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A member of the ground staff uses a leaf blower and Serbia's Novak Djokovic wafts his towel to assist with drying the court as Argentina's Pedro Cachin looks on after a rain break in their first round men's singles match in London on Monday. Image Credit: AP

London: Novak Djokovic launched his bid for an eighth Wimbledon title and 24th Grand Slam triumph on Monday with his 40th successive win on Centre Court as Russian players defiantly marked their return from a controversial 2022 ban.

The 36-year-old Djokovic, who has won the past four titles at the All England Club, defeated 68th-ranked Pedro Cachin of Argentina, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) on the tournament’s showpiece court, where he has not lost since 2013.

Djokovic even found time to help ground staff dry out probably the world’s most famous lawn after the surface became too slippery following a downpour.

The roof was closed but play did not resume for about 90 minutes, much to the frustration of the fans.

“When I come out, I usually come out with racquets, not towels,” said Djokovic, whose 45 winners featured 13 aces.

'Definitely frustrating'

“The conditions were not great under the roof, it was still slippery. I think it was definitely frustrating for the crowd waiting for us.”

Djokovic, bidding to match Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon titles, goes on to face Australia’s Jordan Thompson for a place in the third round of a tournament he described as “the holy grail, the temple of tennis”.

“What a second home to have,” he said. “It doesn’t get much better than Wimbledon in terms of history and tradition.”

World No 2 Djokovic has already pocketed the Australian Open and French Open this year.

Winning a men’s-record 23rd major in Paris put him just one behind Margaret Court’s all-time singles mark of 24.

First calendar Grand Slam

He is also half way to pulling off the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

Seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev of Russia was the first men’s winner of the day, beating Australia’s Max Purcell 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

Twelve months ago, all Russian and Belarusian players were banned by Wimbledon in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

“I think obviously there were better options — not just to ban,” said Rublev who next faces compatriot Aslan Karatsev.

“Because in the end, there was no difference. They did only worse to themselves.”

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Russia's Veronika Kudermetova returns to Estonia's Kaia Kanepi during their first round match on day one of the Wimbledon championships in London on Monday. Image Credit: AP

Veronika wins

His 12th-seeded compatriot, Veronika Kudermetova, made the second round of the women’s singles by seeing off 38-year-old Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, a two-time quarter-finalist 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.

World No 1 Iga Swiatek racked up the first five games on her way to sweeping past China’s Zhu Lin.

Reigning US Open and French Open champion Swiatek came through 6-1, 6-3 against her 34th-ranked opponent.

“I feel confident and did a good job of adjusting to grass,” said the 22-year-old Pole, who has yet to get past the last 16 at Wimbledon.

Five-time champion Venus Williams, the 43-year-old American who made her debut at the tournament in 1997, takes on Elina Svitolina on Centre Court.

Williams is playing the singles event for the 24th time 

Tight security

This year’s tournament will be played under tightened security over fears that climate activists could disrupt matches following high-profile protests at other sporting events.

Three protesters from Just Stop Oil ran onto the ground during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s last week, sprinkling the group’s trademark orange powder.

“Of course we’ve taken account of what we’ve seen elsewhere so security has been uplifted in various places around the grounds,” said All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton

The event will also see a relaxing of the club’s famously strict all-white clothing rule.

In a bid to ease period anxiety, female players will be allowed to wear dark-coloured underwear beneath their white skirts.

“I wore black shorts at the Eastbourne tournament so it really helped,” said British player Heather Watson.