NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic was on court for less than an hour Tuesday at the U.S. Open, barely enough time for his beleaguered right shoulder to warm up.
Playing his first match at a Grand Slam event since elevating to No. 1 in the world, Djokovic got a break when Conor Niland of Ireland retired with food poisoning down 6-0, 5-1 44 minutes into the match in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It was a tough break for Niland, who, along with fellow qualifier Louk Sorensen, are the first Irish men ever to compete in the U.S. Open main draw.
“I think I’ve played well for these 45, 50 minutes that we had on the court,” said Djokovic, who won his 44th consecutive match, tying Ivan Lendl for the second longest-winning streak of the Open Era. “It’s unfortunate for my opponent, obviously. He had food poisoning he told me after the match.
“But I felt great on the court, and that’s something that’s really important for the start of the tournament,” added Djokovic, who opened the match with a 121-mph serve and is now 58-2 in 2011.
The last time we saw Djokovic on court, he was the one who had to retire with shoulder trouble. Djokovic pulled out of the Cincinnati final Aug. 21 against Andy Murray after calling the trainer to work on his shoulder.
“After Cincinnati I took some time off, and I did everything in order to recover the shoulder,” he said. “Today I didn’t feel any pain. I served well and I played well, so I have no concern.”
For the second straight day, Djokovic disputed a Wall Street Journal story that attributed his recent run of success to his use of a hyperbaric chamber in Alpine, N.J., where he stays during the U.S. Open.
“I said yesterday, and I’m gonna repeat it I think for the last time, you know, because I really wouldn’t like to speak about it anymore,” he said.
“I have used it a couple of times, very few times last year just to test it and see how it is, and since then I haven’t used it at all, you know, this year. So I cannot really say what’s the effect.
“It doesn’t have any influence on my success that I had in last 10 months, so that’s really all I can say.”
Djokovic has won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year and could become just the sixth man ever to win three Grand Slam titles in one year.
But he know’s there’s a long way to go before that happens, including a potential semifinal showdown with five-time Open champ Roger Federer, who cruised into the second round with a straight-sets win over Santiago Giraldo of Colombia during Monday’s night session.
“No doubt I’m extremely honored and privileged to be part of the elite of the players that have made, you know, the history of the sport in some ways,” he said.
“But my main focus is really on the court. I need to take one match at a time. That’s the only way I can really perform well.”
(Photo courtesy Reuters)
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.