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NOVAK DJOKOVIC admitted he was ring rusty on his Wimbledon return, but he still set another record by battling past South Korean Kwon Soon-woo in four sets.
The six-time champion, who was playing his first official match on grass since winning last year’s final, found himself a break down in both the first two sets, dropping the second.
Kwon was proving an awkward opponent with his aggressive shot-making but Djokovic, as he has so many times in the past, eventually found a way through the world number 81.
It was an 80th match win at the Championships for Djokovic, making the 35-year-old the only player in history to win 80 matches at all four grand slam events.
After sealing a 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory with an ace, Djokovic said: “This court is truly special for me. It is the court I dreamed of playing and winning on, and all my dreams came true on this court.
“Credit to Kwon for playing some really high-quality tennis. Starting the tournament I didn’t have any lead-up tournaments or matches so you are always going to feel less comfortable than you would like to, especially against someone as talented as Kwon.
“It was really difficult to go through him so I had to figure out a way tactically to get in control of the points.
“I faced a break point in the third which, if he had won, the match could have gone a different way.
“I owe a lot to this sport. I’m not one of the youngsters anymore but the love and the flame for this sport still burns for me.
“At this stage of my career I try to save my best for the grand slams. Now we got to 80 wins, let’s get to 100.”
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina nearly wrote himself into Wimbledon folklore when an attempted trick shot almost led to one of the biggest collapses in tennis history.
The world number 37 from Spain was leading Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, a semi-finalist last year, by two sets and had three match points, at 5-3 40-0, in the third.
But on the first match point Davidovich Fokina attempted a ‘tweener’ on the baseline, which he dumped into the net.
Fired-up Hurkacz promptly saved the next two match points and then went on to level the match at 2-2.
But Davidovich Fokina avoided a humiliating defeat when he won a fifth set tie-break for a 7-6 (4) 6-4 5-7 2-6 7-6 (8) victory.
Third seed Casper Ruud, the French Open runner-up, won the battle of the clay-courters against Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6 (1) 7-6 (9) 6-2.
Carlos Alcaraz, the teenage Spaniard seeded five, beat German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-7 (3) 6-4.
Former finalist Marin Cilic withdrew from the tournament on Monday due to illness, which he later revealed was Covid-19.
Cilic, who lost to Roger Federer in the 2017 final, was set to play Mackenzie McDonald on Tuesday but has been replaced in the draw by lucky loser Nuno Borges.
The Croatian said on Twitter: “I am sad to share that I tested positive for COVID. I have been self-isolating and was hopeful I would be ready but unfortunately I am still feeling unwell and unable to compete my best.”