It was. I enjoyed it, especially in the second set. The first set went my way and I played good. Felt good on the court. Had some break point opportunities early in the second set. Haven’t capitalised on those. It was very close second set. Obviously could have gone easily his way. But it hasn’t and I’m just glad the way I kind of held my composure, my nerves. You know, this is the kind of match situations that I was looking forward to have, and I’m glad it happened today and managed to overcome that.”
Djokovic did what you’d expect from a top player. Wait for your moment and play your best tennis when it really matters towards the conclusion of a set. The Serb broke first for a *4-2 lead then with a perfect forehand down the line winner on the baseline, he took the set with a double break. The real test came in the second. After Djokovic held three break points to effectively take the match out of Young’s hands, but the failure to push the envelope allowed Young to keep the set competitive. The American, who made the Queen’s quarterfinals last week, served for the set at *5-4, held a set point in that game and later in the tiebreak, but couldn’t win the important point to steal the set. Djokovic, again like any other top player, punished him for it and took the match on his fourth match point to win it 11-9 in the tiebreak. Djokovic survived his first grass court challenge, which is ideal, because not everything is going to be plain sailing in Wimbledon. These matches set Djokovic up for the challenges that lie in wake in the next Grand Slam over a best-of-Five format.
Speaking of Grand Slams and the physicality of playing a major, Djokovic talked about the difficulty of winning seven matches at a Grand Slam: “Well, I have faced these kinds of circumstances before where maybe you’re not at your best physically. You have to work your kind of way through and figure out what’s working for you best in terms of preparation, recovery. Obviously at times it’s not possible. Sometimes those circumstances are such for various reasons, but, you know, we have learned how to play through pain. Professional athletes are very familiar with pain on a daily basis, basically, whether it’s just a small stiffness, a tightness, a soreness, whatever you want to call it.”
Djokovic and Murray have split the last four Majors at Wimbledon. Murray is on two Wimbledon titles, while Djokovic has managed to win three titles at SW19, winning in 2011, 2014 and 2015, but why do these two players dominate on grass so much? What is it about their respective games that make them so hard to beat on this surface? The Serbian No.1 tried to assess and explain how both their games match up on grass: “Well, for me, over the years, hard court was most successful surface, bit for some reason, you know, I made a lot of good results in Wimbledon, especially. I think this surface, you know makes us baseline players kind of move in a little bit more, you know, try to take the short balls, come to the net, put some variety. I think because of the grass I also learned how to play a better slice and, you know, and also serve and volley. I’m not a natural serve and volleyer but it’s important to have that.”
Djokovic even discussed the way both Murray and Djokovic, who both contested the 2013 Wimbledon final, move on this surface: “There is a lot about movement. I think both Andy and I have, you know, over the years worked a lot and perfected our movement on any surface, as a matter of fact, especially on grass, and we try to put a lot of balls back in play.”
Games can fly by in an instance on grass when facing the big servers, but Djokovic even felt that Murray and Djokovic both get more returns into play on a grass court and that makes the difference: “But I think both Andy and I have managed to return a lot of balls back in play over the years in Wimbledon and also have good anticipation on the court. That gains a lot of space, a lot of time and good positioning on the court.”
With the rain interrupting a lot of the week, we wondered whether Djokovic would truly get that match practice and time on grass to be better prepared for Wimbledon. With two good wins against two good players, now Djokovic is just two steps away from a first title in Eastbourne.