Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 men’s tennis player, started his bid for the final leg of the Grand Slam with a 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-1 win over Holger Rune in the US first round. Open on Tuesday evenings.
Rune, an 18-year-old qualifier from Denmark, made his debut in a Grand Slam tournament. He is a dynamic, flashy player with explosive power and infectious energy. Not only did he win the second set, but he also got the crowd on his side at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest venue in tour-level tennis with its five tiers and 23,771 seats.
Loud cheers from “Ruuuuune,” which paradoxically sounded like boos, were a common part of the soundscape. Although Djokovic looked frustrated and out of rhythm as Rune equalized in one set, Djokovic never seemed really upset and wasn’t threatened.
Rune, who was playing his first best-of-five-set game, started to get leg cramps early in the third set and started to shudder and stumble between points and struggled to jump into his serve and corner the corners of cover the field: a necessity to threaten Djokovic.
The last two sets lasted only 51 minutes, less time than it took Rune to win the second set of 58 minutes.
“I have to say it’s never nice to end up the way we ended today,” Djokovic said in his on-track interview. “Holger is a great guy, one of the rising stars. He was the best junior in the world.” Djokovic added: “He is making his way through the professional ranks pretty quickly. He deserves a big round of applause. It’s a shame he had to go through all that.”
Rune is prone to cramps, and while it’s easy to forget at this stage, Djokovic once struggled with his endurance on the track, only resolving the problem in 2010 and 2011 after switching to a gluten-free diet.
But at the age of 34, Djokovic has proven to be a long-running champion, one of the most successful in the history of the game. Winning six more games in New York, he severs ties with longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to claim a 21st Grand Slam title in the men’s championship.
If he wins six more matches, he will also become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to complete the Grand Slam in singles and the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969. The Grand Slam requires a player to win the Australian Open , French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in the same calendar year. Graf added an Olympic gold medal to her collection for a so-called Golden Slam.
After failing to medal in the Tokyo Olympics this month, Djokovic chose to rest before the US Open rather than play in any preparatory events in North America. He was not at his sharpest on Tuesday night, but his shoulder, which he suffered in Tokyo, did not seem to limit his performance.
On his last appearance at the US Open in 2020, he was given fourth round default after hitting a ball in frustration and accidentally hitting a linesman in the throat. But there were no setbacks in this first match and Djokovic will again be a firm favorite in the second round when he plays for the first time in 121st place from Tallon groenpoor of the Netherlands.