In a moment of theatricality you would never see at Wimbledon, Phil Collins opened the first evening session on Arthur Ashe Stadium with two of his best-known songs. After that, the only thing “In The Air Tonight” was a sense of vulnerability about tournament favourite Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic has been plagued by physical pains and “private issues” in the months since his personal epiphany at the French Open, and in last night’s opener against Jerzy Janowicz he showed his hand early by calling the trainer at the second changeover.
Amedical time-out ensued, in which the surprising thing was that Djokovic requested treatment on his right elbow rather than the sore left wrist which he had identified as the reason for his absence from Cincinnati a fortnight ago.
Whatever the problem was, it didn’t seem to prevent Djokovic from serving accurately – the key skill that carried him to a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory in 2hr 37min. But his all-round game was well short of its usual rhythm and self-assurance, and he dropped the second set via a slew of uncharacteristic errors.
Janowicz is not the most dangerous of opponents at the moment, judging by his world ranking of No. 247 and a record that shows his last ATP-level victory to have come in October. But he still rattled Djokovic with his unpredictable play, which featured numerous drop-shots as well as plenty of all-or-nothing wallops.
Janowicz’s ball-striking was never going to be consistent enough to score a win here, barring a total collapse from his opponent. But Jiri Vesely, the left-handed Czech who beat him in Monte Carlo in April, could prove a more challenging opponent for Djokovic in the second round.
Asked by the on-court interviewer about his medical time-out, Djokovic started by making a joke of the issue. “It was hard to put up a show after Phil Collins,” he replied, “but you know he’s a legend.” He then broke into a verse of “I Can’t Dance” from Genesis’s back catalogue, before finally engaging with the question when it was put to him a second time.
“It’s never easy to play at this level throughout the year,” said Djokovic. “There are periods when you are not feeling 100 per cent but I don’t think it’s necessary to talk about this now. I just take it day by day, and let’s keep on going.
“It was overall a good performance, particularly in the third and fourth sets, even if the first couple of sets were a bit up and down. Jerzy has an unpredictable serve. When the ball is going that speed you just react and pray that you can get it back.”