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