Djokovic energized by N.Y. return, to reclaim No. 1
NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic is back at the US 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 of France on Monday night.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion had to wait through Coco Gauff‘s three-set victory to open the night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium, followed by an opening-night ceremony marking 50 years of equal prize money at the US 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 United States last year because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. Monday’s match was his first at Flushing Meadows since falling to Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 final, a loss that prevented the Serbian player from completing the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969.
The fans let the 36-year-old know they had missed him, showering Djokovic with applause as he emerged from the tunnel and onto Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
It was clear he had missed them, as well, as he embraced the cheers of a record crowd of over 30,000 that included former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
“I was excited to go out on the court; it has been a couple of years, so to come in front of you guys is always a pleasure,” Djokovic told the New York crowd. “Thanks for coming out, and thanks to all the people who stayed to almost 1 a.m.
“Night sessions at Arthur Ashe are always something special.”
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 US Open and assured he will regain the No. 1 ranking on Sept. 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 Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz. It will be Djokovic’s 390th week atop the rankings, extending his own record.
Alcaraz, who beat Djokovic in an epic Wimbledon final in July, will open his title defense on Tuesday against Germany’s Dominik Koepfer.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.