Tennis-Day one Centre Court slot should not be for men only, says Djokovic


LONDON (Reuters) - Top seed Novak Djokovic said he would be happy if Wimbledon scrapped its tradition of having the men's defending champion always open proceedings on Centre Court on day one of the tournament.

The 34-year-old Serb had to wait two years for the privilege this time after the 2020 event was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He made up for lost time as he began his quest for a sixth Wimbledon title by beating British teenager Jack Draper 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-2 on Monday under the closed Centre Court roof.

Asked if it was about time the opening day slot on a court he describes as sacred for the sport should alternately go to the women's champion, Djokovic was inclined to agree.

"Why not? I'm not in the committee of Wimbledon, so I don't make those decisions. My opinion, of course, in terms of decisions-making process doesn't matter much," the world number one told reporters.

"Of course, that would be nice to see. They deserve it. I will be in favour of it."

It is rather a moot point this year as Simona Halep, who won the title by beating Serena Williams in 2019, has withdrawn because of injury.

The Romanian would have opened play on Centre Court on Tuesday which is traditionally known as Ladies Day but it will instead be world number one Australian Ash Barty who plays the first match against Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.

American Sloane Stephens, who is part of the WTA Player Council, said she appreciated it was part of the Wimbledon tradition.

"... I think we have so many other things that should be prioritised than the court assignment," the former U.S. Open champion said.

"I could go on and on for days about that, but I think that's just like a small stepping stone to equal prize money and more women playing on Centre Court. Not at this tournament, just in general, like being able to split the night matches and things like that at every tournament.

"There are so many things that could trump this one, but I think mostly for me as a player council member, prize money is obviously very high up there, getting all the Grand Slams to get on board with having a good partnership."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman and Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai, editing by Ed Osmond)