Novak Djokovic survives scare as Carlos Alcaraz comes back to win five-setter

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<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

As a six-times champion here Novak Djokovic has experienced most things it is possible to feel at Wimbledon. But when he stepped on to court today he did so with a little trepidation, unsure what to expect from himself after not playing any grass-court warm-up tournaments and unsure what to expect from the crowd.

Related: Thanasi Kokkinakis ‘can’t wait’ to meet Novak Djokovic after maiden Wimbledon win

His much-publicised decision not to be vaccinated against Covid‑19 was not well received in Britain, with many asking if he should even be allowed to play. The dropping of Covid-19 restrictions in Britain ended that discussion and on Monday, he enjoyed a genuinely warm reception as he made his way out for the defence of his title.

The top seed needed their support, too, as he shook off some rust with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win against Soonwoo Kwon of Korea, setting up a meeting with the talented Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis.

“I was very pleasantly surprised, I mean, in a positive way,” Djokovic said. “I felt support. Of course, the crowd was engaged in the match. They supported both players. I thought they were very fair to me. I enjoyed my time very much on the court.”

The Centre Court crowd applaud Novak Djokovic as he steps out on court for his first round match against Soonwoo Kwon.
The Centre Court crowd applaud Novak Djokovic as he steps out on court for his first round match against Soonwoo Kwon. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

With no points on offer at this year’s Championships – the ATP’s and WTA’s response to Wimbledon’s decision not to allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete – Djokovic will slide down the rankings, win or lose this fortnight. It is a situation he accepts, just as he does the fact that, unless the US entry rules change, he will not be allowed into the country and will therefore be unable to play the US Open, unless he chooses to be vaccinated, something he says he will not do.

“I guess that motivates me more to try to make the most out of this tournament,” the 35-year-old said. “I’ll see how it goes, I guess, after Wimbledon. Not much time after Wimbledon before US Open. I’m hoping some things can change and that I’ll be able to go and compete. I would want to. But it is what it is at the moment. My thoughts and attention is here.”

Djokovic admitted he was not at his best in his win against Kwon but he got the job done without too much drama. The victory was his 80th at Wimbledon and he is now the only man in the Open era to win 80 or more matches at each of the four grand slam tournaments.

Carlos Alcaraz is at the other end of the scale, when it comes to experience. At 19 he is the youngest man in the draw and competing in the main draw at Wimbledon for only a second time but he is already a crowd favourite, the Spaniard thrilling fans on No 1 Court with a five-set win against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz returns the ball to Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff during their men’s singles match on day one of Wimbledon.
Carlos Alcaraz defeated Jan-Lennard Struff in a five-set battle. Photograph: Alberto Pezzali/AP

The big-serving Struff led two sets to one but it was the serve of Alcaraz, who has shot up the rankings this year to be the No 5 seed, which stood out, 30 aces getting him out of trouble and into the second round. “Starting Wimbledon in five sets, starting the same as last year, means I like to play on grass,” he said, smiling. “I don’t want to leave the court.”

Related: Cameron Norrie sees off rain delays and Pablo Andújar to reach second round

The third seed Casper Ruud, the runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the French Open this month, won a match at Wimbledon for the first time with a 7-6, 7-6, 6-2 victory against Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain but the No 7 seed Hubert Hurkacz, a semi‑finalist last year, endured a shock defeat by another Spaniard, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Davidovich Fokina, a former junior champion here, looked to have blown it when he went for a tweener at triple match point in the third set, only to be hauled back by Hurkacz, who then led 5-3 in the fifth. But the Spaniard broke back and came from 7-4 down in the deciding tiebreak to win it 10-8, his smile more of relief than joy.

Marin Cilic has pulled out of Wimbledon after revealing he has contracted Covid-19.

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