James Lawton: Novak Djokovic inhabits a world beyond the reach of doubts

The world No 1 simply reached out for another level of performance

Wimbledon

Maybe there was no easy way to reoccupy all that astonishing terrain left empty by the disappearance of Rafa Nadal but, if you had to pick a man for the job, who better than Novak Djokovic?

It is no disrespect to the venerable icon Roger Federer or the increasingly authentic challenger Andy Murray to say that he brought a unique aura to the Centre Court.

Rafa has to re-make himself once again after the shock of his defeat by the obscure Belgian Steve Darcis. Federer once more has to ransack the last of his resources in pursuit of his 18th Grand Slam title. Murray, for all the progress that now includes the US Open title and an Olympic gold medal, still has only one foot among the men who have shaped arguably the most compelling era the game has known.

It meant that there were moments in the bright sunshine when it was impossible not to believe that Djokovic suddenly held the whole of the game in the palm of one witheringly powerful hand.

Aged 26, the man from Serbia is neither advancing nor regressing. He is not thrusting for a new position, not fighting a slide. He simply inhabits the prime of his competitive life, this owner of six Grand Slam titles – it would have been seven and a full set if Nadal had not produced his astounding comeback in Paris a few weeks ago – and we saw precisely the force of both his current mood and a nature which has been ferocious since the cradle.

The day after Nadal fell, Djokovic near faultlessly eased himself back on to the Centre Court grass and afterwards he was quick to point out that the man he had beaten, the 29-year-old German Florian Mayer, could not be seen as just another piece of first round fodder routinely fed to the marquee names who command the huge television audiences in the second week of the great tournament.

Mayer, a Bavarian from the town of Bayreuth which famously celebrates the thunderous music of Richard Wanger, has certainly played a few boisterous tunes on his racket. He has twice made it to the Wimbledon quarter-finals, last year against Djokovic. He is currently ranked 34th in the world after reaching a career high of 18th.

One of the claims Mayer brought to the Centre Court was ownership of an elaborately deceitful drop shot and a startling back-lift on both the fore and backhand.

He was not a man to discount, Djokovic suggested, as you fought to make yourself at home again on the green grass of SW19. You do not, after all, stumble your way to career winnings of more than $4m. Mayer was a man to respect and, more pertinently, to destroy.

This Djokovic did with accelerating confidence over one hour and 56 minutes, winning eventually as a champion might toy with an utterly outmatched opponent. The score was 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, but the details do not begin to describe how it was when Djokovic decided it was time to move his game on to another dimension. The point was 5-5 in the second set, one which had followed a superb opening onslaught which had delivered the first set amid a fusillade of shots coming with increasing fluency.

Djokovic simply reached out for another level of performance just at that moment Mayer was beginning to wonder if he might walk in the steps of that unlikely destroyer of great players, Darcis.

It was the most fanciful of possibibilities, Djokovic insisted as he swept to the second set and then strolled through the third, picking his shots, savouring his moments, and always lifting his game when Mayer might have flirted with the idea of even the most fleeting of serious involvement.

Later he sounded rather as he looked, ultimately composed, endlessly in charge of the nuances of his latest challenge.

He said: "I felt pretty good because for the opening match of the grass court season it was a very satisfying performance. Even though I think I can play better, as I said it is normal to expect that you are still finding your rhythm and adjusting to a new surface and new movement.

"Knowing his quality, knowing that we played quarter-finals last season, gave me enough reason to not underestimate him and respect the fact that I need to be 100 per cent focused from the start and try to have control of the match. And it's what I've done. I've played well in important moments."

He had also come to his workplace utterly insulated from the turmoil that enveloped one of his great rivals just 24 hours earlier. Had he seen any relevance to his own position?

No, he had not. He said with a serenity that might have been chilling for anyone outside of his own arena. "Well," he said, "for me it didn't really signify anything much. You know we're playing a Grand Slam and I'm focussing on my own matches. To be honest I was expecting him to be a bit rusty on the court.

"It was normal for Rafa because he has played so many matches this year since he came back. The majority of those matches were on clay. So, obviously, it was very dangerous for him."

Some saw at least a glimmer of such a threat for the world's No 1 player. Then they went to the Centre Court and saw a man beyond any kind of doubt. If the mood holds for another week or so, Wimbledon had better brace itself for something quite sensational.

Follow game-by-game coverage as Andy Murray attempts to reach the third round with a victory over Yen-Hsun Lu

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup