WIMBLEDON, England – Novak Djokovic brought some extra sports equipment to Wimbledon for the opening match at Centre Court on Monday: a golf club.
And once he started playing tennis, the tournament's defending champion and top-seeded man probably wished he could take a mulligan.
As something of an inside joke with a sponsor, Djokovic pulled a kid's golf club out of his racket bag and put it on the sideline when he arrived to face 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero at the grass-court Grand Slam's main stadium. Then, after a bit of a slow and nervous beginning that included an early break, Djokovic righted himself and beat Ferrero 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the second round at the All England Club.
"It was a little funny thing," said Djokovic, whose racket maker gave him a bag that has posts to make it stand like a golf bag. "Being creative, that's all. But fans corrected me right away. They said, 'This is not a golf course.' I said, 'OK.'"
Coming off a loss to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final two weeks ago that ended the Serb's 27-match winning streak at major tournaments, Djokovic started out shakily against Ferrero, who was briefly ranked No. 1 nine years ago and is now 38th.
Serving at 30-love in the third game, Djokovic hit a bad overhead into the net, eliciting some murmuring in the stands, as if fans turned to neighbors to say, "See? Even he does that!" Moments later, Djokovic had the whole court open but pushed a forehand long for another unforced error to set up a break point, drawing more murmuring. He twirled his racket and fiddled with the strings, a bemused look on his face.
Djokovic came up with a service winner to get to deuce, but there soon would be more mistakes, including a double-fault, and a total of four break points. The last, set up by Djokovic's forehand into the net, was converted by Ferrero with a forehand winner. The shot caught Djokovic leaning the wrong way behind the baseline, and as he dropped behind 2-1, he slipped and nearly did an awkward split.
"Can happen like this, 'cause you are not in the rhythm of the match, starting the tournament," Ferrero observed later. "Today, I take the break very early. But he (broke) me again, very fast."
Indeed, he did.
Djokovic broke right away to 2-all, thanks in part to three perfect forehand winners, and again to 5-3, before serving out the set, closing it with a 92 mph second-serve ace.
And that, pretty much, was that.
Djokovic moved onto a second-round match against 48th-ranked Ryan Harrison of Bradenton, Fla., a 20-year-old who beat Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
Djokovic has won four of the past six Grand Slam tournaments to move atop the rankings and elbow his way into what had been a two-men-at-the-top stretch of dominance by currently No. 2-ranked Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer.
That trio has combined to win 28 of the past 29 major titles.
"There is not anymore, I think, advantages in ... my favor, Rafa's, Roger's, whenever we are playing each other on any surface," Djokovic said. "We're all kind of equal, in a way. I think we have equal, 50-50, chances to win."
With Djokovic getting the honor, as defending champion, of playing first on Centre Court, six-time Wimbledon champion Federer was shifted over to Court 1 on Monday and beat 43rd-ranked Albert Ramos of Spain 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.
Nadal, a two-time title winner at the All England Club, is scheduled to face 80th-ranked Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil on Centre Court on Tuesday.
While Nadal has to put in some work on court, Djokovic can rest up.
Or maybe play 18 holes.
"There are a lot of golf courses here. Royal Wimbledon Golf Course is really nice. We do get to play on off days," Djokovic said. "Not really good at it, but enjoying the walk in the park."
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