Unexpected test for Novak Djokovic

Although his 25-match winning streak at the Australian Open came to an end -- when eventual champion Stan Wawrinka surprised him in the quarterfinals -- Djokovic has had a nice year. After beating Nadal decisively in the finals at Miami and Rome, he declared that winning the French was his chief goal for the season. And then, when it mattered most, he couldn't beat the King of Clay on his favorite court.

Now, Djokovic's focused on Plan B, which would be tapping Becker's splendor on the grass at Wimbledon. Wearing a striped polo shirt, he watched from the players' box, a commanding presence with his trademark bright hair and piercing blue eyes.

With the two-year travails of Nadal and Roger Federer here and Murray's lack of recent form, Djokovic is the No. 1 seed -- and the favorite of the bookmakers to win his second title.

Djokovic, unlike the most of the other leading players, did not play a grass warm-up tournament. He took four or five days off at home in Monte Carlo and tried to get his mind of tennis.

"It was a long clay-court season," Djokovic explained. "It took a lot out of me. You need to balance and have some recovery time, some downtime, which can recharge your batteries, mentally most of all."

As the match with Stepanek wound on, Djokovic grew increasingly frustrated with Stepanek -- and his own inability to close him out in the third set -- and the fourth. Becker had pulled on a cream-colored sweater vest. At a critical juncture (serving at 5-all in the fourth), Djokovic made a gracious gesture of sportsmanship, giving Stepanek a point he didn't have to. Ultimately, when he finally won that must-have game, Djokovic reached down and threw up an emphatic, inspired uppercut.

The final point was perfectly poignant: Djokovic hit a crosscourt forehand that was called out. He challenged -- and clasped his hands in prayer as the replay unfolded -- and learned that he had, in fact, won the match.

"I do feel different having Boris on my side, having a player who made a mark in this sport -- especially in this tournament," Djokovic said before the tournament. "That's something I'm looking forward to experienc[ing] these two weeks."

The way things went down Wednesday, he's lucky the experience will extend beyond two rounds.

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