23 down, 5 to go: Djokovic eyeing calendar-year Slam at Open

Sep 2, 2021, 1:54 AM | Updated: 7:50 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Novak Djokovic missed an overhead along the way to getting broken for the only time Thursday night and stared at a man in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands who made noise during the point.

After breaking right back in the next game of his second-round victory at the U.S. Open, Djokovic glared in that direction again, as if to say, “How you like me now?” Miffed as the distractions persisted, he later spoke to the chair umpire about what’s considered a no-no in tennis.

That, then, is pretty much what provided some intrigue and interest in this one, because the ultimate outcome — a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory for Djokovic over Tallon Griekspoor — seemed fairly obvious after all of about 15 minutes. Or maybe even before the No. 1-ranked Djokovic and his 121st-ranked opponent stepped on court on a cool, breezy evening.

“That guy, for some reason, was calling, raising the sound and kind of screaming just before I would hit my smash, which was a big point. Before that, he would do it a few times. After that, again,” Djokovic said. “That wasn’t nice. That’s all. I don’t mind the noise. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important for the entertainment, for the crowds, the music. I get it. But if someone does it over and over again … he knows why he’s doing it. The guy that I pointed out, he knew exactly what he was doing, and that’s all.”

If that bothered Djokovic, his shot-making and serving boosted his mood as he took another step toward completing the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969 and claiming a 21st major championship to eclipse the mark he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

“All in all very good, very good. I’m very pleased with the level of my tennis,” Djokovic said. “All is going in the right direction.”

He considered this a better performance than in his win Tuesday, when he dropped a set and was taken aback by hearing what he thought were boos but actually were last-name chants of “Ruuuuune!” for his 18-year-old foe, Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune.

Here’s what matters the most: Djokovic is 2-0 at Flushing Meadows this week and 23-0 in Grand Slam tournaments this year, with five more wins standing between him and history.

“I am motivated as ever to do well,” said Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia who will face 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori next. “I am trying to be the best I can be every single day and let’s see what happens.”

Djokovic has won their past 16 matchups, including at the Tokyo Olympics in July, although Nishikori’s last head-to-head victory came in New York seven years ago.

This was only the fourth Slam match for Griekspoor, a 25-year-old Dutchman who tends to appear on the lower-level ATP Challenger Tour. And he never really stood much of a chance against Djokovic, who broke to lead 3-1 and was on his way.

“There’s a reason he’s the best of all-time, probably. Just, every ball comes back. You hit a great serve, the ball’s back on your feet,” Griekspoor said. “There’s just not one shot that you can go at that he’s not so good at. He’s everywhere.”

Djokovic dominated every statistical category. He served well, to the tune of 13 aces. He serve-and-volleyed occasionally. He returned well enough to win half of Griekspoor’s service games. He dominated baseline exchanges.

Maybe that’s why ESPN’s telecast cut away in the third set.

About the only problems No. 1 Ash Barty and other top women encountered earlier Thursday came in the delays trying to get to Flushing Meadows in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida’s remnants blowing through the Northeast a night earlier.

Barty, a two-time major champion including at Wimbledon in July, three-time Grand Slam champ Angelique Kerber, Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic, double Wimbledon title winner Petra Kvitova and other seeded women including No. 14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 17 Maria Sakkari, No. 23 Jessica Pegula and No. 28 Anett Kontaveit all won in two sets during the afternoon to reach the third round.

At night, 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu improved her tournament record to 9-0 by defeating Lauren Davis 6-4, 6-4.

Among the men’s winners were Summer Games gold medalist and 2020 U.S. Open runner-up Alexander Zverev, 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini, No. 17 Gael Monfils and No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka of the U.S. But No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz, a Wimbledon semifinalist, lost to Andreas Seppi of Italy, and No. 31 Alexander Bublik was beaten by American wild-card recipient Jack Sock 7-6 (3), 6-7 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Another U.S. man who got a wild card, 20-year-old Jenson Brooksby, won an all-Californian matchup against Taylor Fritz 6-7 (7), 7-6 (10), 7-5, 6-2.

With nary a cloud around, play in second-round matches on the outer courts was pushed back from 11 a.m. to noon to allow the U.S. Tennis Association time to clean up downed tree branches and other scattered debris and make sure everything was ready for competition on Day 4 of the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

Once all was ready to go, it was just a matter of players’ transportation navigating traffic delays caused by road closures and vehicles that were abandoned overnight; a trip from Manhattan to Queens that normally might take 30-45 minutes took 1 1/2 hours or longer for some.

“Trying to grasp what was happening here on-site was quite unbelievable, and I know that there has been a lot of flash flooding and a lot of people in trouble,” Barty said. “Hopefully, a lot of people from site got home safely, and New Yorkers in general were able to get home, because it was quite a wild storm. It did wreak some havoc; obviously there was a later start today, I think, because of, obviously, the damage to the site.”

“It took us a while to get in this morning, but we kind of allowed for that time,” she added, “expecting there would be a little bit more of an issue than just a normal commute coming in.”

___

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23 down, 5 to go: Djokovic eyeing calendar-year Slam at Open