On an evening when it seemed nothing could derail Novak Djokovic’s charge towards a record-setting 21st major singles title and the first calendar-year grand slam in men’s tennis in 52 years, it was a mouthy spectator in the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd who did more to trouble the world No 1 than his opponent on the court.
Serving at 4-2, 30-all in the second set against the 121st-ranked Tallon Griekspoor during their US Open second-round match on Thursday night, Djokovic missed a routine overhand to go break point down for the first time in the match, then shot a glare in the direction of a fan who made noise during the point.
The miscue was compounded immediately when Djokovic was broken after overcooking a backhand. But rather than stew or combust, the best player in the world and top seed in the men’s draw broke back immediately and cruised to a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory in 99 brisk minutes.
“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, particularly when you are at his side, he knows why he’s doing it. The guy that I pointed out, he knew exactly what he was doing, and that’s all.”
The heckler, as it turned out, went down as quietly as the 25-year-old Griekspoor, who had crushed 30 aces in a first-round win over Jan-Lennard Struff, including one that clocked in at 149mph. He managed only five against Djokovic, who won 80% of his first-serve points and half of his Dutch opponent’s service games before closing the show with his 13th ace of the night on match point.
“Great performance,” Djokovic said. “Better definitely than the first-round match. Obviously I’m very pleased with the way I came out on the court. I served very well. I found the rhythm on the serve. It was important I came up with the goods.”
He added: “All in all very good, very good. I’m very pleased with the level of my tennis. All is going in the right direction.”
The result moved the top-ranked Djokovic to a perfect 23 wins from 23 matches at majors this year, inching him ever closer to becoming the first men’s player to win all four of the sport’s bedrock tournaments in the same calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969.
The next hurdle will come on Saturday against Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who rallied from a break down in the fifth set for a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-3 win over Mackenzie McDonald on the outer courts. Nishikori scored one of the iconic wins of his career when they last tangled at Flushing Meadows in the 2014 US Open semi-finals, but the former world No 4 has failed to defeat Djokovic once in their 16 meetings since.
“I don’t have anyone’s number on the court until I win,” Djokovic said.
What Thursday’s first night-session match on Ashe lacked in drama was more than compensated for in the nightcap as former US Open and Wimbledon runner-up Karolína Plíšková saved a match point before rallying to a 7-5, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7) win over local favourite Amanda Anisimova.
Anisimova, the surprise 2019 French Open semi-finalist who turned 20 on Tuesday and hails from the same New Jersey town where Bruce Springsteen grew up, was one point from the finish line at 7-6 in the third-set tiebreaker when she dumped a backhand from behind the baseline to the net. That opened the door for Plíšková, whose 24 aces were the most in a US Open women’s singles match since at least 1998.
Over on Louis Armstrong Stadium, Bianca Andreescu and Denis Shapovalov headlined a Canadian twin bill before a rollicking crowd that watched them punch their third-round tickets.
The sixth-seeded Andreescu, who captured the season-ending grand slam on her main-draw debut two years ago only to withdraw from last year’s tournament due to injury, went behind a break on four separate occasions against the American Lauren Davis but held on for a 6-4, 6-4 win that improved her lifetime record at Flushing Meadows to 9-0.
Afterwards, the seventh-seeded Shapovalov overcame an error-strewn opening set to overwhelm Roberto Carballes Baena by a 7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-0 scoreline that avenged his five-set loss to the Spaniard at this year’s French Open.
“I definitely wanted to get my revenge,” Shapovalov said. “I knew it was going to be very difficult. That’s why I said I feel super happy with myself to get away with it in straight sets. It could have been a very, very long match.”
The biggest upset of the day came in the men’s doubles as the American wildcard pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow won 6-2, 7-5 over the top seeds Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić, whose raft of championship hardware this year includes titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Miami, Monte-Carlo and Rome Masters.