Novak Djokovic spent his 2014 grass-court debut looking like a man right at home on the lawn. The top seed reeled off 11 consecutive games at the outset, dismissing Andrey Golubev, 6-0, 6-1, 6-4, in his first grass-court match since the 2013 Wimbledon final.
On a Centre Court devoid of sponsor signage and baseline divots, Djokovic branded the grass with sharp, clean shotmaking that staggered his opponent.
The collateral damage of a nine-match losing streak on lawn combined with his winless history against Djokovic didn't exactly infuse Golubev with a strong sense of defiance. Seeing Djokovic shred the 55th-ranked Kazakh from all areas of the court, you can sympathize. The severity of Golubev's challenge was clear in his first service game when he bungled a backhand volley into the net to face a third break point. Djokovic deadened a forehand drop volley to break and curled a forehand cros-scourt, consolidating for 3-0.
Nineteen minutes into the match, Djokovic held for an imposing 5-0 advantage, leaving Golubev looking like a man with two options—and neither was particularly inviting. Stay back on the baseline and experience the slow burn from the Serbian's cross-court strikes; attack net and you're torched by the pass. Snapping a backhand winner down the line to close, Djokovic wiped his brow with a tournament towel as he walked to his seat. He barely had time to break a sweat in a love set that showed why he can be so dangerous.
On clay, Djokovic's defensive slides and contortionist flexibility enables him to extend points. On grass, his skill stalking the baseline and shortening his backswing enable him to exterminate points. Stepping into the court to attack nearly every second serve return on the rise, Djokovic won 51 percent of Golubev's second-serve points, broke serve six times, and more than doubled his opponent's winner output (34 to 15).
Aggressive court positioning, a willingness to close at net and ruthlessness stretching leads—perhaps products of his partnership with coach Boris Becker—were evident as Djokovic won 16 of 21 trips to net. The 2011 Wimbledon champion made one of the toughest shots in tennis—the leaping high backhand volley—look routine as he soared in throwing that shot down for a 3-0 second-set lead.
It took Golubev 44 minutes to finally get on board as he held for 1-5. Djokovic snuffed out that stand, sliding an ace down the T to take a two-set lead after 46 minutes.
Djokovic, who did not face a break point in the match and won 71 percent of his second-serve points, showed small signs of frustration when he failed to convert a pair of break points in the fifth game, along with two more in the seventh game. But his focus was unwavering, as he crunched an inside-out angled backhand return to break for 5-4 in the third set.
Next up for Djokovic is a second-round clash with his good friend and sometime practice partner, Radek Stepanek, who beat reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray at Queen's Club earlier this month.