Early in his career, Novak Djokovic was known to struggle in the heat. Then, he got fitter and rarely did he suffer in the steamy conditions. But that wasn’t the case today at the US Open where the Serb was melting in the 97F degree heat against Marton Fucsovics.
After taking the opening set, Djokovic looked to be in control of the 26-year-old from Hungary. No so. Djokovic began to look weary, slow and ragged, and Fucsovics took the second then improbably went up 4-2 in the third. And that’s when Fucsovics fell apart.
Djokovic ran off 10 straight games and enjoyed the benefit of a 10-minute break after the end of the third (thanks to a new rule passed earlier in the day copying the WTA heat policy) to win 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 in just under three hours.
“It was a tough one,” said Djokovic. “We both struggled. We were not the only ones today. Obviously you had almost 10 retirements in the men’s draw. Brutal conditions. But it is what it is. You have to kind of deal with it. I had to find a way to dig myself out of trouble. It was a set all and I was a break down. I think that was the turning point. At 4-3 in the third when he was serving, I managed to play a good game. I saw that he’s starting to slow down a bit. He started to experience some physical issues. That’s where I felt to use this opportunity and try and get back in the match.
“After that, I hadn’t lost a game till the end of the match. Obviously a 10-minute break was something that was very much appreciated and needed. I’m glad that we had that. I haven’t experienced that before. That was the first time. I think we both needed it.”
Djokovic, who has won 16 of his last 17 matches, will next face Australian Open quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren on Thursday which is also forecasted to be a very hot day.
Former champion Marin Cilic also was in a bit of peril. The 2014 US Open titlist was serving down 1-5, 15-40 in the first set before he roared back on Marius Copil 7-5, 6-1, 1-1 when the Romanian quit with a left arm issue.
“I was just missing some easy balls, making some unforced errors that are not that usual for me,” Cilic said, referring to his performance early in the match. “Conditions definitely were extremely tough and very humid, very hot.”
Alexander Zverev’s debut with new coach Ivan Lendl was encouraging as the German blew out lucky loser king GOAT Peter Polansky 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
“Our goal is to do the best I can on the court,” said Zverev. “His goal is to prepare myself the best I can. We’re working hard towards that. We’re working hard to being the best player I can be. We’re working hard to one day maybe winning these kind of tournaments. It’s no secret that’s why I took him. That’s the reason.”
In the evening, temperatures were still in the 90s, but it was no trouble for 5-time champion Roger Federer who held off a late charge from Yoshihito Nishioka for a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
“Thankfully I wasn’t too nervous tonight. I felt good. I felt like I had a good preparation week. No hiccups there. I think that settles my nerves there,” said Federer who is 18-0 in the first round at the US Open. “When you do walk out onto Arthur Ashe, you feel like people are there to see the show, enjoy themselves. Sure, they come for the tennis, but it’s also sort of a bucket list, wanting to be there… it’s great to have played also a good first round against an entertaining first-round opponent.”
Federer, who hasn’t won at the US Open since 2008, will now face the wacky Benoit Paire. Speaking of wacky, Federer could also see Nick Kyrgios in the third round.
The Australian stumbled in the second but otherwise had a straightforward win over Radu Albot 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 behind 25 aces and 48 winners.
2014 finalist Kei Nishikori was also a winner along with Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Frances Tiafoe who held on to beat Adrian Mannarino.
On a scorching hot day, all counted six men retired including Mikhail Youzhny who cramped in the fourth set to Marcos Baghdatis. The Russian who twice made the US Open semifinals was playing his final Grand Slam match.
Tomorrow, with temperatures expected to again come close to 100F, Andy Murray will try to win his 14th match in 15 tries against Fernando Verdasco. Three-time champion Rafael Nadal returns under the lights to face Canadian Vasek Pospisil. Former champions Juan Martin del Potro and Stan Wawrinka are also in action along with top Americans John Isner, Jack Sock and Steve Johnson.
Denis Shapovalov, Milos Raonic and Stefanos Tsitsipas are also on court. The Greek faces New Haven champ Daniil Medvedev in a good matchup.
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