Novak Djokovic’s 2022 Wimbledon hopes were given a stern opening test on Monday by Soonwoo Kwon, but the defending champion remained resolute to hold off the South Korean and advance to the second round at the grass-court Grand Slam in London.
The Serbian maintained a solid level in his 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory against the World No. 81, yet Kwon’s aggressive tactics meant Djokovic was never completely comfortable in his first tour-level match since his Roland Garros quarter-final on 31 May. The South Korean was a break up in each of the first two sets and pumped up the Center Court crowd after he leveled proceedings at a set piece, but Djokovic’s trademark consistency proved enough to complete a two-hour, 27-minute victory.
“I’ve said this before but this court is truly special,” said Djokovic in his on-court interview. “For me it has always been the court I dreamed of playing and winning [on]and all my childhood dreams came true here so it’s an honor and pleasure to be back on Center Court.”
The win extends Djokovic’s unbeaten run at Wimbledon to 22 matches. The Serbian is hunting his fourth consecutive crown at the third major of the year in London, and his second tour-level title of 2022 after he triumphed at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in May.
Kwon was seeking just his fourth tour-level victory on grass, but the South Korean looked at home in the opening exchanges on Center Court as he struck the ball cleanly off both wings. He broke early for a 3-1 lead, but Djokovic settled into some rhythm of his own to reel off five consecutive games and secure the first set.
Any thoughts that Kwon might fade after his bright start were dispelled when the South Korean’s game reached new levels in the second set. He broke Djokovic to love for 3-1, moving forward to good effect when dictating rallies. Kwon’s recovery from 0/40 to hold in the next game was just as impressive as the break, and he held firm to level the match by converting his first set point in the ninth game.
Despite that setback, Djokovic’s movement around the court was sharp in his first competitive appearance on grass in 2022. Once he regained consistency from the baseline in the third and fourth sets, the Serbian reassumed control. A solitary break in each set was enough to complete the win and improve his ATP Head2Head series lead over Kwon to 2-0.
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After some early struggles, Djokovic was solid on serve to close out the win. The 35-year-old won 86 per cent (54/63) of points behind his first delivery, and his final tally of 31 winners included 15 aces.
The top seed will face Thanasi Kokkinakis or Kamil Majchrzak in the second round at SW19, where he now holds an 80-10 record. The World No. 3 is chasing his seventh title at Wimbledon, a tally that would draw him level with legendary American Pete Sampras and move him within one of record-holder Roger Federer’s eight crowns.
“I am as dedicated as anyone out there,” said Djokovic. “I am not one of the youngsters anymore, but the love for this sport still burns in me and I try to always play my best tennis at the Grand Slams and deliver my best tennis at the best courts. Now that we’re at 80 [wins at Wimbledon]let’s get to 100.”