Staggering detail in Novak Djokovic photo amid Wimbledon controversy

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·Sports Editor
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Novak Djokovic, pictured here practicing on Centre Court in a 145-year first for Wimbledon.
Novak Djokovic practices on Centre Court in a 145-year first for Wimbledon. Image: Getty

Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal were spotted practicing on Centre Court at Wimbledon on Thursday in a 145-year first for the grass-court grand slam.

While photos of the tennis champions practicing on the main court at the All England Club appear insignificant at first glance, they represent a major change to the traditions at Wimbledon.

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In what is believed to be the first time since Wimbledon began in 1877, players have been allowed to practice on Centre Court and Court 1 this year in the lead-up to the tournament.

Practicing on the main courts has always been off limits, with Wimbledon organisers desperate to preserve the grass and ensure it doesn't get too worn out by the second week of the tournament.

But organisers have taken a different approach this year in a bid to ensure there is no repeat of the controversial scenes that plagued the opening week of last year's event.

Organisers came under heavy fire from fans and pundits after a number of players fell on the slippery surface and injured themselves.

Serena Williams was the most high-profile case after she was forced to retire hurt in tears just six games into her opening round match.

The 23-time grand slam champion only made her return from the injury earlier this week and will play at Wimbledon after receiving a wildcard.

Serena Williams, pictured here after falling on the slippery surface at Wimbledon in 2021.
Serena Williams retired hurt in the first round at Wimbledon in 2021 after falling on the slippery surface. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In awful scenes, Adrian Mannarino also retired hurt during his clash with Roger Federer after falling in the very next match on Centre Court after Williams.

Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios were other players who slipped on the grass, with Djokovic and Andy Murray highly critical of the ugly farce.

Wimbledon officials apologised at the time, saying the huge amount of rain in London on the first two days of the tournament meant the roof on the main courts was closed more than usual, resulting in excess humidity and moisture on the grass.

With the furore still in mind, officials have allowed players to practice on the main courts this week in an attempt to 'wear in' the surface and make it less slippery.

Djokovic and Nadal were both spotted taking advantage of the change on Thursday as they tuned up for the grass-court major in practice sets against Marin Cilic and Matteo Berrettini respectively.

They even shared a warm embrace after crossing paths, despite speculation they don't really like each other.

Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal back on grass

Djokovic and Nadal both kick-started their Wimbledon preparations on Wednesday with easy exhibition wins at the Hurlingham Club in London.

Nadal showed no ill-effects after nerve treatment on the chronic foot problem that troubled him during his French Open triumph as he beat Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 at the club in south-west London.

Djokovic, in his first match since losing to Nadal in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, won 6-2 6-1 against Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime.

In his first match on grass since 2019, Nadal raced out to a 5-1 lead after twice breaking Wawrinka's serve in the opening set and sealed it 6-2 in 30 minutes.

Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, pictured here greeting each other on Centre Court ahead of Wimbledon.
Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic greet each other on Centre Court ahead of Wimbledon. (Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)

Wawrinka, who returned to action in March after missing most of 2021 due to two foot operations, failed to convert a break point in the opening game of the second set and fell 3-1 behind.

The three-time grand slam champion broke Nadal's serve in the fifth game, but the Spaniard was rarely troubled and wrapped up the match in just over an hour.

Six-time Wimbledon champion Djokovic was given a sterner challenge than the scoreline suggested against Auger-Aliassime.

The Serbian World No.3 broke the Canadian twice to take the first set 6-2 in 44 minutes.

Rafa Nadal and Matteo Berrettini, pictured here practicing on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Rafa Nadal and Matteo Berrettini practice on Centre Court at Wimbledon. (Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)

Auger-Aliassime failed to trouble Djokovic's serve in the second set and was broken three more times as the former World No.1 wrapped it up 6-1 in 28 minutes.

Djokovic will head into Wimbledon as the warm favourite despite Nadal winning the first two grand slams of the year.

The Serb is the top seed because Russian World No.1 Daniil Medvedev is banned due to his nationality and No.2 Alexander Zverev is injured.

Nadal can extend his lead in the men's all-time grand slam race to 23, while Djokovic will be looking to capture his 21st and move out of a tie with Federer.

with AAP

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