New York: Novak Djokovic showed a bit more passion than might have been expected in his first-round win over Damir Dzumhur on Monday but the world number one brushed aside any question that he was feeling the pressure as overwhelming US Open favourite.
The Serbian lost his way a bit in the second set but rallied for a straightforward victory on Arthur Ashe Stadium that extended his extraordinary winning streak to 24 matches this year.
The absence of fans because of the coronavirus pandemic perhaps exaggerated his testy exchange with the umpire, the angry roar he emitted after sealing the second set, and a bit of back-and-forth with his box.
For Djokovic, though, it was just all part of his make-up as a 17-times Grand Slam champion.
“You care about winning a tennis match, obviously you’re a professional,” the top seed said on court after setting up a second-round meeting with Briton Kyle Edmund.
“If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here. This is how I play, I play with a lot of intensity and try to bring a lot of energy to the court.” In the absence of the two other men vying for the title of the greatest male player of the modern era, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, Djokovic is an odds-on favourite with the bookmakers to win a fourth U.S. Open crown.
That, combined with maintaining the prospect that he might go through the year unbeaten, could weigh on a player with less mental strength.
“I know pressure is a privilege, pressure is part of what we do,” Djokovic added in a news conference.
“I try to embrace it. I know what I need to do and how to behave, how to make myself calm and composed and focused on what really needs to be done.” Djokovic admitting to resorting to cliche when he said he would be taking each match as it came at Flushing Meadows but eschewed the usual sporting trope about ignoring statistics when asked about the winning streak.
“Do I want to keep the streak going? Of course, I do,” he said.
“Am I thinking about it as a priority number one every single day? No.
“It’s there, and of course it’s an additional motivation for me. It actually fuels me to play even stronger, play even better, I think bring the right intensity every match.”
Earlier, fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas eased into the second round on Monday with a straight-sets win over Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
The Greek player needed just one hour and 38 minutes to dispose of the world number 41, 6-2, 6-1, 6-1.
The 22-year-old Tsitsipas, sixth on the ATP rankings, will play either Slovakian Jozef Kovalik, ranked 123 in the world, or American wildcard Maxime Cressy in round two.
Elsewhere in the men’s draw on day one of the Flushing Meadows tournament, which is taking place without fans because of coronavirus, Frenchman Gilles Simon enjoyed a straightforward victory over Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat. The 35-year-old triumphed 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Adrian Mannarino, also of France, defeated Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 6-1, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted two hours and 41 minutes.
Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) bt Damir Dzumhur (BIH) 6-1, 6-4, 6-1
Kyle Edmund (GBR) bt Alexander Bublik (KAZ) 2-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-0
Denis Shapovalov (CAN x12) bt Sebastian Korda (USA) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
Gilles Simon (FRA) bt Mohamed Safwat (EGY) 6-1, 6-4, 6-4
David Goffin (BEL x7) bt Reilly Opelka (USA) 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-4
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE x4) bt Albert Ramos (ESP) 6-2, 6-1, 6-1
Borna Coric (CRO x27) bt Pablo Andzjar (ESP) 7-5, 6-3, 6-1
Hubert Hurkacz (POL x24) bt Peter Gojowczyk (GER) 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
Alexander Zverev (GER x5) bt Kevin Anderson (RSA) 7-6 (7/2), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5
Karolina Pliskova (CZE x1) bt Anhelina Kalinina (UKR) 6-4, 6-0
Caroline Garcia (FRA) bt Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 6-3, 6-2
Angelique Kerber (GER x17) bt Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 6-4, 6-4
Alison Riske (USA x13) bt Tatjana Maria (GER) 6-3, 6-2
Kristina Mladenovic (FRA x30) bt Hailey Baptiste (USA) 7-5, 6-2
Naomi Osaka (JPN x4) bt Misaki Doi (JPN) 6-2, 5-7, 6-2
Camila Giorgi (ITA) bt Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) 2-6, 6-1, 7-5
Marta Kostyuk (UKR) bt Darya Kasatkina (RUS) 6-1, 6-2
Anett Kontaveit (EST x14) bt Danielle Collins (USA) 5-7, 6-2, 6-2
Elena Rybakina (KAZ x11) bt Katarina Zavatska (UKR) 6-3, 6-0
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) bt Rebecca Peterson (SWE x32) 7-6 (7/1), 6-4
Petra Kvitova (CZE x6) bt Irina Begu (ROU) 6-3, 6-2