U.S. Open: Djokovic d. Mathieu

by: Richard Pagliaro August 28, 2014

Novak Djokovic has permitted just 11 games in reaching the U.S. Open third round. (AP Photo)

NEW YORK—Squinting into the afternoon sun, Paul-Henri Mathieu wore the exasperated look of a man searching for inroads into rallies, only to run into a dead end at every turn.

Novak Djokovic's serving precision, comprehensive court coverage, and stinging baseline strokes turned today's second-round match into Grand Slam gridlock for the 81st-ranked Frenchman. The world No. 1 was in cruise control from the outset, racing into the third round in a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 rout that spanned just 87 minutes.

These two have a history, and it's a horror show for the Frenchman. Djokovic had won 12 of the 14 prior sets they played, including 10 in a row. The enormity of the 32-year-old's challenge was exacerbated by the mileage on his legs. Mathieu outlasted former U.S. Open quarterfinalist Gilles Muller in a four-hour, 18-minute marathon in round one, while Djokovic dismissed Diego Schwartzman in a 97-minute opener. Wednesday was the warmest day of the tournament; today was the windiest. The tricky, swirling breeze favored the faster Djokovic, whose improvisational skills on the move may well be second to no one.

Djokovic deconstructed Mathieu's serve with both depth and timely return rips down the line. The top seed exploited seven double faults and broke in three of his opponent's first four service games. At that point, it was such a thorough thrashing, Mathieu looked both demoralized and immobilized. When Djokovic hit a drop-shot winner to reach set point, Mathieu didn't even step to the ball and was frozen when the Serbian scorched a forehand return winner.

If you've ever been so completely humbled by an overwhelming opponent—at any level of the game—you had to feel some compassion for the former world No. 12, whose career has been slowed by knee injuries and whose mind may have been rattled by a 19-match losing skid against Top 10 opponents. Mathieu earned his lone break point in the fourth game, only to see it dissipate on a net cord.

Djokovic, who was commanding on serve with 13 aces against no double faults, slid a 118 M.P.H. ace to hold for 3-2. He broke for 4-2 when Mathieu buried a forehand into the bottom of the net, and was ruthless thereafter, running off 10 of the final 11 games.

It routinely takes longer to cross the nearby Whitestone Bridge en route to the National Tennis Center than it took Djokovic to accelerate through the 21-minute third set. He won 12 of 13 points played on his serve and converted all three break points ending Mathieu's misery in the finale.

"It was very windy, but I managed to adjust to the conditions that are obviously not easy for myself and my opponent," Djokovic told ESPN's Brad Gilbert in his on-court interview. "I managed to play better in the important moments, stay solid, use my serve efficiently, with accuracy rather than speed. So I'm very happy with the performance overall."

A dominant Djokovic has permitted just 11 games in rolling into a third-round clash with Sam Querrey. Djokovic has won seven of eight meetings with the big-serving American, and if he continues to play as cleanly as he has through two rounds, all roads lead to another deep second-week run for the man who has contested four consecutive U.S. Open finals.

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