Djokovic turns it on late in win over Fucsovics in US Open return

by: Joel Drucker | August 28, 2018

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Court Report: Novak Djokovic pushed through a sweltering day at the US Open

NEW YORK—Returning to the scene of past triumphs is supposed to be a rather cool experience. But for two-time US Open champion Novak Djokovic, back in New York after missing last year’s tournament, it was anything but. At 1:30 p.m., roughly 30 minutes before his first-round match versus 41st-ranked Marton Fucsovics, the temperature was 95 degrees, with a humidity factor of 46. On court, the players baking like a casserole inside the partially enclosed, windless Arthur Ashe Stadium, it likely felt north of 110 degrees. 

Said Fucsovics, “It’s dangerous.”     

"It was a tough one. We both struggled. We were not the only ones today. Obviously you had almost 10 retirements in the men's draw. Brutal conditions," Djokovic said. 

Conditions were so oppressive that the USTA had declared that men would be given the opportunity to leave the court for a 10-minute break after the third set.

Lasting a tidy one-minute shy of three hours, this match took on the qualities of a classic three-act play. Breaking Fucsovic’s opening service game in the first set, Djokovic required just 38 minutes to take the opener, 6-3. Fucsovics appeared nervous, unable to impose himself on Djokovic in any significant way.

But there come those moments in a match when the underdog realizes he is no longer playing a résumé, but instead, merely reacting to an incoming ball. The same thing had happened to Fucsovics at the Australian Open versus Roger Federer when, after losing the first set 6-4 with rather tepid play, he’d relaxed enough to extend Federer to a second-set tiebreaker—before losing that set, and the match in straights.

This time, Fucsovics fared even better. Serving at 2-3 deuce, having just fought off a break point with a snappy 112-M.P.H. serve right down the T, Djokovic double-faulted and drove a backhand long. As Fucsovics gained confidence, Djokovic began to look weary. Fucsovics took the set, 6-3. 

Then, at 1-all in the third, he broke Djokovic at love and held at 15 to go up 3-1. In the next game, Fucsovics held a lead of love-30 and a break point for a double break, only to net a facile forehand and eventually lose the game. Still, Fucsovics held for 4-2. Djokovic appeared listless. But with Fucsovics serving at 4-3, he came alive, breaking at 15. There followed an easy hold. 

With Fucsovics serving at 4-5, 30-30, Djokovic lined a superb down-the-line backhand passing shot that elicited a volley error. Now holding a set point, Djokovic problem-solved the kind of point that has made him a champion. With Fucsovics thoroughly in control of the rally, Djokovic threw up a pair of lobs that kept the point alive—and then, adroitly ran to his backhand corner to cover an anticipated inside-out Fucsovics forehand. Fucsovics, aware that Djokovic was in that spot, overcooked his forehand wide. 

Each player quickly left the court to take an ice bath.

“I was dying,” said Fucsovics.

Not quite. But close enough. Djokovic began the set with a comfortable love hold. As Fucsovics went to serve, the question lingered: What more did he have? Two double faults to start the game ostensibly answered the question in rather ruthless fashion. Fucsovics would admit afterwards that the ice bath had left his muscles cold, that his focus had greatly diminished. Broken in that game, Fucsovics was clearly a dead man walking, Djokovic running the table, 6-0.

"Obviously a 10-minute break was something that was very much appreciated and needed," said Djokovic.

One wonders: Would Djokovic have won this match three months ago? As recently as Roland Garros, his confidence was in tatters, his strokes and movement lacking the crispness that had so impressively taken him to 12 Grand Slam singles titles. But now, this has been the summer of Djokovic, a resurgence bracketed at the front end by his win at Wimbledon, held in the middle by an impressive win over Federer in the finals of Cincinnati—and now, he surely hopes, closed out with a victory in New York.

While Djokovic surely hadn’t hoped to kick off his US Open with such a struggle, it’s clear he’s showing all the signs of being a major contender to craft a three-act summer saga even greater than the skirmish he got through today.

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