NEW YORK-Novak Djokovic got his campaign to win a fourth U.S. Open, and 18th Grand Slam title overall, off to a flying start on Monday by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1 6-4 6-1 to advance to the second round. 

Djokovic broke Dzumhur’s serve for a seventh time to seal the win in the first night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium court, which, due to COVID-19, was missing the thousands of rowdy New York tennis fans that usually flock to Queens every year. After a dominant start, Djokovic struggled in the second set and lost his temper even after closing it out. “I thought I started very well, a set and a break (up) then things got complicated,” a masked Djokovic said in courtside interview. “I lost my focus, he started missing less and he put some good variety in the game ... he came up with some good shots and it was anybody’s game midway through the second set.” 

In the end Dzumhur, who hails from Bosnia and Herzegovina, had no answer to the world number one’s blistering serve and stout defence in a match that lasted just under two hours. The 28-year-old did not make it easy on himself, committing 41 unforced errors and eight double faults to fall to 0-3 lifetime against Djokovic. With the win the Serbian, who won his fourth title of the year at the Western & Southern Open on Saturday, improved to 24-0 on the season. 

Djokovic’s health had been a question coming into Monday’s match after he needed treatment on his neck at the Western & Southern Open but he said he had recovered. “I feel fine, to be honest I did struggle a bit in the semis and final back-to-back but I had 48 hours to recover,” said Djokovic, who resigned as head of the ATP’s Player Council at the weekend and announced the formation of the Professional Tennis Players Association. 

Next up is a second-round meeting with Briton Kyle Edmund, who defeated Alexander Bublik earlier in the day. Djokovic holds a 5-1 advantage in their head-to-head meetings. With the two other members of the sport’s Big Three — Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal — absent from the tournament, Djokovic is a heavy favourite to hoist the trophy and pull within one Grand Slam title of Nadal (19) and two of Federer (20). 

OSAKA ALLAYS INJURY FEARS IN THREE-SET WIN OVER DOI

Japan’s Naomi Osaka showed no signs of discomfort from the injury that forced her to miss a final on Saturday but the former US Open champion had to dig deep to beat compatriot Misaki Doi 6-2 5-7 6-2 in her opener at Flushing Meadows. 

A left hamstring injury had forced Osaka to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open final against Victoria Azarenka and the fourth seed said on Monday she was managing the pain, though her movement did not seem to be affected against Doi. “Physically I feel like I could be better. But I can’t complain because I won the match,” Osaka told reporters. “The leg felt relatively good. “It was still a little bit sore ... But then during the match, it slowly got a little bit worse. For the most part I’m managing.” 

The past week saw Osaka, 22, emerge as tennis’ torchbearer in protests against racial injustice and she walked out to the court wearing a mask featuring the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March. “Actually, so I have seven (masks),” said Osaka. “It’s quite sad that seven masks aren’t enough for all the names. Hopefully I’ll get to the final so you can see all of them.” 

Osaka initially pulled out of her semi-finals at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She reversed her decision after tennis governing bodies suspended the tournament to join the protests. With no spectators allowed into the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, large sections of seating in the Arthur Ashe Stadium court were covered with ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners. 

Osaka, the 2018 champion, started strongly in the opening set as she broke Doi’s serve twice without facing a single breakpoint. But she struggled with her serve in the second and her unforced errors mounted as the 81st-ranked Doi, who lost to Osaka in their only previous meeting in 2016, levelled the match with a second break. 

Normal service was resumed in the decider, however, as Osaka broke her Fed Cup team mate early before sealing the win with a second break. Next up for Osaka is Camila Giorgi, who beat Alison van Uytvanck 2-6 6-1 7-5.