Novak Djokovic shuns crowd in ‘not ideal’ start to record bid at US Open

US Open: Novak Djokovic retires against Stan Wawrinka

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Novak Djokovic opened his quest for history at the US Open with a four-set win over qualifier Holger Rune. The world No 1 can become the first man to win a record 21st Major and the first since 1969 to secure the Calender Grand Slam with a win in Flushing Meadows. While his 145th-ranked opponent caused some trouble by snatching the second set on a tie-break, it was the New York crowd that truly tested Djokovic in an atmosphere he called “not ideal”.

Djokovic kicked off his campaign with a challenge as 18-year-old Rune managed to come from a break down in the second set to win an eventual tie-break.

The world No 1 got off to a quick start before that, racing to a 6-1 lead, and was never in doubt after dropping set two, racing to a 6-1 6-7(5) 6-2 6-1 victory as the world No 145 cramped on the other end of the court.

Although the young Dane proved himself on the big stage against the top seed, it was the night-session crowd on Arthur Ashe that caused Djokovic the most trouble, as they could be heard chanting for the underdog.

The Serb shunned the spectators following his win, failing to complete his trademark post-victory celebration, sharing his heart with all four sides of the crowd.

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It was the first time he had played in front of the US Open fans since retiring to Stan Wawrinka in the round of 16 back in 2019 with a shoulder injury.

Djokovic, who has previously found himself battling crowds that heavily favour his opponent, admitted he thought he was being booed by fans who were chanting “Ruuuune”.

“I didn’t know what they were chanting honestly. I thought they were booing,” the three-time US Open champion said in his post-match press conference.

“I don’t know, it was not ideal atmosphere for me … But I’ve been in these particular atmospheres before, so I knew how to handle it.”

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Although he was still able to win in emphatic fashion following the dropped second set, the Serb admitted he would prefer to receive the support of spectators.

He added: “It’s the largest stadium in sport. Definitely the loudest and the most entertaining stadium we have in our sport … Obviously you always wish to have crowd behind you, but it’s not always possible. That’s all I can say.”

The 34-year-old is bidding to make history at this year’s US Open, where he can overtake his long-time rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to win the most Major titles in history for a male player.

Having already triumphed at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year, he can also become the first man since Rod Laver 52 years ago to complete the Calender Grand Slam.

His chances of making history were boosted when Federer announced he would be undergoing a third knee surgery since the start of 2020 and missing “many months” on tour, before Nadal later cut his season short to recover from an ongoing foot injury.

The world No 1 was also the only member of the Big Three to play in Flushing Meadows last year, in what was one of the first events since the tour was suspended during the pandemic, but failed to capitalise in their absence.

Djokovic’s opener against Rune marked his first match since he was defaulted during his round of 16 match against Pablo Carreno Busta in 2020.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion he hit a ball away in frustration which unintentionally made contact with a lineswoman after going a break down and giving the Spaniard a chance to serve for the first set at 6-5, and was immediately disqualified.

The 2021 US Open is now being played with automatic line calling on all courts, with no line judges.

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