Djokovic in survival mode as heat delivers beating
NEW YORK, United States – Novak Djokovic suffered in sweltering US Open conditions Tuesday, August 28, but held on to reach the second round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.
The Wimbledon champion, playing his first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium since falling to Stan Wawrinka in the 2016 final, received a brutal welcome back as soaring temperatures and suffocating humidity prompted organizers to offer the men a 10-minute mid-match heat break for the first time ever.
"We both struggled. We were not the only ones today. Brutal conditions," said Djokovic, who called for trainers who enveloped him in ice packed towels late in the second set.
"I had to find a way to dig myself out of the trouble."
Until late in the third it was "survival mode" said Djokovic, who endured a rocky start to the season after elbow surgery before breaking through for a 13th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon.
His Cincinnati Masters victory over Roger Federer stamped him a US Open favorite along with defending champion Rafael Nadal, despite his modest sixth seeding.
Federer launched his quest for a sixth US Open title – and a first since 2008 – not under the blazing sun but under the floodlights on Ashe.
The five-time champion Roger Federer eased into the second round, beating Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
Federer needed an hour and 52 minutes to dispatch Nishioka, who was ranked 58th in the world last March before tearing a left knee ligament and sliding out of the top 150.
Second-seeded Federer, who earned his 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, next faces France's Benoit Paire, a 7-6 (8/6), 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/5) winner over Austrian qualifier Dennis Novak.
Djokovic said it was a "magnificent feeling" when he and Fucsovics sat naked in separate, adjacent ice baths during a heat break.
For the first time in the history of the Grand Slam event, male players have been told they can take a 10-minute break from the searing heat when a match has reached two sets to one.
Djokovic and Fucsovics spent their brief time off court by stripping down and plunging into ice baths to cool off from the 38-degree heat.
"I want to thank US Open for allowing us to have a 10 minute break. I think we both needed it," said Wimbledon champion and two-time US Open winner Djokovic.
"We had the ice baths next to each other. We were naked in the ice baths – it was a magnificent feeling I must say to be naked with the guy you are still battling when the match hasn't finished."
Margarita in hand
Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki also played in the heat of the day, but the weather oppressing so many seemed to suit the Dane as she defeated 2011 champion Samantha Stosur 6-3, 6-2.
"I just tried to cool down between games, used ice," said Wozniacki, who also imagined she was on the beach "margarita in hand."
While Wozniacki got by with the help of eight double faults from Stosur and "trying to think cool thoughts," for France's Alize Cornet the steamy conditions were a "nightmare."
Cornet wept as she sat courtside, telling doctors she felt ill amid her three-set loss to Johanna Larsson of Sweden.
With the women already taking advantage of a WTA recommended "heat break" prior to a third set, organizers decided Tuesday afternoon that the men would be afforded a similar 10-minute off court rest prior to a fourth set under an Extreme Heat Policy.
'I was not going to die'
It wasn't enough to prevent half a dozen retirements, with Italy's Stefano Travaglia, Argentine Leonardo Mayer, Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Serbian Filip Krajinovic all victims of the heat and Romanian Marius Copil succumbing to an arm injury.
"I had heat stroke," Mayer said of his decision to call it quits. "I was not going to die on the court, tennis is not for that."
Djokovic called it "sad."
"There's so much cramping going on," he said, noting that while it's a player's responsibility to be fit "there are some conditions that are so extreme that as fit as you are you can't just not feel it."
Although he appreciated the heat break, he wasn't sure if organizers should go further and give up on the 25-second serve clock, newly introduced at the US Open to strictly monitor time players take between points.
"When a rule is implemented, it's kind of hard to just switch the shot clock off just because the conditions are difficult and brutal," Djokovic said. – Rappler.com
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