Murray, predictably seeded second as the No2 in the world, and on the other side of the draw for a Tuesday start, is coming off another defeat in a slam final against Djokovic, at Roland Garros, but has been buoyed by the return last week of Lendl, the coach who got him over the line twice in majors against the Serb. A fifth title at Queen’s Club on Sunday did not hurt, either.
Djokovic remains the man in their sights, especially in the absence of Rafael Nadal through injury and the diminished potency of Roger Federer, who lost in Halle last week to the young German Alexander Zverev. “I’m flattered to hear that. Ivan is one of the legends of our sport and of course he’s been a great rival with my coach Boris [Becker], so it’s interesting,” the Serb said after a rare defeat – albeit in an exhibition match at The Boodles in Buckinghamshire on Wednesday when he lost 6-3, 7-5 against David Goffin.
“I was joking around with my team that they’ve got to extend the locker room for the legends. Having all this rivalry is, again in the locker rooms and now in the coaching side – it’s pretty good for our sport. It attracts a lot of attention. These guys made a strong mark in the history of our sport and it’s good to see them all. I know there’s been a lot of talk about a potential matchup between Andy and me, with Ivan coming to his team, but it’s still very early. We’ve got to be respectful to everybody competing in Wimbledon, more than 120 players, so we’ll take it step by step.
“I don’t think it’s a surprising decision from Andy because Ivan, when he was his coach, Andy won a couple of grand slams, won an Olympic gold medal, made the best results of his career, so I think it was a logical move for him to take and they’re a good team so it’s going to be an interesting tournament.”
Even at genteel Stoke Park, where the cream was clotted, the skies were grey and the crowd were bussed in from Middle England, defeat was tough to take for the best player in the world.
It would be discourteous and idiotic to regard his defeat against Goffin (as good a player as the Belgian is) as anything but a minor training blip but the world No1, like all champions, does not regard losing any time, anywhere as part of the script.
Djokovic revealed he is Rio-bound for the Olympics in August but has yet to make his mind up about playing in the Davis Cup against Great Britain in Belgrade a week after Wimbledon – a blow to his compatriots and a minor fillip, perhaps, to captain Leon Smith, Murray and the rest of the team of defending champions.
“I’m still planning to go to the Olympics,” Djokovic said when asked about the withdrawal of other high-profile athletes, including the Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, who pulled out on Wednesday morning. “It’s going to stay that way.”
As for the Davis Cup, he would only say: “I haven’t made any commitment yet.”
Inasmuch as his match against Goffin was a high-grade hit-up, Djokovic must have thought he could force a champion’s tie-break from a set down and 5-2 up, but the Belgian broke and held to love to get back to 5-5.
Djokovic was probably less impressed going down 0-40 in the 11th game and then he saw Goffin slam a laser-sharp backhand past him to break again.
Djokovic had most problems getting the length right, overcooking on both wings, a minor fault he will no doubt iron out in his second exhibition match on Thursday.
He saved three match points but a final backhand drifted long and Goffin was all smiles with a win before bigger things. There was almost a minor scuffle for his shirt when he tossed it into the crowd.
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