Wimbledon 2022: Novak Djokovic revels in ‘special’ return after battling back to beat Soonwoo Kwon

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·3-min read
Wimbledon 2022: Novak Djokovic revels in ‘special’ return after battling back to beat Soonwoo Kwon
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A year ago, Novak Djokovic lost the first set of his Wimbledon opener to 19-year-old British wildcard Jack Draper.

He did not drop another until the final, when after going one-down to Matteo Berrettini, he roared back to win in emphatic fashion and join Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 Grand Slam singles titles.

In his quest to retain his title and make the most of his increasingly rare opportunities to take that tally to 21, Djokovic will have to hope that a similar scare here prompts a similar response, after he was made to graft for his place in the second round by World no81 Soonwoo Kwon.

The Serbian had to battle back from an early break in the first set and was then outplayed in the second before eventually prevailing 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4.

Returning to SW19 for the first time since the Covid vaccination controversy that, as it stands, means this is one of only two Slams in which he may compete, Djokovic was handed the traditional defending men’s champion’s opening slot on Centre Court in what was pencilled as a gentle warm-up ahead of the inevitable high-drama of an Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu home double-header later in the day.

“This court is truly special for me its always been the court where I dreamed of playing,” Djokovic said afterwards. “All my childhood dreams came true here on this court so it’s an honour and a pleasure to come back.”

He was broken in his second service game, but appeared to have swiftly cast aside any cobwebs or indeed memories of that Draper blip 12 months ago as he rattled off a run of five successive games to take the opening set.

After the first of two delays for medical incidents in the crowd in humid conditions under the roof, however, Kwon made clear he was not about to be blown away.

The 24-year-old again broke early in the second set and after threatening to gift Djokovic an immediate break back with a series of errors on serve, showed superb composure to reel off five points, sealing a 4-1 advantage with a stunning ace.

The pair exchanged games, Kwon continuing to present his markedly more established opponent with glimmers of opportunities, only to come up trumps with gutsy, big-point plays.

At 5-2 up in the second, he somehow reacted in time to a Djokovic net-cord to avoid going 0-40 down, then produced a forehand winner at the end of a mammoth rally and a sumptuous drop shot to tee up a set point which he gobbled up to level the match.

As the rain that had blighted last year’s opening day returned and the rumbles of distant thunder reached Centre Court, action on the outdoor courts paused and Wimbledon sensed an upset.

Wimbledon 2022

Gradually, however, momentum began to shift the favourite’s way. Kwon brought up another break point at 2-2 in the third but this time Djokovic held firm and never looked back in restoring his set lead.

Early in the fourth, Kwon came again but three break points were saved before the Korean, as had served him so well, took on the brave option but this time watched his slice fall the wrong side of the net and Djokovic survive.

It felt a pivotal moment: three games later, Djokovic broke to love and for the first time since before play had begun the outcome that seemed nothing short of inevitable this morning felt just so again.

“Credit to Kwon for playing some really high quality tennis,” Djokovic added. “Before we started, I didn’t have the easiest of preparations so you’re always going to feel a bit less comfortable in the beginning. It was really difficult to go through him so I had to figure out a way tactically to take control of the game.”

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