Djokovic gets back into groove
Published 06/09/2016 | 02:30
Defending champion Novak Djokovic has experienced the full gamut of moods at this year's US Open.
He was clearly uncomfortable while struggling through his first-round match against Jerzy Janowicz, and exasperated when his next two opponents scratched, citing injury concerns.
But Djokovic finally got to play a second proper match against Britain's rising hope Kyle Edmund and came away wearing an expression that his rivals will recognise only too well - a Cheshire Cat grin, radiating health and self-assurance.
"I feel great at this moment physically," he purred, after his 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory. "Mentally, as well, I'm motivated."
Was Djokovic acting like a corporate boss in a downturn? Trying a little too hard to reassure jittery markets?
Sceptics might point out that he still needed a visit from the trainer, midway through the third set, to manipulate his right arm and shoulder - a request he later justified with the words "Everything was fine. I just needed a little bit of massage."
But if the bookmakers are the sporting equivalent of the stock exchange, then Djokovic's smooth and stress-free elimination of Edmund has had an impact. By the end of the match, he had reclaimed his traditional status as tournament favourite after a wobble in the middle of last week when Andy Murray was attracting the shortest odds.
He should surely be fresher than the competition, having played only 11 matches since the end of the French Open. And even the other results now seem to be going his way, after Lucas Pouille's heroics eliminated Rafael Nadal from his path to the final.
You got the feeling that Djokovic wanted to send out a message - not only with his tennis, which was full of lovely touch shots, but with his demeanour and his consciously upbeat comments.
He must have known that Murray, the second seed, would have been watching his British team-mate and regular training partner.
And perhaps Djokovic also sensed an opportunity in the various doubts that have tracked him over the past couple of months - the "private issues", which he acknowledged but chose not to clarify, and the mechanical problems in his left wrist and right arm.
If he could resurrect his form at this midway point of the tournament, it might represent a 'gulp' moment for the rest of the field. On the other hand, we might be over-rating Edmund's value as a yardstick.
"It was a strong performance from Novak," said Greg Rusedski, who is part of the Eurosport team providing exclusive live coverage of the US Open.
"But the locker-room won't be convinced that he is operating at full capacity until they see how he goes against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals."
Meanwhile, Serena Williams set a new Grand Slam record of 308 victories following her victory over Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan yesterday.
The 34-year-old won 6-2 6-3 to pass Roger Federer in the all-time list of matches won at the tennis majors and made her way to the quarter-finals.
However, another Flushing Meadows showdown with her sister Venus is off the cards after her dramatic 4-6 6-4 7-6(3) defeat to Karolina Pliskova.
Elsewhere, 14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal lost a five-set thriller to 22-year-old Frenchman Pouille.
Pouille, ranked 25th in the world, reached the quarter-finals with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8/6) triumph and will now meet Gael Monfils.
Juan Martin del Potro's summer renaissance continued as the unseeded Argentinian advanced into quarter-finals when an injury forced Austrian eighth seed Dominic Thiem to retire.
Del Potro, the 2009 US Open winner, whose career has been interrupted by a string of wrist surgeries, needed a wild card to get into the year's last grand slam. Thiem retired with an apparent knee injury while trailing 6-3, 3-2.
He will face a quarter-final with Stan Wawrinka after the Swiss player's 6-4 6-1 6-7(5) 6-3 victory over Illya Marchenko.
US Open, Live, Eurosport, 4.30pm