Djokovic survives first round meltdown
Originally published on: 01/09/10 10:27
Novak Djokovic was pushed to the limit by the oppressive afternoon sun and his countryman Viktor Troicki in his opening US Open match before prevailing 6-3 3-6 2-6 7-5 6-3.
Top seed Rafael Nadal advanced with a hard-fought straight sets win in the night session, but Marcos Baghdatis’ heady hard court form deserted him when it mattered most as he fell to Arnaud Clement in another first round five-setter.
Djokovic, who has an asthmatic condition, has retired from four Grand Slam matches in his career but never before in New York. And despite the temperature spiking above 100F during the three-and-a-half hour contest the former Australian Open champ clung on – albeit by his fingernails at times.
World No.47 Troicki made the most of the newly levelled playing field, bouncing back after losing the first set to lead by two sets to one with a break in the fourth, before Djokovic fought back to force a decider.
With both men out on their feet Djokovic remained the calmer of the two as Troicki’s feet began to betray him, often leaving him off-balance as he looked to swipe early winners.
In contrast, the No.3 seed kept his composure and form, saving two break points while serving for the match and setting up match point with a superb inside-out forehand off the back foot.
A service winner sealed it, and after a long trudge to the net the friends embraced, exhausted.
“I’ve been in those situations before, played a lot of long matches in very difficult conditions, feeling very exhausted,” he said afterwards.
“You kind of start panicking a little bit when you don’t feel great physically. Then your opponent takes the advantage. And it’s not easy. Definitely those moments are very challenging for an athlete.”
Marcos Baghdatis, who arrived at Flushing Meadows in resurgent form, slipped to a shock 6-3 2-6 1-6 6-4 7-5 defeat at the hands of French veteran Clement in another match played under the afternoon sun.
“What can I say? I was really heavy on court, I wasn’t feeling very fit,” admitted Baghdatis, who has never been beyond the second round in New York. “I couldn’t play aggressive. I was really defensive today and Arnaud played a very good first set. I didn’t play very good tennis and he won the match.”
Ernests Gulbis was also unceremoniously dumped out in the first round, losing to Jeremy Chardy in straight sets, while fellow seeds Radek Stepanek and Juan Monaco also exited with losses against Julien Benneteau and Canada’s Peter Polansky respectively.
But there were five-set victories for Mardy Fish and Fernando Verdasco. Fish, tipped as a potential contender for the US Open after a strong summer on the back of a new diet and training regime, recovered from a strange mid-match struggle to beat Jan Hajek 6-0 3-6 4-6 6-0 6-1.
No.8 seed Verdasco settled a score with Fabio Fognini, the man who ousted him in the first round at Wimbledon earlier this year, edging the Italian out with a 1-6 7-5 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory.
Former US Open semi-finalist David Nalbandian also progressed in five, fighting back from a break down in the final set to win 7-6(4) 3-6 6-4 6-7(6) 6-4 against Rik de Voest.
In the night session, Rafael Nadal failed to find a way to break hard-hitting world No.98 Teimuraz Gabashvili until game seven of the third set, but still booked his spot in the second round with a straight sets victory.
As expected, the Spaniard could do little to dominate the flat-hitting Russian given the quick conditions and balls used in New York, but was happy with a more aggressive serving performance that saw him break the 130mph barrier at times.
“It was a very tough match tonight,” Nadal admitted afterwards. “My serve tonight worked well and hopefully I can continue like this. It’s not my best shot but I always try hard to keep improving.
“I know if I want to have chances to win here, this year or any year, I need to serve really well and that’s one thing I am focusing on.”
There were also straight sets victories for Feliciano Lopez over Santiago Giraldo and wildcard James Blake, who beat Kristof Vliegen amid rumours he may retire at the end of the tournament.