Novak Djokovic's brilliant act for Ash Barty after Wimbledon win

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·Sports Editor
·3-min read
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Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty, pictured here at Wimbledon.
Novak Djokovic said he would have been happy for Ash Barty to play first up at Wimbledon. Image: Getty

Novak Djokovic has paid a touching tribute to Ash Barty and the women's tennis cohort by suggesting they should be given the honour of playing the first match on Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Djokovic was honoured to take on the traditional role on Monday, playing home hopeful Jack Draper in the first match on Centre Court.

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But the World No.1 and defending champion sounded as though he would have been just as happy if Barty had been offered the role.

Fellow World No.1 Barty will step out in the first match on Centre Court on Tuesday in the slot traditionally reserved for the ladies' champion of the previous year.

With Simona Halep out injured, Barty's match against Carla Suarez Navarro got the honour on the 50th anniversary of the triumph by her Australian idol Evonne Goolagong.

But regardless of who got that honour, Djokovic said he would be perfectly happy for Wimbledon to ditch the tradition of having the male defending champion always open proceedings.

After beginning his quest for a sixth Wimbledon title by beating Draper 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-2, Djokovic was asked if it was about time that the women's champion got the chance to start the Centre Court show on a Monday.

And the Serbian star evidently felt it was.

"Why not? I'm not in the committee of Wimbledon, so I don't make those decisions," he said.

"My opinion, of course, in terms of decisions-making process doesn't matter much.

"Of course, that would be nice to see. They deserve it. I will be in favour of it."

Barty's match against Spanish cancer survivor Suarez Navarro would have been a fitting and emotional way to open The Championships.

But it still fits the bill perfectly in the traditional second-day slot.

Novak Djokovic and Jack Draper, pictured here after their Wimbledon clash.
Novak Djokovic embraces Jack Draper after their Wimbledon clash. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Novak Djokovic overcomes first set shocker

Djokovic launched the return of Wimbledon with a few tumbles, a shock first-set loss, and ultimately a majestic performance.

Much like the comeback of a damp Wimbledon itself after its cancellation in 2020, the Serbian superstar had to overcome an uncertain start against teenager Draper.

However he managed to find his assured feet under the Centre Court roof after he slid onto his backside with a couple of ungainly falls on the greasy turf.

After somehow losing the opening set during which he'd otherwise largely been in control, Djokovic moved into another gear against the promising left-handed wildcard.

"It feels great," Djokovic told the crowd, saying he felt he was back on the "most sacred court in the world".

"I was very sad last year that Wimbledon was cancelled - it was difficult times for everybody - but I'm really glad the sport is back."

It eventually proved business as usual for Djokovic - but only after a bit of an ignominious beginning, when he lost his footing at least three times, slid around in the early games and found himself broken by the seemingly nerveless 19-year-old.

"To be honest, I don't recall falling this many times on the court, it was quite slippery," said Djokovic, laughing that he'd have to work on his movement and slide a bit less than he'd done during his recent Roland Garros victory.

with AAP

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