U.S. Open | Novak Djokovic eases into round 2; Gauff wins tense affair

Djokovic was not allowed to travel to the U.S. last year because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19

August 29, 2023 10:34 pm | Updated September 07, 2023 10:33 am IST - NEW YORK

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, celebrates winning his match against Alexandre Muller, of France, during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis championships on August 29, 2023, in New York.

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, celebrates winning his match against Alexandre Muller, of France, during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis championships on August 29, 2023, in New York. | Photo Credit: AP

Novak Djokovic is back at the U.S. Open and will now be back at No. 1 in the rankings.

Djokovic made a winning return after missing the tournament last year, rolling to a 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Alexandre Muller on Monday night.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion had to wait through Coco Gauff's three-set victory to open the night session on Arthur Ashe Stadium, followed by an opening-night ceremony marking 50 years of equal prize money at the U.S. Open.

“Well, I knew it was going to be a late night for me, late start of the match,” Djokovic said. “Nevertheless, I mean, I was excited to go out on the court. I didn’t care if I started after midnight because I was looking forward to this moment for a few years, to be out on the biggest stadium in our sport, the loudest stadium in our sport, playing the night session.”

Djokovic was not allowed to travel to the U.S. last year because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. Monday was his first match in Flushing Meadows since falling to Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 final, a loss that prevented the Serbian from completing the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men's tennis since 1969.

The No. 2 seed took the first set in just 23 minutes and won the first eight games before Muller finally got on the board, raising his arms in triumph after cutting it to 2-1 in the second set.

“I think the performance explains how I felt tonight, particularly in the first two sets. It was kind of lights-out tennis really, almost flawless, perfect first set,” Djokovic said. “I’ve probably had the answer for every shot he had in his book.”

Djokovic improved to 17-0 in first-round matches at the U.S. Open and assured he will regain the No. 1 ranking on September 11. Because he couldn't play last year and had no rankings points to defend, Djokovic needed only get to the second round to guarantee he would take the top spot back from Carlos Alcaraz. It will be Djokovic's 390th week atop the rankings, extending his own record.

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