Djokovic living own version of Groundhog Day, and winning because of it

LONDON -- Novak Djokovic knows the secret. He has riddled out the difference between the one-Slam wonders, the no-Slam wanderers and the champions who win and win and keep winning major titles. He has figured out that there are no endings, just beginnings. No completions, just continuations. It's all about restarts. Reboots rule.

Grasping that secret has enabled Djokovic to relish the task of defending his Wimbledon title. Resting on your laurels is foolish; stock-taking gets dangerous. Looking forward instead of back is mandatory. It also allows Djokovic to defuse any anxiety and say, "Pressure is part of what we do."

Djokovic had just three weeks to savor the completion of his career Grand Slam at the French Open before he opened the defense of his Wimbledon title Monday -- which was just fine, because for a great player, the past is just a prologue.

Djokovic's 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory against blitzing British wild card James Ward was his 29th consecutive at a major, tying Rod Laver's Open-era record. He is also trying to become the only man besides Don Budge to win more than four consecutive majors. Budge played in the 1930s and won six in a row. He and Laver are the only two men to complete calendar-year Grand Slams; Djokovic is working on one this year. Who cares about two weeks ago in Paris, with that summit to reach?

"Well, I try to take the best from the past, try to remember those nice moments," Djokovic said after his win. "Thankfully, there were plenty of those nice moments on the tennis court in the last couple of years -- here in London, Wimbledon particularly, and also in many other tournaments. [But the] tennis schedule is such that it requires from you immediate focus on the next tournament. Literally after a week or so, I had to start training and getting myself in shape for grass."

It isn't like Djokovic is some kind of glory hog, or that he doesn't savor or value all he has accomplished. He's not using those replica Wimbledon trophies the champion receives to hold his loose change. He cherishes tradition, especially when it holds future promise rather than past glory. On Sunday, he spoke with a measure of awe about his first assignment at this Wimbledon.

"It is going to be the first match on the untouched grass," he said. "That's probably one of the most special tennis matches that you get to experience as a professional tennis player."

Something to look forward to. It makes it easier to accept that you should never look back.

Djokovic made the most of his "special" moment. Appearing on that pristine green lawn in brilliant sunshine in his dazzling tennis whites, he looked like a brand new Novak Djokovic just shot out by a 3-D printer.

The words "British wild card" are often code for sacrificial lamb, but Ward is better than that. Ranked just No. 177, he is one of those lean, long players who can rock the serve and hit blistering forehands. Last year, the 6-foot-3 Ward reached the third round here, a run that included a quality win against Jiri Vesely. Ward also stunned John Isner in a Davis Cup tie, a critical win in Great Britain's unexpected run to the title.

Andy Murray gave his pal Ward a pep talk on the telephone Sunday night, counseling him to take what opportunities came his way, get the crowd on his side and "just be attacking."

All nice ideas, but few opportunities came Ward's way. The opportunities were all created by Ward, for Djokovic. Ward was too besieged to do much attacking. The crowd, being largely British, was there for the taking. But Ward couldn't have them for free. He would have to earn them, given that he was up against one of the most dignified and classy of champions.

Djokovic's forehands left dents in the soft turf. He threw service darts. The top seed threatened to burn off Ward's shoelaces at the eyelets with his service returns. Djokovic reeled off nine straight games. He was remorseless and relentless, while Ward was helpless and hapless. Ward won the 10th and acted like he had just won the trophy. The crowd approved and played along, but Djokovic did not. He put up with Ward's improved play, kept his cool through the tiebreaker and allowed Ward to self-immolate before coasting to the finish line.

The last match Djokovic played before Monday was that historic French Open final against Murray. Eschewing warmup events, Djokovic had spent most of the past three weeks opening a restaurant and preparing for Wimbledon. He takes the approach that a meal tastes best to a hungry man, and he certainly left Paris with a full belly. This isn't the first event where Djokovic has shown that he can dial in his A-game as soon as the starter's gun goes off. It has something to do with his confidence.

"I didn't sense too much rustiness," Ward said after losing. "He's moving unbelievable. He makes you play so many balls. He returned very well. Yeah, I mean, you know what you're going to get. But when you're actually playing him, it's different to watching from the sidelines."

What you get when you're actually playing Djokovic is communion with a man moving at a different pace on a different plane. He's moving forward, into the future. He knows how to do it. It's his secret.