Djokovic prevails in Wimbledon opener disrupted by crowd emergencies
Novak Djokovic's defense of his Wimbledon crown began with a hard-fought win after the Serb beat Kwon Soon-woo 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Monday.
Djokovic's world number 81 rival gave him an early scare by going up 3-1 in the first set before then losing five consecutive games to the all-time great.
In the second set with Soon-woo winning 1-0, the match had to be temporarily suspended for the first time as a spectator was taken ill and four medics had to rush to the fan's aid.
Play resumed after five minutes, but it needed to be paused on a second occasion later in the same set as an elderly fan had to be helped in a separate medical emergency.
Soon-woo eventually went on to take the second set 6-3 after the scares had passed, which represented the second year in a row that 2021 champion Djokovic had dropped a set in the first round.
Proving too much for his 24-year-old opponent, however, Djokovic went on to take the third and fourth sets 6-3, 6-4 and advanced to the second round to keep his dreams of being the fourth man to win a fourth consecutive title at the All England Club alive.
Both men received applause from the SW19 crowd, and for Djokovic the victory was historic as it meant he became the first player, male or female, to win 80 singles matches across tennis' four Grand Slams.
Immediately after the win, Djokovic said that it was "always a pleasure to come back to Centre Court at Wimbledon" and insisted that Soon-woo deserved credit and a warm reception from the crowd for playing some "really high-quality tennis."
The 35-year-old confessed that not having any preparation tournaments or matches made him feel a bit less comfortable than usual.
"It was really difficult to go through him so I had to find a way, tactically, to get in control of the point. I had to put a lot of variety in the game," Djokovic went on.
"At this level, one or two points decide the game," Djokovic noted, while thanking the fans for coming to support both players.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner finished by saying he owes a lot to tennis and is as dedicated as anybody on the men's tour.
"The love and flame for this sport still burns in me," he said, which leads him to trying to deliver "the best tennis on these most significant courts".
Djokovic returns to action on Wednesday against a still undetermined rival in the second round.