New York: Top-ranked defending champion Novak Djokovic cruised into the second round of the US Open on Monday while French Open champion Ashleigh Barty and third seed Karolina Pliskova struggled but advanced.
Serbian star Djokovic, who has won four of the past five Grand Slam singles titles, dispatched Spain’s 76th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.
“Getting out of the blocks, it takes time for you to feel comfortable on the court,” Djokovic said. “Later in the sets I was able to take advantage in the big moments and move on and that’s what’s important.”
Djokovic, trying to become the first back-to-back US Open winner since Roger Federer won from 2004-2008, will next face either American Sam Querrey or Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Londero.
“I’m quite pleased with my performance and looking forward to the next one,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic owns 16 Grand Slam titles and is chasing the record 20 won by Federer with Spain’s Rafael Nadal on 18. Together the “Big Three” have won the past 11 Slam titles and are again heavy favorites.
Serena Williams opens her quest for a 24th Grand Slam singles crown against Russia’s Maria Sharapova, a five-time Slam winner, in the night feature before Federer meets Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal.
Williams, chasing the all-time record 24 Slams won by Margaret Court, is 19-2 all-time against Sharapova with 18 consecutive triumphs.
Australian second seed Barty overcame a horrible start to oust 80th-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Barty made 19 unforced errors to drop the first set in 28 minutes, but took the last three games in the second set and broke in the third and seventh games of the final set to advance.
“I was really pleased to be able to solve this riddle,” Barty said. “Zarina was able to put me in difficult positions. I just kept making good shots. I felt like I had good control and could put it in difficult spots on the court.”
Pliskova, a 2016 US Open runner-up, edged 138th-ranked Czech compatriot Tereza Martincova 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/3) after an hour and 46 minutes, finishing off the tie-breaks solidly but humbled after exchanging six service breaks with the qualifier to open the match.
“Not my best performance today for sure,” Pliskova said. “Not happy that I lost three breaks of serve in a row. That’s not possible for next time.”
Pliskova, Barty, Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and top-ranked defending champion Naomi Osaka of Japan could top the rankings after the US Open.
Osaka and Halep must win the title. Pliskova needs to at least reach the quarter-finals. Barty is the front runner, defending fewer points from last year’s Open than Osaka.
Venus, Nishikori roll
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams ripped China’s Zheng Saisai 6-1, 6-0 in 66 minutes.
“I felt like I executed my style of game the best I could,” the 39-year-old American said. “I was so pumped up today, it just kind of leaked out.”
Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori, the 2014 US Open runner-up, reached the men’s second round 6-1, 4-1, when 205th-ranked Argentine qualifier Marco Trungelliti retired with a back injury after 47 minutes.
“I played great tennis from the beginning,” Nishikori said. “I’m happy with the way I played.”
Russian fifth seed Daniil Medvedev, coming off an ATP title at Cincinnati and runner-up efforts at Montreal and Washington, defeated India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 in just 85 minutes.
“I can’t say I’m feeling amazing about my game but to win by that score in the first round is great,” Medvedev said. “I hope I can continue to play well.”