Djokovic battles past heat, sickness to advance at U.S. Open
Maria Sharapova survives near meltdown, Roger Federer also victorious
His cheeks red, hair matted with sweat, Novak Djokovic appeared to be in such distress as he trudged to a changeover on a steamy U.S. Open afternoon that someone suggested it would be a good idea to have a trash can at the ready, just in case he lost his lunch.
Djokovic sat down and removed his shirt. He guzzled water from a plastic bottle. He placed one cold towel around his neck, a second across his lap and a third between his bare upper back and the seat.
He was not even 1 1/2 hours into his first match at Flushing Meadows in two years, and while Djokovic eventually would get past Marton Fucsovics 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 Tuesday, it was a bit of an ordeal.
Watch highlights from Djokovic's win over Fucsovics:
"Survival mode," Djokovic called it.
With the temperature topping 95 degrees (33 Celsius) and the humidity approaching 50 per cent — and that combination making it feel more like 105 (40 C) — nearly everything became a struggle for every player across the grounds on Day 2 of the U.S. Open, so much so that no fewer than six quit their matches, with at least four citing cramps or heat exhaustion.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/DjokerNole?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DjokerNole</a> survives.<br>6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.<br><br>Also, it's 96 degrees. 🔥<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/USOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#USOpen</a> <a href="https://t.co/U9byR1rEiM">pic.twitter.com/U9byR1rEiM</a>—@TennisChannel
About 2 hours into the day's schedule, the U.S. Tennis Association decided to do something it never had at this tournament: offer men the chance to take a 10-minute break before the fourth set if a match went that far. That is similar to the existing rule for women, which allows for 10 minutes of rest before a third set when there is excessive heat.
The whole thing raised several questions: Should the genders have the same rules moving forward? Should the U.S. Open avoid having matches during the hottest part of the day, not just for the players' sake but also to help spectators? Should the men play best-of-three-set matches at majors, instead of best-of-five? Should the 25-second serve clock, making its Grand Slam debut here, be shut off to let players have more time to recover between points?
"At the end of the day, the ATP or a lot of the supervisors, they're kind of sitting in their offices, where [there's] an A.C. system on, where it's cool. And we have to be out there. They tell us it's fine; they're not the ones playing," said No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev, who won in straight sets in the early evening, when it was far less harsh. "For sure, the rule should be more strict. There should be a certain temperature, certain conditions where we shouldn't be playing."
How bad was it out there at its worst Tuesday?
"Bloody hot," said two-time major semifinalist Johanna Konta, who lost 6-2, 6-2 to No. 6 Caroline Garcia.
"Brutal," said 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, who advanced when his opponent retired in the third set.
"Really not easy," said three-time Grand Slam title winner Angelique Kerber, who defeated Margarita Gasparyan 7-6 (5), 6-3.
"Terrible. It's awful out there," said Tennys Sandgren, an American who won in straight sets and will face Djokovic in the second round. "I don't know how guys are hanging in there. I was thinking in the third set, like, 'It's getting really bad. I just don't know how long I have to play out there.' And I think everybody kind of feels similarly."
'Everything is boiling'
Djokovic certainly did.
"Everything is boiling — in your body, the brain, everything," said Djokovic, who's won two of his 13 Grand Slam titles in New York but sat out last year's U.S. Open because of an injured right elbow.
Djokovic was appreciative of the chance for a chance to recover a bit after the third set. He even took about a minute for a quick ice bath — as did Fucsovics, nearby.
"Naked in the ice baths, next to each other," Djokovic said. "It was quite a magnificent feeling, I must say."
Sharapova survives near meltdown
Maria Sharapova held on to edge 39-year-old Patty Schnyder, the oldest female qualifier in Grand Slam history, in the U.S. Open's first round.
Sharapova let a big second-set lead slip away, then needed four match points to close out Schnyder 6-2, 7-6 (6).
Watch Sharapova finally put away Schnyder on her fourth match point:
This was their ninth career meeting, but first in 10 years. Schnyder initially retired in 2011, but is now back on tour.
The Swiss retired from tennis after being beaten in the first round of the French Open in 2011 but returned in 2015.
The 22nd seed wrapped up the first set in 40 minutes and was leading 5-1 in the second before Schnyder embarked on a remarkable rally.
Schnyder started to take the pace off the ball to gain a greater degree of control and the approach paid dividends as Sharapova's error count mounted.
The Russian, who hit 22 winners but made 46 unforced errors, needed four match points to end Schnyder's resistance as the match went to a tiebreak, eventually sealing victory with a powerful forehand winner.
"I started making a lot of mistakes," Sharapova said. "She became really consistent. I think I just really wanted to finish it off and was just giving her a lot of free looks.
"I still have a lot of things to work on."
Sharapova next faces Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
Roger Federer improved to 18-0 in first-round matches at the U.S. Open and took one step toward a potential quarter-final showdown against Djokovic.
Dressed from head to toe in a plum-coloured outfit, the 20-time major champion delivered 14 aces and never was in any trouble during a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over 117th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday night.
Watch Federer finish off Nishioka:
Federer saved the first eight break points he faced before finally faltering by pushing a forehand long on the ninth, losing serve for the only time while trying to close out the match at 5-2 in the third set. By then, the match was 1 hour, 45 minutes old — and it would last another seven minutes.
The No. 2-seeded Federer is seeking his sixth title at the U.S. Open, but first in a decade.
With files from Reuters