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Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory over France's Alexandre Muller during the US Open tennis tournament men's singles first round match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City. Image Credit: AFP

New York: Novak Djokovic thrashed Frenchman Alexandre Muller 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 on his long-awaited US Open return on Monday, guaranteeing he will take back the world number one ranking from Carlos Alcaraz.

The 36-year-old Serbian star, who missed last year's tournament over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, is chasing a 24th Grand Slam title and plays Spain's Bernabe Zapata Miralles in round two.

Djokovic, a three-time US Open champion, reeled off the opening eight games of the match before Muller belatedly got on the board, earning sympathetic applause from a crowd including former US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

The second seed showed little mercy to his overmatched rival, breaking serve eight times and clinching victory in an hour and 35 minutes.

"I started tremendously well out of the blocks," said Djokovic, whose match didn't begin until after 11pm following a ceremony honouring Billie Jean King and the 50th anniversary of equal prize money for men and women at the US Open.

"I knew it was going to be a late night for me, late start of the match. Nevertheless, I mean, I was excited to go out on the court," said Djokovic.

"I didn't care if I started after midnight because I was looking forward to this moment for few years, to be out on the biggest stadium in our sport, the loudest stadium in our sport, playing night session."

"Everyone knows in tennis that night sessions at Arthur Ashe definitely are the most exciting, fun, loud, energetic sessions you can have out there on the tennis world," he added.

Djokovic's previous match in New York was the 2021 final he lost to Daniil Medvedev, a defeat which stopped him from completing a calendar Grand Slam.

He improved his first round record at the US Open to 17-0 against Muller, who was making his main draw debut at the tournament.

"I think the performance explains how I felt tonight, particularly in the first two sets. It was kind of lights-out tennis really, almost flawless, perfect first set," said Djokovic.

"I've probably had the answer for every shot he had in his book. Overall I'm very, very pleased with the way I feel, with the way I'm playing.

"Hopefully I can maintain that level. It's just the beginning of the tournament, but I already like the level of tennis."