Novak Djokovic bent over with a towel in hand to entertain the Center Court crowd as rain delayed Wimbledon on Monday, wiping some moisture from the grass. It seemed fitting for someone who has been doing the same general thing to his opponents for the past five years in this tournament.
Djokovic has not lost a match at Wimbledon since 2017, and with Monday’s first-round win over Argentina’s Pedro Cachin, he extended his record to 29-0 in his last five Wimbledon matches. He has won the last four men’s singles titles and one more this year will see him add more names to the record books.
If Djokovic can win a fifth consecutive title at the All England Club, he will take home the first of three major trophies in 2023 and increase his chances of winning the first men’s Grand Slam (four majors in one year) since Rod Laver did. In 1969, he became the third man to do so, joining Lauer (1962 and 1969) and Don Budge in 1938. Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988 have accomplished the feat. .
Djokovic will tie Roger Federer for the most Wimbledon men’s singles titles (eight) and tie Björn Borg for the most consecutive (five). Finally, he would match Court’s record of 24 major titles and become the only player in the Open era to do it all. (Court won 13 majors before 1968, when professionals were not allowed to play in the majors.)
On Monday, Djokovic, the no. The No. 2 seed but the top seed walked onto center court, soaking up a moment that only a happy few get to experience.
“It’s a feeling like no other tournament in the world, walking out on center court at Wimbledon as a defending champion, on new grass,” he said. “It’s amazing, amazing to be back in a dream tournament, and to be able to get the first one out of the way.”
Wimbledon was the first tennis tournament Djokovic watched on television while growing up in Serbia, and it gave him a fascination. While that’s true for thousands of players, few have enjoyed it as much as Djokovic, who consumes blades of grass after winning titles (unlike his wins on the red clay of Roland Garros).
Winning on grass is especially challenging, especially in an era where there are fewer tournaments on the surface, and the season is so short, and Djokovic rarely plays warm-up matches anymore. Although Wimbledon’s surface is bouncier and faster than it used to be, there are still many tactical features that distinguish grass from clay and hardcourts.
For Djokovic, who likes to slide across hardcourts and clay, the grass at Wimbledon doesn’t allow the same kind of horizontal movement. But Djokovic has become as adept as anyone at shorthand adjustments from clay to grass.
“I had to learn how to move, how to walk, how to play, learn how to jump,” she said.
But on Monday, Djokovic took the first set 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (4) over Kachin, and the grass was actually slippery for a while as a light rain fell. It was Djokovic’s toughest hurdle of the day.
The match was stopped, the pitch was tarred and the roof rolled down. Usually the courts are dry within half an hour. But the humidity mysteriously persisted on Monday, and match officials and players returned to the still slippery field.
In all, the delay lasted nearly 90 minutes, an astonishing amount of time for a court with a roof. But Djokovic wished he could clean it all up by using his towel to banter with disappointed spectators. Given his success on that grass — he hasn’t lost on Center Court since 2013 — few might have expected him to.
Some wondered if his good mood was a sign that Djokovic, now safely in possession of his 23rd major men’s singles title, is more relaxed and happy.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a unique feeling for me because I won my 23rd Slam,” he said. “I’ve always tried to be funny in certain situations where I don’t think you can control things. I had funny rain delays in Paris and in New York where I joked around.
After winning the French Open in June, he admitted to being physically and emotionally exhausted. So he and his wife Jelena, Visited the Azores Islands of Portugal To hike and relax. Fog grounded their original flight home, forcing them to spend an extra day there.
“It was really good because I’ve been through a lot of emotions during the clay season, especially obviously culminating in Paris, and I needed to get away, to be a bit isolated.”
Djokovic will not have to face Nick Kyrgios, his opponent in last year’s Wimbledon final. Kyrgios, recovering from surgery on his left knee in January, withdrew from the tournament ahead of the first day after scans revealed a torn ligament in his wrist.
“I think people forget how hard this game is, how physical it is,” Kyrgios said before announcing his wrist injury on Sunday. “I dare anyone to go out and play with Novak for four hours and see how you feel afterwards.”
Since Djokovic’s current run began in 2018, all of them have been wiped out.