By Martyn Herman
STOKEPOGES, England (Reuters) – Reigning champion Novak Djokovic said he is looking forward to getting back on the All England Club’s “sacred” Centre Court as his build-up for Wimbledon began in earnest on Tuesday.
The 32-year-old Serb has not played a competitive match since losing in the semi-final of the French Open this month, preferring to spend some family time in Serbia.
He hit his stride quickly at The Boodles exhibition event in the leafy surrounds of Stoke Park on Tuesday, producing a polished display in a 6-2 6-4 win over Chilean Cristian Garin.
While it was essentially a friendly, Djokovic looked in tremendous shape, striking the ball cleanly and powerfully and moving with his trademark elasticity on the lush lawn.
There were a few minor stumbles but nothing untoward and Djokovic cut a relaxed, but focussed, figure as he impressed the Champagne-popping country club crowd.
One more Wimbledon title would put Djokovic ahead of Rod Laver’s four and level with the five-times champion Bjorn Borg, with only Pete Sampras and Roger Federer having on more in modern times.
Djokovic has 15 Grand Slam titles, with only Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (18) ahead of him, and he said it was the prospect of winning more of the game’s big prizes that motivates him.
“Grand Slams are at this stage of my career and life always the priority in terms of achievements,” Djokovic told Reuters.
“I’m privileged to be the number one in the world, it’s a role that carries a lot of responsibility and pressure so I try to deal with that as best as I can.
“It was a very emotional Roland Garros and fortunately I got to the semi-finals. Now it’s just building momentum and looking forward to returning to that sacred court.”
Last year Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon ranked 21 in the world after a rocky ride back from elbow surgery and without a Grand Slam title for two years.
His game clicked though and he claimed the title and then bagged the U.S. Open and Australian Open this year before his quest to hold all four Slams at the same time for the second time in his career fell agonisingly short in Paris.
Despite that loss to Dominic Thiem, Djokovic appears back to his clinical best and will start favourite on Monday.
“Winning Wimbledon last year was a huge turning point because I was coming off surgery and dropped out of the top 20 in the world,” he said. “That was a huge shift in terms of self confidence and terms of the quality of my tennis.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)