British teenager Jack Draper wowed the returning home crowd by taking the opening set off Novak Djokovic before the defending champion fought back to win on day one at Wimbledon.
Draper was given a wildcard for his senior SW19 debut and stunned the Serb top seed with a confident start.
It was the first set that 34-year-old Djokovic had dropped in the Wimbledon first round since 2010.
But the five-time champion came through 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-2 on Centre Court.
Djokovic will play South Africa’s Kevin Anderson – who he beat in the 2018 final – in the second round.
“It feels great seeing everyone and being back on the most special, or sacred, tennis court in the world,” said Djokovic, who is aiming to equal Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s all-time men’s record of 20 major titles.
“It has been very difficult times for everyone but I’m very glad the sport is back, hopefully you guys enjoyed it and will enjoy the next couple of weeks.”
The Championships has returned after being cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic and Centre Court is allowed to hold 50% of its 15,000 capacity as part of the government’s event research programme.
That led to a special moment before Djokovic and Draper walked out in the opening match on Centre. The crowd gave a spontaneous and prolonged standing ovation when it was announced NHS workers and scientists responsible for developing vaccines were sat in the Royal Box.
Is a new British star born? Draper thrills Centre Court
Regarded as one of Britain’s brightest talents, 19-year-old Draper was given the toughest test in the men’s game with the plum draw against Djokovic.
He has tasted success at the All England Club before, having reached the final of the boys’ singles in 2018, but was making his senior debut after being given a wildcard.
That came just before an eye-catching run at Queen’s last week, where he earned a first ATP Tour match win and showed on a bigger stage why he is highly regarded.
Draper stunned Italian third seed Jannik Sinner – one of the sport’s best young talents – in his opening match, backing that up with another win over Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik. He then lost to fellow Briton Cameron Norrie in the quarter-finals.
Already seemingly self-assured, that run further boosted his confidence that he could compete with the world’s best and he said he would aim to show Djokovic what he had got.
Certainly that happened in the first set, where his solid and sometimes spectacular backhand troubled Djokovic.
Djokovic was also bothered by the slick surface, slipping over several times on the baseline but able to avoid any serious issues.
The decisive break for 2-1 came with a whopping backhand winner which dusted the line and with Djokovic unable to convert any of seven break points, the young Briton kept his nerve to serve out the set on an excited Centre Court.
Ultimately, and not surprisingly, he could not maintain that level as Djokovic quickly won the next three sets.
But there had already been enough from Draper to suggest he has the talent to succeed at the top level, as well as winning over some new British fans and drawing praise from his illustrious opponent.
Djokovic warmly placed his arm around the Briton’s shoulder at the net and gave him some words of encouragement before Draper walked off to a standing ovation.
“He definitely deserves a round of applause, he’s a youngster, only 19, and hadn’t played too much prior to Queen’s,” said Djokovic.
“Walking on to Wimbledon Centre Court for the first time, I think he has done extremely well and played maturely. I wish him all the best for the rest of his career.”
Boulter, Broady and Murray reach second round
British 24-year-old Katie Boulter fought back from a set down to beat American Danielle Lao 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 6-4 and progress to the second round.
Having lost a tight first-set tie-break in which she saved two of three set points, Boulter, a wildcard entry, battled back impressively as she recovered a 3-1 deficit in the deciding set – winning five of the final six games.
Next up for Boulter, who is ranked 219 in the world, is Belarusian second seed Aryna Sabalenka. The world number four dominated Monica Niculescu in the first match of the 2021 Championships, winning 6-1 6-4.
Also in the women’s draw, Boulter’s compatriots Heather Watson, 29, Katie Swan, 22, and Jodie Burrage, 22, all suffered first-round defeats.
After her match was moved onto Court One, Watson dominated the first set against Kristie Ahn, but allowed the American to fight her way back as day turned into night, eventually losing 2-6 7-6 (7-3) 8-6.
Ahn will play compatriot Sloane Stephens next as she takes her place in the Wimbledon second round for the first time.
American 23rd seed Madison Keys triumphed 6-3 6-4 against Swan on court three after the Briton lost serve early in both sets.
Meanwhile, wildcard Burrage lost 6-2 6-1 to Lauren Davis despite a positive start which saw her break the American – ranked 183 places higher – in the opening game.
In the men’s draw, Andy Murray made his Wimbledon singles return with a dramatic 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-3 victory against 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Liam Broady also progressed, recording a straight-set victory over Italian Marco Cecchinato.
Broady, 27, won 6-3 6-4 6-0 to set up a meeting with Argentine ninth seed Diego Schwartzman or France’s Benoit Paire.
Jay Clarke will resume his opening match against Belarusian Egor Gerasimov on Tuesday, with the Briton trailing 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) when play was suspended.
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