Djokovic cruises past Britain’s Ward in straight sets

James Ward recovered from an "ugly start" to give world number one Novak Djokovic a decent test to start the defence of his Wimbledon title.

Novak Djokovic applauds the Centre Court crowd after his victory
Novak Djokovic applauds the Centre Court crowd after his victory

On paper it was a complete mismatch between the world number one, a man who holds all four grand slam trophies and has not lost at Wimbledon since 2013, and a British wild card ranked 177.

It looked that way as Djokovic romped through the first nine games but, having got on the board, Ward pushed his illustrious opponent hard and it took the top seed two hours and three minutes to clinch a 6-0 7-6 (7/3) 6-4 victory.

"It was an ugly start," said Ward. "The more the games go on, you start panicking, especially against a guy who is making so many balls. Everything you hit is coming back.

"I'm proud of myself the way I turned it around because it could have been ugly."

Londoner Ward chose to see the positives from his draw even though his ranking will now drop further after he reached the third round last year.

And walking out on Centre Court for the opening match of the tournament is not something he will forget.

"Obviously it was an unbelievable day," said the 29-year-old.

"I've spent a bit of time at Wimbledon. Now I'm a member and I've been out on that court when no one's around, just to have a look.

"When it's full up and everyone is cheering for you, you're playing against the world number one, it's a day you remember for the rest of your life.

"I just didn't want to get back home tonight and regret anything. I think I made the most of my chance."

Having recovered from 3-0 down in the second set, Ward had three break points at 5-5 as Djokovic threw in a number of uncharacteristic errors.

But the world number one saved those, dominated the tie-break and then broke serve early in the decider.

It was a 29th successive slam victory for the remarkable Serbian, who will meet France's Adrian Mannarino in round two.

Djokovic had not played a competitive match since finally getting his hands on the French Open trophy three weeks ago so this was a first test of how having achieved tennis immortality would affect him going forward.

He said: "I think it was just a matter of time when James would win his first game. I knew that the reaction of the crowd, and his own reaction, would be the way it was.

"I maybe dropped the concentration a little bit. But the first part of the match was almost flawless, so I'm very pleased with the way I started Wimbledon."

Ward has had a difficult last 12 months. He is still trying to deal with the grief of losing his Australian coach Darren Tandy to cancer at the end of last year and positive results have been thin on the ground.

But he feels this performance can be a catalyst for better times ahead, saying: "Going forward, I think it's a good platform. I've seen what I can do against the world number one, especially when it started off really tough, to turn it around.

"You see a lot better players than me lose a lot easier than that in that sort of scenario. I'm happy with that. I take a lot from that."

Ward, meanwhile, risked the wrath of his fellow players, whose prize money is heading downwards with the pound, by revealing he voted to leave the European Union.

"I voted out," he said. "I'm not fussed about saying it. I'm happy with my decision. Everyone needs to stop panicking and we'll be fine."

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