Novak Djokovic walked onto Wimbledon's lush Centre Court as the defending champion and promptly played one of his worst service games of the year. At 1-1, playing against the weathered Juan Carlos Ferrero, Djokovic hit an easy overhead into the net, whacked a sitter forehand over the baseline, double-faulted, then slipped on the grass as he was broken.
But Djokovic didn't stay down long. He broke Ferrero back in the next game, and despite some patches of unsteady play, cruised to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 thumping of the No. 38-ranked 32-year-old.
Unlike last year, when Djokovic sported a 43-1 record and stormed into Wimbledon as the favorite, the Serb's profile is not as high in 2012, if that can be said for a world No. 1. He's still the favorite—the match-makers have him at 13:8 to win Wimbledon, while Rafael Nadal is 2:1—but Djokovic has only won two tournaments in 2012 and has lost his last four events.
Ferrero, a former No. 1 who is playing his 15th season on tour, is having a miserable season. In the nine events he's played in 2012, he's ventured past the first round in only three of them. He hit his high-water mark in Rome, where he took a set off of Roger Federer before losing in the round of 16. Still, he gave Djokovic some problems today, especially in the second set, with the top seed serving up a break at 4-3. Ferrero took a 15-40 lead, but facing his second break point, Djokovic made two phenomenal stretch gets before the Spaniard hit an easy backhand over the baseline. Djokovic faced another break point in that game, but fended it off as well.
"That's what you do when you're No. 1 in the world," said Boris Becker. "Come up with the goods when you need them the most."
Djokovic's serve was firing on all cylinders. He won 84 percent of his first-serve points and did a nice job of mixing up his heavy kicks with bending slices and hard, down-the-middle lasers. (Becker still said he needs to do a better job of mixing up his serves even more.) There might have been concern about the state of Djokovic's hitting elbow, as he came out with it taped, but he got into a nice rhythm at times, hitting his precise backhand shots and his spinning angle forehands. Djokovic—who John McEnroe said is a "bigger, more confident, stronger, faster version of Ferrero"—even ventured into the net more than usual, knocking off some nice backhand volleys and overheads.
As Becker said, this was a nice practice match for Djokovic. Ferrero tried gamely, but was not able to make it more than that. But the No. 1 might not have it as easy in his second-round match against either Ryan Harrison or Yen-Hsun Lu. Harrison beat Lu last week in Eastbourne, but Lu reached the quarterfinals at the Queens Club, knocking off both Ivo Karlovic and Janko Tipsarevic.