Novak Djokovic thrashes Wimbledon rival after surgery to end injury woe | Tennis | Sport

It had been less than a month since Novak Djokovic went under the knife after tearing the medial meniscus in his right knee. But at Wimbledon’s Centre Court against Vit Kopriva, the Serb could well have been in his mid-twenties, unphased by the physical challenge he has gone through before a convincing 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over his Czech opponent.

The world No. 123 had barely touched the ball when he found himself 1-0 down in the first set, with Djokovic taking four consecutive aces in a warning to Kopriva that this would not be a challenge taken lightly.

The grey, notably not white, strapping on Djokovic’s right knee served as a reminder that Kopriva’s first meeting against the seven-time SW19 champion would be his biggest chance at a milestone victory over Djokovic and a maiden second-round Major berth.

Training and practice had been ramped up, but there is no replicating a competitive match at Centre Court. With doubts raised over how much stress could be put on Djokovic’s knee, a few unforced overhits saw Kopriva hold his first serve and trigger a few alarm bells.

But those were quickly turned off when Djokovic soon broke after a lengthy battle at deuce that saw Kopriva save five break points, but finally succumb to his freely-moving opponent, before Djokovic held to love.

Then came a break to love and suddenly the handful that was Kopriva had suddenly been put away with ease, as Djokovic grew into the contest, taking the final three games of the first set without a single reply.

A few slips, nearly reminiscent of Djokovic’s French Open fall that prompted knee surgery, brought out groans from the Centre Court crowd. With a lack of match practice, he took more and more risks with the security in the set, but a return to basics was often enough to put Kopriva away.

Djokovic’s knee was thoroughly tested and Kopriva often forced some very lengthy rallies and games. After returning his sole point in Djokovic’s first serve of the second set, the 24-time Major winner gave a classy applause.

But then came the second-set break of serve. Kopriva could return the ball but one too many flat hits struggled to trouble Djokovic, who let out a huge roar as he celebrated taking the ascendancy.

Another Djokovic break in the seventh sealed the second set and his raised fist to the Centre Court crowd showed just how much this competition means to him. Though a rare double fault briefly denied a second-set win, Kopriva’s overhit return sealed a two-set advantage.

Djokovic had to wait until the fifth game to break Kopriva in the third, and came a few blades of grass away from doing so with a superb around-the-post effort, but a slap on the knee from his Czech opponent confirmed that his heavy forehand was to blame for a hammer blow break of serve.

A telling glance from Djokovic to a member of the crowd came moments before a second break for Djokovic, who promptly served for the win and a place in the second round against either Brit Jacob Fearnley or Alejandro Moro Canas.

He then spoke about Nick Kyrgios and Andy Murray, missing the Championships through injury, and sent his well-wishes to them moving forward.

“I think Nick Kygrios is in the commentary box, who has been struggling with injuries,” Djokovic said on court to raucous applause. “Talking about major injuries he has had quite a few… as an athlete I empathise with Nick or anyone who has been struggling.

“It’s tough, you always feel helpless, something is not allowing you to do something that you love sometimes for years… we have examples like Andy Murray… it’s unfortunate for the tournament. I have great respect for him and all that he has done.

“I just hope that he will be able to finish his career on his terms, I heard he is going to play doubles, hopefully he is going to have another shot next year. It’s really hard for me to talk about it with injuries, I came back after three and a half weeks.”

Djokovic admitted that he took a calculated risk in playing at this year’s Wimbledon. Undoubtedly spurred on by the knowledge that many of the budding stars of tomorrow favour other surfaces, he has put his Olympics place on the line and aggravating his knee injury would have been the worst-case scenario.

Fortunately for the 37-year-old, that was avoided and he is surely now in contention for an eighth Wimbledon title, which would move him level with Roger Federer.

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