By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis Writer
NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic missed an overhead along the way to getting broken for the only time Thursday night and stared at a man in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands who made noise during the point.
After breaking right back in the next game of his second-round victory at the U.S. Open, Djokovic glared in that direction again, as if to say, “How you like me now?” Miffed as the distractions persisted, he later spoke to the chair umpire about what is considered a no-no in tennis.
That, then, is pretty much what provided some intrigue and interest in this one, because the ultimate outcome – a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory for Djokovic over Tallon Griekspoor – seemed fairly obvious after all of about 15 minutes. Or maybe even before the top-ranked Djokovic and his 121st-ranked opponent stepped on court on a cool, breezy evening.
“That guy, for some reason, was calling, raising the sound and kind of screaming just before I would hit my smash, which was a big point. Before that, he would do it a few times. After that, again,” Djokovic said. “That wasn’t nice. That’s all. I don’t mind the noise. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important for the entertainment, for the crowds, the music. I get it. But if someone does it over and over again … he knows why he’s doing it. The guy that I pointed out, he knew exactly what he was doing, and that’s all.”
If that bothered Djokovic, his shot-making and serving boosted his mood as he took another step toward completing the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969 and claiming a 21st major championship to eclipse the mark he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
“All in all very good, very good. I’m very pleased with the level of my tennis,” Djokovic said. “All is going in the right direction.”
He considered this a better performance than in his win Tuesday, when he dropped a set and was taken aback by hearing what he thought were boos but actually were last-name chants of “Ruuuuune!” for his 18-year-old foe, Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune.
Here’s what matters the most: Djokovic is 2-0 at Flushing Meadows this week and 23-0 in Grand Slam tournaments this year, with five more wins standing between him and history.
“I am motivated as ever to do well,” said Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia who will face 2014 U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori next. “I am trying to be the best I can be every single day and let’s see what happens.”
Djokovic has won their past 16 matchups, including at the Tokyo Olympics in July, although Nishikori’s last head-to-head victory came in New York seven years ago.
This was only the fourth Slam match for Griekspoor, a 25-year-old Dutchman who tends to appear on the lower-level ATP Challenger Tour. And he never really stood much of a chance against Djokovic, who broke to lead 3-1 and was on his way.
“There’s a reason he’s the best of all-time, probably. Just, every ball comes back. You hit a great serve, the ball’s back on your feet,” Griekspoor said. “There’s just not one shot that you can go at that he’s not so good at. He’s everywhere.”
Djokovic dominated every statistical category. He served well, to the tune of 13 aces. He serve-and-volleyed occasionally. He returned well enough to win half of Griekspoor’s service games. He dominated baseline exchanges.
Maybe that’s why ESPN’s telecast cut away during the third set.
About the only problems that No. 1 Ash Barty and other top women encountered earlier Thursday came in the delays trying to get to Flushing Meadows in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida’s remnants blowing through the Northeast a night earlier.
Barty, a two-time major champion including at Wimbledon in July, three-time Grand Slam champ Angelique Kerber, Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic, double Wimbledon title winner Petra Kvitova and other seeded women including No. 14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 17 Maria Sakkari, No. 23 Jessica Pegula and No. 28 Anett Kontaveit all won in two sets during the afternoon to reach the third round.
At night, 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu improved her tournament record to 9-0 by defeating Lauren Davis, 6-4, 6-4.
Among the men’s winners were Summer Games gold medalist and 2020 U.S. Open runner-up Alexander Zverev, 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini, No. 7 seed Denis Shapovalov, No. 17 Gael Monfils and No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka of the U.S. But No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz, a Wimbledon semifinalist, lost to Andreas Seppi of Italy, and No. 31 Alexander Bublik was beaten by American wild-card recipient Jack Sock, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.
Another U.S. man who got a wild card, 20-year-old Jenson Brooksby, won an all-Californian matchup against Taylor Fritz, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (10), 7-5, 6-2.
With nary a cloud around, play in second-round matches on the outer courts was pushed back from 11 a.m. to noon to allow the U.S. Tennis Association time to clean up downed tree branches and other scattered debris and make sure everything was ready for competition on Day 4 of the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.
Once all was ready to go, it was just a matter of players’ transportation navigating traffic delays caused by road closures and vehicles that were abandoned overnight; a trip from Manhattan to Queens that normally might take 30-45 minutes took 90 minutes or longer for some.
“Trying to grasp what was happening here on-site was quite unbelievable, and I know that there has been a lot of flash flooding and a lot of people in trouble,” Barty said. “Hopefully, a lot of people from site got home safely, and New Yorkers, in general, were able to get home, because it was quite a wild storm. It did wreak some havoc; obviously there was a later start today, I think, because of, obviously, the damage to the site.”
“It took us a while to get in this morning, but we kind of allowed for that time,” she added, “expecting there would be a little bit more of an issue than just a normal commute coming in.”
BRITISH TEEN RADUCANU MAKING ANOTHER SLAM RUN
Emma Raducanu quickly seems to have figured out this Grand Slam thing. The 18-year-old who was born in Canada and represents Britain is into the third round at the U.S. Open after getting to Week 2 of Wimbledon in her major debut at age 18.
Ranked 338th when she got to the All England Club, Raducanu has parlayed her attention-grabbing run there and her five consecutive victories over the past 1½ weeks at Flushing Meadows – including qualifying – into a surge toward the top 100.
“Wimbledon, it just taught me how physical I had to be for every single match and at the end it was my physicality that let me down,” said Raducanu, who retired from her fourth-round match at the grass-court major because of trouble breathing. “But that’s playing my first tournament on the tour at such a high level. So now, having played maybe four or five weeks, I’m still extremely fresh and new to the whole situation, but given the matches that I’ve played, I’m able to keep up a lot more physically. That’s definitely the biggest standout thing in my game that is going to take me far or is going to limit me.”
On Thursday, she beat Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-4, in the second round, thanks in part to accumulating 27 winners and only 11 unforced errors. Raducanu also earned 11 break points and converted four, while facing just one herself.
It was a sign of her growing game, because this victory came exactly a month after she lost, 6-3, 6-2, to Zhang at a tournament in California.
“Being on tour week-in, week-out and playing so many matches definitely helps in understanding what it takes to just repeat the level,” said Raducanu, who next meets Sara Sorribes Tormo.
Raducanu has won all 10 sets she’s played in New York, with three wins in qualifying and two in the main draw.
After being featured on No. 1 Court at Wimbledon as a home favorite, Raducanu has found herself out of the spotlight at the U.S. Open. On Thursday, she played on Court 10, with its 1,104 seats – a far cry from the 23,000-plus at Arthur Ashe Stadium or 14,000-plus at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Not that the site matters to her.
“We’ll see what courts I get put on here, but I’m ready to play on anything,” Raducanu said with a laugh. “Even the park at the back!”
WHAT DID YOU ASK?
As one would imagine, 7-foot tennis pro Reilly Opelka hears a lot of not-as-witty-as-they-think quips and questions from folks about his height.
So the American, who is seeded 22nd at the U.S. Open and moved into the third round with a 31-ace victory Thursday, enjoys coming up with new ways to respond.
“You get used to some comments people make all the time or just some stupid little comments. People ask me all the time how tall I am. Quite frankly, it happens 10 times a day. You would think people would understand: ‘Oh, he probably gets asked that all the time; I’m not going to be that guy,’” Opelka said after defeating Lorenzo Musetti of Italy, 7-6 (1), 7-5, 6-4.
“For the most part, I’m pretty nice when I answer. Sometimes,” he added with a smile, “I’m not so nice. Just depends on my mood.”
His latest bit is a play on the differences between those familiar with the metric vs. imperial measurement systems.
“When I’m in the States, I’ll put on a French accent,” Opelka explained, and then put on his best Parisian voice to demonstrate while saying, “Oh, 211 centimeters.”
“And then they don’t know what that is. That just makes me feel good,” he said. “When I’m in France: ‘Yeah, I’m 7-foot.’ They don’t know what it is. That’s kind of been my new one.”
Opelka, who turned 24 last weekend, will try to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time when he faces Nikoloz Basilashvili on Saturday.
FRANKLY, IGA, I DON’T GIVE A …
Iga Swiatek, last year’s French Open champion, offered an unusual explanation for the ups and downs she experienced during a three-set victory in the U.S. Open’s second round: She finished “Gone With the Wind.”Huh?
The No. 7 seed said Thursday after beating Fiona Ferro, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-0, that after three weeks of reading the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell – translated from English into her native tongue of Polish – she finally got to the last page a day earlier.
“And I cried,” Swiatek said. “Maybe that’s the reason I was emotional in the match.
Now she needs a bit of a break before figuring out what’s next on her reading list.
“I mean, I love it. This book has everything it needs. I don’t know if, like, historically it’s accurate, actually, because I haven’t checked that, but it was easy for me to just go to a different world and just (enjoy), I don’t know, the experience,” Swiatek said. “Suddenly feeling like I’m in the 19th century.”