Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic on Tuesday suffered in sweltering US Open conditions, but battled through to the second round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.
Djokovic, playing his first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium since falling to Stan Wawrinka in the 2016 final, received a brutal welcome back to Flushing Meadows as soaring temperatures and high 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.
Djokovic certainly looked a contender as he reeled off the final 10 games against Fucsovics, showing signs of sharper focus even before the 10-minute heat break between the third and fourth sets.
Federer, the second seed, escaped the worst of the conditions as he headlined the night session on Ashe. Nor did he meet much resistance from Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Up 5-1 in the final set, Federer was unable to close out the match against Nishioka’s serve, and then was broken on his first attempt to serve it out.
Federer, who claimed his 20th Grand slam title at the Australian Open in January, put the match away two games later, sealing it with a service winner.
Fourth-seeded German Alexander Zverev kept his time in the sun to a minimum with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Canadian lucky loser Peter Polansky.
Australian Nick Kyrgios, opening the evening action on Louis Armstrong Stadium, fired 25 aces and 48 winners in a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Moldova’s Radu Albot.
However, for many the day was a hard slog and the decision was made about two hours in to afford the men a heat break after a third set was not enough to prevent a half-dozen retirements.
Italy’s Stefano Travaglia, Argentine Leonardo Mayer, Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Serbian Filip Krajinovic were all victims of the heat.
Romanian Marius Copil succumbed to an arm injury in the third set of his match with seventh-seeded former champion Marin Cilic.
“I had heat stroke,” Mayer said of his decision to call it quits against Serbia’s Laslo Djere. “I was not going to die on the court, tennis is not for that.”
Women’s second seed Caroline Wozniacki took the weather in stride, trying to “think cool thoughts” as she defeated 2011 champion Samantha Stosur 6-3, 6-2.
However, for France’s Alize Cornet the steamy conditions were a “nightmare” that had her weeping courtside after a three-set loss to Johanna Larsson of Sweden.
In other women’s matches, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei defeated Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to advance to the second round.
Reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, seeded fourth, defeated Russian Margarita Gasparyan 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, while two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova beat Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 6-4 and last year’s runner-up, Madison Keys, downed France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 6-4.
Maria Sharapova, who won the last of her five Grand Slam titles in 2014, advanced 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) over Patty Schnyder.
Schnyder, the oldest ever player to make the main draw of a Grand Slam via qualifying, was outgunned by the five-time major champion in the first set and for the majority of the second.
However, she bravely battled back from 1-5 down to 6-6, showing the sort of ability that won her 11 titles and once took her to No. 7 in the world rankings.
She even saved three match points in the tiebreaker before Sharapova’s 23rd winner of the night sealed victory shortly before midnight.
“My average match against her is like two hours and 20 minutes, so I knew I was in for a battle no matter what my story is or hers,” said Sharapova, who is now 21-0 in US Open night sessions.
“I knew we’d go out and relive the battles against each other,” she said. “I know what a competitor she is and to come back on the tour is very admirable.”
Additional reporting by staff writer
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