TOKYO — Novak Djokovic, in pursuit of history, made short work of his opening-round Olympic opponent on Saturday. Which was good news for the Serbian star given the heat, humidity and lack of any breeze.
The top-seeded and world No. 1 Djokovic beat Bolivia's Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-2 in just 61 minutes, with the temperature at Ariake Tennis Park hovering around 90 degrees and the humidity over 60 percent.
After the match, Djokovic made a point to wonder to media why the International Tennis Federation decided to have matches begin at 11 a.m. in Tokyo, when they could have been played later in the day and even at night, as there are lights for the courts.
"Playing in extreme heat and humidity, it's very challenging," Djokovic said. "Obviously it's the same for everyone; it's something we've known coming into Tokyo, we heard and expected the conditions would be very tough, but before you come here and experience that, you don't really know how difficult it is."
Djokovic believes he doesn't play his best in conditions like players are experiencing in Tokyo, but Dellien would likely disagree.
The world's No. 139-ranked player had his moments, but they were too few and far between against Djokovic, who has lost just three times in 38 matches in 2021.
Which is why the 34-year-old Djokovic is in position to try to accomplish something no man has: the "Golden Slam." Already a winner in the first three Grand Slams of the year, the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, he is trying to add the Olympic gold medal and finish it with the U.S. Open beginning in late August.
Steffi Graf is the only person thus far with a Golden Slam, which she did in 1988.
In the spirit of the Olympics, where commemorative pins are their own kind of currency, Dellien asked Djokovic if they could exchange uniforms at the net after the match. Djokovic answered in Dellien's native Spanish,and obliged.
The Bolivian tweeted this week that while others would consider it bad luck that he drew the world's best player in the first round, he entered the Games at the last minute and was fulfilling his "sueño máximo," or ultimate dream.
Last year, Dellien missed the birth of his first child and didn't get to meet her for almost two months because of COVID-19. As he documented, in March Dellien traveled from California, where the Indian Wells Tournament was canceled because of the growing pandemic, back to Argentina where he trains. His wife, Camila, was in Paraguay with family. By the time it became clear that Dellien wouldn't be able to play for a while, Paraguay had closed its borders to travel, though Dellien was able to go to his home country of Bolivia.
His daughter, Mila, was born April 25, but he did not meet her until June 16 after appealing to the governments of both Bolivia and Paraguay, getting permission to enter Paraguayz and then spending two weeks in quarantine.
This is Djokovic's fourth Olympics, but thus far his best result was a bronze medal at Beijing in 2008. He was upset in the first round in Rio five years ago by Juan Martin Del Potro and cried on the court after the loss.
"It's just a different kind of energy coming into the Olympics and representing your country than playing at any other tournament," he said. "Because the Olympics is once every four years. ... That's why the buildup is so important, and if you lose you feel like all world fell apart in that moment. But the next day you move on; that's sport. Hopefully I can still keep on smiling in a week's time."
Djokovic plays German Jan-Lennard Struff in Round 2.
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