Novak Djokovic cruises past Thanasi Kokkinakis to reach Wimbledon third round

Novak Djokovic celebrates his second-round victory

Those who had dared to doubt the strength of Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon defence will have felt a familiar sense of crushing inevitability as the defending champion raced into the third round with 6-1 6-4 6-2 victory over Thanasi Kokkikanis. There had been peculiar chinks in the Serbian’s armour during a scrappy first-round win over Korea’s unheralded Kwon Soon-woo, but any glimmers of weakness were replaced by the sort of impenetrable resolve that makes Djokovic such a resounding favourite to the lift the trophy for the fourth time in succession.

There will be sterner tests ahead than Kokkinakis, a one-time Australian prodigy whose progress has stuttered and had never previously reached the second round, but there was hardly a fault to pick in Djokovic’s performance. His return was as outrageously elastic as ever in the face of Kokkinakis’s 130mph serves, skewing backhand slices deep into the court as he raced to two early breaks. Errors to offer his opponent the lightest of relief refused to be forthcoming and wondrously disguised drop shots regularly had Kokkanikas stumbling towards the net, sapping the energy from the Australian’s legs, although you sensed his belief had already seeped away.

At times, it must have felt like hitting against a brick wall. That was never more obvious than midway through the second set when Djokovic deflected four whipped passing shots at the net, all with deft volleys and without ever looking flustered. He might be more machine than entertainer, but there is a certain theatre when he operates in this vein, a relentless precision that can make the ridiculous look ordinary, a conviction that affords little mercy and leaves his opponent only the consolation of a crowd’s encouragement.

“I’m very happy with my performance today. I started very well, solid from the back of the court. Made him work for every point and worked him around the court,” Djokovic said. “I am pleased with the way I’ve raised the level of tennis in the past two days. Obviously just thinking about the next challenge and hope things will get better as the tournament goes on.”

It was evident early on that the yawning chasm in quality would prove impossible to bridge but Kokkinakis didn’t buckle altogether meekly, even if already doomed to defeat. After betraying accuracy for power in a short-lived first set and succumbing to an early break in the second, the 26-year-old mounted a more dogged and determined defence, leaning on a ballistic first serve that sometimes even Djokovic couldn’t catch. At 5-3 and serving to stay in the set, the Australian defended three break points, taking on high-risk winners as every rally transformed into an act of survival. That he managed to hold after eight minutes felt like a defiant victory in itself but there was little more to celebrate.

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There is often a streak of showmanship to Kokkinakis, no doubt amplified by his friendship with compatriot Nick Kyrgios. Facing yet more break points at the start of the third set, he resisted the urge to attempt a crowd-pleasing tweener when chasing back to collect a lob but only succeeded in being caught in two minds. An indistinct punch sailed past the baseline, Kokkinakis threw his racket not out of Kyrgios’s playbook of indignation but knowing despair, and Djokovic turned the final set into a procession.

As the Serbian served out the match, one member of the audience shouted at Kokkinakis to “make him work for it”. The Australian simply laughed and said, “I’m trying”. It is a theme that threatens to reign once again this fortnight.

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