NEW YORK (AP) — Novak Djokovic admittedly got a bit distracted.
He was unaware of the U.S. Open rule about time allowed between points. He barked in the direction of his entourage — among the only people in the Arthur Ashe Stadium seats. In the end, though, he did what he always does in 2020: win.
“I lost my focus,” Djokovic said afterward. “Kind of got stressed out a couple times. Screamed.”
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic began his bid for Grand Slam title No. 18 on Monday night by extending his season start to 24-0 with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Damir Dzumhur at Flushing Meadows.
“Do I want to keep the streak going? Of course, I do. Am I thinking about it as a priority No. 1 every single day? No,” said Djokovic, who opened 2011 with a 41-0 mark. “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.”
During a pre-match TV interview, Dzumhur said about Djokovic: “Hopefully, he is not 100 percent.”
That was probably a reference to the way Djokovic dealt with neck and stomach issues during last week’s run to the Western & Southern Open title on the same hard courts being used for the U.S. Open.
Djokovic played a three-set semifinal Friday, then a three-set final Saturday.
But the 48 hours before facing Dzhumur, who has been ranked as high as 23rd and now is 109th, apparently were enough for a full physical recovery.
“I felt good on the court today,” said Djokovic, who trails only Roger Federer, with 20, and Rafael Nadal, with 19, in the men’s Grand Slam trophy standings.
Neither of those rivals is entered in the U.S. Open, only part of the reason Djokovic is an overwhelming favorite to win what would be his sixth title in a span of eight major tournaments.
One minor hiccup during his opening match had to do with the way the serve clock is being implemented at the U.S. Open: Chair umpires are starting that 25-second countdown much sooner now than they were during the Western & Southern Open.
Djokovic was not the only player to wonder aloud about that system during a match Monday.
“Why did you start it?” he asked chair umpire Damien Dumusois, noting that during the previous event players got more time to go collect their towels between points.
Dumusois said the pace is intentionally supposed to be quicker at the U.S. Open, to which Djokovic replied: “You do it here different? Why? There is no explanation? … Thanks for letting us know.”
After the match, Djokovic said: “No one really brought it to my attention. The lack of communication is something that worries me once again. I mean, that’s something that really upset me. … We’ve played in the certain tempo, so to say; got used to it during the Western & Southern tournament, which just ended two days ago. Two days later, we have a different rule that was just not communicated to us. That’s something that I found just not acceptable, not fair.”
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