New York, Sep 01 (AP): If the last-name chorus of “Ruuuuuune!” in support of his relatively unknown teenage opponent at the US Open bothered Novak Djokovic, he never let anyone know.
Nor was there any visible evidence that Djokovic was shaken by the shaky patches he went through while dropping a set Tuesday night as he began his historic bid to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969 and collect a record-breaking 21st major singles championship.
Djokovic was not perfect “It wasn’t the best of my performances,” he acknowledged but he didn’t need to be. All he needed to do was win, and he did, just as he’s done every time he’s played a Grand Slam match this season, whether on the hard courts of the Australian Open, the red clay of the French Open, the grass of Wimbledon or, now, the first of what he hopes will be seven times on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.
Quickly regaining control after a second-set blip, then wearing down his cramping foe, Djokovic beat Danish qualifier Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune 6-1 6-7 (5) 6-2 6-1 to reach the second round.
“I mean, obviously you always wish to have crowd behind you, but it’s not always possible. That’s all I can say. I mean, I don’t know; I’ve been focusing on myself and what I need to do,” said Djokovic, who next faces Tallon Griekspoor, a 25-year-old from Netherlands ranked 121st who got into the field when Roger Federer pulled out.
“I guess I have to just see how it feels on the court and try to keep it together. That’s all I can do.”
So many differences between the two players in Arthur Ashe Stadium on a muggy Tuesday evening.
Djokovic is 34; Rune 18. Djokovic is ranked No. 1; Rune 145th. Djokovic owns 20 Grand Slam titles, the men’s mark he currently shares with rivals Federer and Rafael Nadal; Rune, the junior champion at Roland Garros two years ago, had never played a match in the main draw of a major tournament until Tuesday.
Djokovic’s on-court career earnings entering this week were more than USD 150 million; Rune’s were less than USD 150,000.
Rune showed up with some belongings in a blue Ikea shopping tote “It’s a nice bag,” he explained and wearing a backward-turned yellow hat, which he exchanged for a blue one after the first set. His descriptions of this match sounded as if they arrived from someone very much his age: All in all, he found it to be a “crazy experience” and “a dream come true,” and the crowd support was “unbelievable” and a “pretty sick feeling.”
Rune did come in on a 13-match winning streak, built on the lower-level ATP Challenger Tour and the qualifying rounds in New York. The fans back at the U.S. Open after all spectators were banned last year because of the coronavirus pandemic gave him some serious backing, responding to his pumped fists and uppercuts and pleas for more noise when he was playing at his best level in the second set.
What initially sounded like booing to both players was actually “Rune-ing,” and the kid clearly loved the moment. So did his mother, clapping and smiling in his guest box, which also included Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach. Rune has trained at Mouratoglou’s tennis academy in France.
Williams came so close to going 4 for 4 at the majors in 2015, before losing in the semifinals at the US Open against Roberta Vinci in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Had Djokovic lost this, it would have been even more of a stunner.