Novak Djokovic recently appeared in a surreal television commercial alongside a pair of performing seals, all three of them balancing a Head racket on their noses, and perhaps suspected that seeing off Simon Greul here yesterday would prove a rather less challenging assignment.
But while the world No 4 duly coasted past the German qualifier, 7-5, 6-1, 6-4, he did contrive to have his serve broken in the opening games of both the first and second sets. On the second occasion he furiously slammed his racket into the ground, earning sarcastic cooing from the Court One crowd. Suitably provoked, he got on a decisive roll through the second set, but did not really sustain the momentum and overall produced a rather fitful performance.
To put his task in perspective, before Monday the 28-year-old Greul had never won a tour match of any kind on grass. Nor had he a single success to his name at any Grand Slam tournament until beating fellow qualifier Michael Yani in the first round.
Djokovic had also failed to convince in dropping a set against Julien Benneteau on the opening day. At least he seemed to be moving rather more fluently against Greul, but his second serve still looked vulnerable.
"I made it difficult for myself," he said. "I didn't start well. I was just waiting for him to make mistakes, which was obviously the wrong thing to do because he was going for his shots. He's very aggressive and was putting a lot of pressure on my serve."
The Serbian had clung doggedly to the baseline and added that his game is not really tailored for grass. "I have no expectations for Wimbledon this year," he said. "I don't want to create extra pressure on myself, and I'm happy people aren't talking about me at the moment. When I played the Australian Open, I had a lot of expectations as defending champion. I felt a huge amount of pressure and couldn't really deal with it the best way."
His next opponent will be a serve-and-volley specialist in Mardy Fish, who beat Janko Tipsarevic over four sets. But looming large in their quarter is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The No 9 seed had looked increasingly at home during his first-round defeat of Andrei Golubev, and yesterday was granted a walkover after Simone Bolelli dropped out with a back injury.
Tommy Haas, who beat Djokovic in the final at Halle, also had his passage eased by an injured opponent. In the eighth game Michael Llodra collided heavily with a ball-girl crouching next to the umpire's chair and, though 6ft 3in, he appeared to come off worse. He managed to hug his victim but required medical attention thereafter and was forced to retire.
Rainer Schüttler, a surprise semi-finalist last year, was dismissed in straight sets by Dudi Sela of Israel, who will now play Tommy Robredo. The Spaniard recovered from two sets down against Stefan Koubek.
Robredo's compatriot, the No 7 seed Fernando Verdasco, clawed his way through an attritional contest with Kristof Vliegen, winning two out of three tie-breaks before achieving the match's only break of serve to take the fourth set 6-4. Serving at up to 139mph, he did not allow his opponent a single break point.
Next in his firing line is yet another Spaniard in Albert Montanes.Reuse content