Top seed Novak Djokovic overcame a dogged challenge from 81st-ranked Korean Kwon Soon-woo and his own grasscourt rustiness to reach the Wimbledon second round with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory on Monday.
The defending champion, bidding for his fourth Wimbledon title in a row and his seventh overall, looked out-of-sorts at times against Kwon, who brought a lively mixture of tennis, from booming forehands to delicate drop-shots, onto Centre Court.
Djokovic had not played a grasscourt warm-up tournament and he admitted that did not help his game against a tough opponent, 11 years his junior.
“I didn’t have any lead-up or preparation tournaments prior to this so you’re always going to feel a bit less comfortable than you would like, particularly if you’re playing against someone as talented as Kwon who stays close to the line and hits really clean,” he said.
“It wasn’t easy. I had to put some variety in the game. The serve helped but at this level one or two shots decide a winner.”
The 24-year-old Korean broke Djokovic’s serve in the fourth game of the second set and went on to win it with a drop-shot and a big serve.
But the Serb, aiming to win a 21st Grand Slam title, recovered enough of his trademark consistency to see off the challenge.
He secured victory with an ace on his first match point and will next meet either Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia or Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak.
It was Djokovic’s 80th Wimbledon win and he became the only man to have won 80 matches at all four Grand Slam tournaments.
“Now we have got to 80, let’s get to 100,” said Djokovic, a 20-time Grand Slam title winner.
The Serb, who won three Grand Slams last year, missed out the Australian Open in January after being deported because he was not vaccinated against Covid-19.
He lost in the French Open quarter-finals to eventual champion Rafa Nadal who is seeded second at Wimbledon.
The first player to reach the second round was Alison Riske. The 28th-seeded American defeated Ylena In-Albon of Switzerland 6-2, 6-4.
Other seeded women who advanced were third seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and 29th-seeded Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine. Kalinina will face another Ukrainian, Lesia Tsurenko, in the second round.
Tsurenko’s match was halted for about 10 minutes when her opponent, British wild-card entry Jodie Burrage, stopped to help a ballboy who was feeling faint.
Burrage gave the boy a sports drink and a nutritional gel before someone in the crowd passed her some chewy candy. The boy was soon helped off court.
Russian and Belarusian players have already been banned by the All England Club in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
But now, by a quirk of the draw, Kalinina and Tsurenko will get the chance to hammer home their country’s ongoing plight to a global audience.
“It’s another way to show that we are a strong nation and to remind the world that we are still here, we still have war,” said Tsurenko. “We need help. We still need help to win this war.”
Meanwhile, Jabeur powered past Mirjam Bjorklund 6-1, 6-3. The Tunisian, a quarter-finalist last year, showed no signs of being hampered by the knee injury that forced her out of the Eastbourne tune-up event.
Emma Raducanu marked her Centre Court debut with a 6-4, 6-4 win over 10th seed Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium. Britain’s US Open champion was playing her first match since retiring from a match due to a rib injury three weeks ago.
“It’s an incredibly special feeling to be back at Wimbledon,” said the British number one, who will take on France’s Caroline Garcia for a place in the last 32.
“I felt the support the minute I walked out and walking around the grounds. I want to say thank you to everyone who has been here supporting, through the tough times as well. It’s all worth it to play on Centre Court and come through with a win.”
French Open finalist Casper Ruud won his opening match on Court 12. The third-seeded Norwegian defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (11-9), 6-2.
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina stunned seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz, a semi-finalist last year, 7-6(7-4), 6-4, 5-7, 2-6, 7-6(10-8) to secure his first win at Wimbledon on his second appearance.
Briton Cameron Norrie, the ninth seed, beat Pablo Andujar 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.
Also in the men’s draw, 22nd seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 23rd-seeded Frances Tiafoe of the United States and 30th seed Tommy Paul of the United States advanced.