A lit­tle bird tells us . . . Djokovic is in cham­pion form af­ter all

Top seed plays within him­self to dis­patch Kohlschreiber in three sets . . . and another ti­tle bid takes flight

The Herald - Sport - - WIMBLEDON - STU­ART BATH­GATE

THE score said it all. A 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 vic­tory in­di­cated that Novak Djokovic was con­sis­tently bet­ter than Philipp Kohlschreiber, but not by much – and cer­tainly by noth­ing like the mar­gin he could achieve at his best against the Ger­man.

Nonethe­less, while the de­fend­ing cham­pion’s level of play fell some way be­low his finest, this was still close to an ideal open­ing to his cam­paign. With seven rounds to ne­go­ti­ate in 14 days, you do not want too many lengthy bat­tles; nor do you want to have it all your own way.

In­stead, you want to be stretched. Not any­where close to break­ing point, but suf­fi­ciently to let you know the state of your game – some­thing that was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to Djokovic given that he had not played a com­pet­i­tive match on grass com­ing into Wim­ble­don.

What was es­pe­cially im­pres­sive, given Kohlschreiber’s sta­tus as the high­est un­seeded player in the draw, was the speed with which the top seed found his range and his rhythm. True, he was bro­ken early in the first set, but by that time he was al­ready a break up and on his way to es­tab­lish­ing an ad­van­tage which he would never re­motely look like re­lin­quish­ing.

Even one of those mi­nor fac­tors that can dis­tract the best play­ers did noth­ing to per­turb Djokovic. A small bird turned up on court dur­ing the first game, and, although chased away by a ball­boy, punc­tu­ated the match with pe­ri­odic reap­pear­ances.

Where was Ru­fus the Harris hawk when you needed him most? Wim­ble­don’s of­fi­cial bird-scarer usu­ally keeps the pi­geon pop­u­la­tion away, but per­haps smaller species – this was ei­ther a spar­row, a wag­tail or a blue tit, no­body was quite sure which – are be­neath his dig­nity. What­ever, rather than be­come ir­ri­tated by this cheeky mon­key of a bird, Djokovic chose to view it as a good omen, as he ex­plained later.

“Where I come from, from cap­i­tal of Ser­bia, there’s a spe­cial spar­row bird called djivjum,” he said. “I be­lieve this bird came all the way from Bel­grade to help me. But I was feel­ing for its safety, hon­estly.

“At one point Kohlschreiber was serv­ing, the bird landed lit­er­ally very close to the side­line. She stayed there un­til I won that point. So I said, ‘Be my guest, stay around, if you want’.

“It was funny to see that. The spar­row bird from Bel­grade re­ally stayed for the en­tire match.”

Kohlschreiber hung around for the en­tire match too, in the sense that he main­tained a con­sis­tency of his own, just a few notches be­low that of his op­po­nent. “I thought I started the match re­ally well, break­ing Philipp, los­ing the serve right away,” Djokovic con­tin­ued.

“All three sets were de­cided in the 10th game. Af­ter I broke him to win the first set and the sec­ond set, it was the same sit­u­a­tion. I felt like in the third, as well. That’s where maybe I can have a men­tal edge over him.

“I thought re­turn was ex­cep­tion­ally good from my side. Serv­ing ef­fi­ciently. Just over­all a great per­for­mance against a qual­ity op­po­nent.”

Kohlschreiber agreed with that anal­y­sis. “Hon­estly I think the only lit­tle, lit­tle, lit­tle chance was when I had the chance to go up a break in the first set,” he said. “I missed quite a good op­por­tu­nity pretty close.

“Af­ter that he was, I think, in his mode. He was win­ning his ser­vice games eas­ier, more chances. Over­all I think he played just a bet­ter match than I did.”

The only thing all af­ter­noon that threat­ened to knock Djokovic off his stride or out of his mode came dur­ing the post-match press con­fer­ence, when he was again asked about the al­le­ga­tions of il­licit in-match coach­ing which have been lev­elled against him and his coach, Boris Becker. “I’m just try­ing to fig­ure out what you want to achieve with this story,” he said af­ter be­ing ques­tioned about the pos­si­ble use of hand sig­nals from Becker, or

I be­lieve this bird came all the way from Bel­grade to help me. She stayed un­til I won a point so I said ‘Be my guest, stay around if you want’

shouts in Ser­bian from other mem­bers of his coach­ing team.

“I don’t un­der­stand what you re­ally want. Do you want to say I’m cheat­ing, my team? I’m re­ally try­ing to fig­ure out what’s be­hind this. I mean, are you ask­ing only me or are you ask­ing other play­ers, as well?

“There are cer­tain ways of com­mu­ni­ca­tion which is en­cour­age­ment, which is sup­port, which is un­der­stand­ing the mo­ment when to clap or say some­thing that can lift my energy up, that can kind of mo­ti­vate me to play a cer­tain point. But it’s all within the rules.

“If I am break­ing any rules or my team does, I would be fined for that, right? The chair um­pire would say, ‘coach­ing penalty’, and that’s it. Or the su­per­vi­sor, or who­ever.

“I think it has hap­pened in my life, no doubt about that. Of course, I ac­cept the fact if my coach does say some­thing that is against the rules, that I have no com­plaint about the code vi­o­la­tion that I get for coach­ing. So, I mean, I’m com­pletely fine by that.”

Djokovic should also be com­pletely fine in the sec­ond round to­mor­row, when he meets Jarkko Niem­i­nen. The Finn, who won through in five sets against Lley­ton He­witt, has a sim­i­lar style to Kohlschreiber, and the re­sult, too, should bear a close re­sem­blance to this one. If any­thing, Djokovic will progress with even less dis­com­fort than he did in round one.

Pic­ture: PA Wire

TAKE A BOW: Novak Djokovic plays to the crowd at the All Eng­land Club dur­ing his straight-sets open­ing win.

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