Top seed and defending US Open champion Novak Djokovic didn’t need to be convincing to win his opening round match Monday night. But, his performance overall still left lingering questions about his health. Questions that Djokovic didn’t seem too keen to answer after the match.
The World No. 1 posted a four sets win over Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz as part of the first night session on Arthur Ashe Stadium. When asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi post-match about how he was doing physically, Djokovic instead responded initially with a song and dance inspired by the evening’s musical act Phil Collins.
Djokovic’s musical interlude was in some ways a much needed bit of levity for the assembled fans who endured a mostly low-energy match from both players.
Janowicz, a former Wimbledon semifinalist and top 20 player, was expected to test Djokovic at times during the evening. Janowicz did that for stretches in the match with his power and penchant for hitting drop shots. Yet Djokovic himself was way off his best as he appeared bothered by an ongoing arm issue.
That issue took center stage midway through the first set when Djokovic called for a trainer. Djokovic then took a medical time out to have the trainer work on his arm and elbow. After that, Djokovic managed to hold on to an early lead to take the set 6-3.
Djokovic’s wrist, the orginal injury concern he entered New York with, didn’t seem to bother him during the match. While that was an encouraging sign, it didn’t mean Djokovic’s night would be an easy one.
Janowicz, now ranked outside the top 200, finally earned his first service break midway through the second set. That advantage was short lived when Janowicz promptly surrendered the break right back. Janowicz found success up at net and with his drop shot, but had trouble converting on the big points.
Djokovic missed out on several opportunities of his own to break Janowicz and potentially serve himself into a two sets lead. Instead, Djokovic found himself serving to force a tiebreak. Djokovic, with a double fault, fell behind 15-40. He then hit a wayward forehand down set point to hand Janowicz the set 7-5.
Janowicz couldn’t build on his momentum however. Djokovic, with help from a tepid serving game from Janowicz, broke to start the third set. Djokovic struggled with own serve, including arming several soft second serves. But Janowicz again could not take advantage of Djokovic’s errors.
Djokovic broke Janowicz again when the Pole tried to end another lengthy rally with an ill-timed drop shot. Despite another fight to hold serve, Djokovic later hung on to seal the set 6-2 with a forehand winner.
A strong return from Djokovic gave him an early break to open the fourth set. That was all he really needed to take complete control of the match as Janowicz’s shotmaking started to fade. Djokovic earned another service break and soon found himself holding match point.
Djokovic claimed the 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 victory on the next point after a Janowicz forehand error.
“It’s never easy to play at this level throughout the year,” Djokovic said after asked again about his health. “There are days weeks, periods of the year when you are not feeling 100 percent. I don’t think it’s necessary to talk about this now. I’m through and taking it day by day.”
Djokovic, asked later in his press conference about getting treatment, said it was just for prevention but would not elaborate more.
“To be honest, I take it day by day. That’s what I feel at the moment. It’s good, as I said, just to finish the match. I’m pleased that as the match progressed I was feeling better and better. Tomorrow is a new day. I hope that I’ll feel overall good so I’m able to perform at my best for the next match.”
Djokovic will next face Jiri Vesely, who defeated him earlier in the year in Monte Carlo, in the second round.