Novak Djokovic, the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player, began his bid for the final leg of the Grand Slam with a 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-1 victory over Holger Rune in the first round of the U.S. Open on Tuesday night.
Rune, an 18-year-old qualifier from Denmark, was making his debut in a Grand Slam tournament. He is a dynamic, flashy player with explosive power and contagious energy. He not only won the second set, but he also got the crowd on his side in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest venue in tour-level tennis with its five tiers and 23,771 seats.
Loud cheers of “Ruuuuune,” which sounded paradoxically like boos, were a frequent part of the soundscape. Though Djokovic looked frustrated and off rhythm as Rune evened the match at one set apiece, Djokovic never looked genuinely rattled and was not threatened down the stretch.
Rune, playing his first best-of-five-set match, began to cramp in his legs early in the third set and began wincing and hobbling between points and struggling to jump into his serve and cover the corners of the court: a necessity to pose any threat to Djokovic.
The final two sets lasted just 51 minutes, less time than it took Rune to win the 58-minute second set.
“I’ve got to say that it’s never nice to finish the way we finished today,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “Holger is a great guy, one of the up-and-coming stars. He was the best junior in the world.” Djokovic added “he is making his way through the professional ranks quite quickly. He deserves a big round of applause. It’s unfortunate he had to go through all of that.”
Rune has been prone to cramping, and though it is easy to forget at this stage, Djokovic, too, once struggled with his endurance on court, only solving the problem in 2010 and 2011 after switching to a gluten-free diet.
But at age 34, Djokovic has proved himself to be a long-running champion, one of the most successful in the game’s history. If he wins six more matches in New York, he will break his tie with his longtime rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal by claiming a men’s record 21st career Grand Slam singles title.
If he wins six more matches, he also will become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to complete the Grand Slam in singles and the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969. The Grand Slam requires a player to win the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same calendar year. Graf added an Olympic gold medal to her collection for a so-called Golden Slam.
After failing to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics this month, Djokovic chose to rest before the U.S. Open rather than play in any preliminary events in North America. He was not at his sharpest on Tuesday night, but his shoulder, which troubled him in Tokyo, did not appear to limit his ability to perform.
In his last appearance at the U.S. Open in 2020, he was defaulted in the fourth round after striking a ball in frustration and inadvertently hitting a line judge in the throat. But there were no misadventures in this first match, and Djokovic will be a big favorite again in the second round when he plays 121st ranked Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands for the first time.
Maxime Cressy, an American qualifier, produced the biggest upset so far of this year’s U.S. Open. Playing with a throwback serve-and-volley style and big-point panache, Cressy rallied from two sets down in the first round to defeat No. 9-seeded Pablo Carreño Busta in a fifth-set tiebreaker.
Like most of Cressy’s matches, it was a contrast in styles. He rushed the net whenever possible and sometimes when it did not seem advisable against Carreño Busta, a quick and fit Spaniard who has twice reached the U.S. Open semifinals and has one of the best baseline games on the tour.
The 6-foot-6 Cressy hit 44 aces, and his swashbuckling victory required him to save four match points in the final-set tiebreaker before prevailing 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7). The match was played on Court 4, an outside court that had yield a stadium-like atmosphere by the end as fans craned their necks to watch from nearby locations and packed into the top row of the practice court bleachers and peered down as Cressy scrapped and volleyed for the biggest win of his career.
Born in Paris — his father is French and his mother is American — Cressy, 24, later became a collegiate standout at U.C.L.A. and chose to represent the United States. He speaks French and English fluently, and his game speaks to the older generation of tennis stars who grew up playing the serve-and-volley tennis. That style has gradually disappeared: a victim of slower courts and the racket string technology that makes precise, dipping passing shots easier to produce. But the courts appear to be fast at this year’s U.S. Open, and Cressy was able to put his volleying skills and big wingspan to effective use when it mattered most.
He won 46 of 70 serve-and-volley points and 64 of 97 points at the net overall, frequently punching or chipping returns and pushing forward. “It’s great to see that style working on tour,” said Martin Blackman, the general manager of player development at the United States Tennis Association. “Quicker courts help but you still have to be able to hit those great volleys under pressure.”
Cressy hit plenty down the stretch, saving the first three match points when trailing 3-6 in the tiebreaker. The first two came on his serve and on the second, he hit two world-class low backhand volleys to stay in the point. On the third, at 5-6, Carreño double faulted, hitting his second serve weakly into the middle of the net. Cressy saved a final match point at 6-7 with another crisp backhand volley winner before closing it out: raising both arms high and howling as the crowd chanted “Maxime.” He then windmilled his arms to the crowd to celebrate.
Cressy is one of three former U.C.L.A. players who’ve advanced to the second round of this U.S. Open. The others are Marcos Giron and Cressy’s former roommate, Mackenzie McDonald, who defeated No. 27 seed David Goffin 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 on Tuesday and will next face Kei Nishikori of Japan.
Cressy will play Nikoloz Basilashvili, a former top-20 player, who advanced on Tuesday after Sebastian Korda, another promising young American player, retired in the second set because of a gastrointestinal problem.
But Cressy made sure that it was also a day of pleasant surprises for American men’s tennis, and he is the first American man to defeat a top-10 player in singles at the U.S. Open since Jack Sock beat Marin Cilic in the third round in 2016.
Sebastian Korda, one of the brightest American prospects in the men’s singles draw, was forced to exit his first-round match on Tuesday early due to illness.
Korda was visited by a tournament doctor before deciding to end the match while trailing 2-6, 1-2 against Nikoloz Basilashvili.
The Open did not immediately provide a reason for Korda’s withdrawal; Korda’s agent, Patricio Apey, said Korda had “had a bad stomach, likely food poisoning of sorts.”
The bad stomach had even worse timing. Korda had qualified for the U.S. men’s tennis team at the Tokyo Olympics, but skipped that opportunity to focus on American hardcourt events in preparation for the U.S. Open.
Korda’s sister Nelly won gold in women’s golf at those Olympics, increasing her hold on the No. 1 spot in the world rankings. His eldest sister, Jessica, tied for 15th at the Olympics and is ranked in the top 20.
As for Sebastian Korda, after starting the year outside the top 100, he has been one of the strongest players in American men’s tennis this year. He reached a final in Delray Beach, Fla., in January, the quarterfinals of the Miami Open in April, and won his first ATP title in Parma, Italy, in May. Korda, now ranked 45th, was the last American man or woman standing at Wimbledon, losing a five-setter in the fourth round to Karen Khachanov of Russia.
Korda’s results had not been strong in U.S. Open lead-up events, however, winning just one match in Washington and one at the Western & Southern Open.
In her first U.S. Open match since 2019, Ashleigh Barty, the top-ranked women’s singles player, closed out Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 7-6 (7) in the first round. Barty, the versatile Australian star, is in the midst of her finest season, and she was often powerful and precise in her return to Arthur Ashe Stadium.
She swept through the early stages of the match, dictating the play with her topspin forehand and smacking or slicing aces. But the endgame got complicated as Barty served for the match at 5-4 and double-faulted on break point. She and Zvonareva moved into a tiebreaker, and Barty had to save a set point at 6-7 with another good serve that set up a forehand winner.
She closed out the victory, finishing with 11 aces and 31 winners and winning all six of the points she played at the net. Barty missed the U.S. Open last year when it was played without spectators, remaining in Australia where travel in and out of the country was difficult because of coronavirus restrictions.
This year, she has won a tour-high five singles titles, including Wimbledon and the Western & Southern Open near Cincinnati earlier this month.
“I was disappointed to not be able to come and play last year but playing this year with fans is better,” Barty said in her on-court interview. “It’s so much fun to be back in New York. The city is buzzing, as it should be, and it’s really nice to be able to share this with everyone today.”
In the second round, scheduled for Thursday, Barty will face Clara Tauson, a Danish 18-year-old who is ranked 78th but has the power and potential to soar much higher.
Emma Raducanu’s first career main draw victory at the U.S. Open wasn’t overly complicated — it took only an hour and 18 minutes, after all — but finishing it off was.
Raducanu, 18, needed seven match points to close out her 6-2, 6-3 first-round win against Stefanie Voegele on Court 17 on Tuesday afternoon, and smiled with visible relief when Voegele’s final forehand hit the net.
Raducanu had originally been drawn to face the 13th-seeded Jennifer Brady in the first round. Brady, who had reached the semifinals of last year’s U.S. Open and the final of this year’s Australian Open, withdrew from the tournament on Monday, citing a knee injury.
Raducanu, ranked 150th on the tour, reached the U.S. Open main draw with three straight-set wins in the qualifying rounds last week.
During her Grand Slam tournament debut last month at Wimbledon, Raducanu reached the fourth round as a wild-card entry, captivating her home of Britain. But midway through her fourth-round match against Ajla Tomljanovic, Raducanu began to struggle with her breathing, and was helped off the court by medical personnel. She did not return to complete the match.
“I think that it was a combination of everything that has gone on behind the scenes in the last week, the accumulation of the excitement, the buzz,” Raducanu said in an interview the next day with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Raducanu returned to the tour last month, and has turned in strong results away from the spotlight. After a first-round loss at a WTA tournament in San Jose, Calif., Raducanu reached the quarterfinals of a smaller ITF tournament in Landisville, Penn., and the final of a lower-level WTA event in Chicago. In the final of the Chicago tournament, Raducanu lost to a fellow 18-year-old, Clara Tauson, who, along with Coco Gauff, 17, is one of only two players in the WTA Top 150 younger than her.
Novak Djokovic, the top man in tennis, will begin his pursuit to extend his dominance — and conquer demons in the process — on Tuesday at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic, who is three-fourths of the way to becoming the first man to win the Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969, will open against a Danish qualifier, Holger Rune.
Rune, 18, is playing in his first Grand Slam main draw match after a promising junior career. He has been surging recently with success at the Challenger level, but there is little reason to think he is ready to disrupt Djokovic.
Djokovic has reasons for confidence beyond an inexperienced opponent, of course: He has won his last 21 matches at Grand Slam events on the way to winning the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. Djokovic is at his most comfortable on hardcourts, and has reached at least the fourth round in New York every year since 2007.
But there are, potentially, reasons for doubt. After winning his 20th career Grand Slam tournament title, tying the men’s record, at Wimbledon, he hit unexpected potholes at the Tokyo Olympics.
He led comfortably against Alexander Zverev in the semifinals, by a set and a break, but then crumbled and ultimately lost the third set, 6-1. In the bronze medal match, he lost to Pablo Carreño Busta, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3.
Djokovic will be playing at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time since being defaulted from the tournament last year in the fourth round for inadvertently striking a line judge in the neck with a ball.
How to watch: From noon to 6 p.m. Eastern on ESPN; 7 to 11 p.m. on ESPN2; and streaming on the ESPN app. In Canada on TSN from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and streaming on TSN.ca and the TSN app.
Matches to keep an eye on.
Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are estimates and may fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.
Court 10 | 11 a.m.
Maria Sakkari vs. Marta Kostyuk
Maria Sakkari, the 17th seed, reached the semifinals of the French Open in June but has struggled on grass and hardcourts since then. Sakkari reached the round of 16 at last year’s U.S. Open, but faces a tough draw from the start here.
Marta Kostyuk, 19, boldly declared herself at the French Open by reaching the round of 16, and propelling herself to a career-high ranking of 55th in the world. She is quite capable of upsetting opponents who have more experience, and will provide a serious test for Sakkari on the faster surface at Flushing Meadows.
ARTHUR ASHE STADIUM | 3 p.m.
Ashleigh Barty vs. Vera Zvonareva
Ashleigh Barty, the world No. 1, retired from the French Open in the second round, and was forced to skip the preparatory grass tournaments earlier in the summer. Since then, she has won 12 straight matches, including her second major title at Wimbledon.
Vera Zvonareva, a former world No. 2, has not been past the second round of a major tournament since 2014, after a shoulder surgery in 2013 necessitated multiple periods away from the tour. Zvonareva’s experience is likely to be overshadowed by Barty’s current dominance.
ARTHUR ASHE STADIUM | 7 p.m.
Novak Djokovic vs. Holger Rune
Novak Djokovic comes into the U.S. Open looking to complete a Grand Slam. After two losses at the Olympics left Djokovic without a medal, he will be looking to bounce back and win a record-setting 21st career Grand Slam title. Djokovic will first face Holger Rune, an 18-year-old from Denmark who is a first-time major qualifier ranked No. 145. Although Rune won the Junior French Open title in 2019, it is highly unlikely that he will present much opposition.
Louis Armstrong STADIUM | 9 p.m.
Taylor Fritz vs. Alex de Minuar
Alex de Minuar, the 14th seed, will face off against Taylor Fritz, an American who is struggling with his form. Fritz has lost his last four matches on hardcourts, usually his best surface. De Minuar lost in the first round at Wimbledon in June, and has won only one match since then. As the two look to climb in the world rankings, the match is likely to hinge more on mental strength than on the physical aspects that have powered their careers.
Sleeper match of the day.
Court 4 | 6 p.m.
Jenson Brooksby vs. Mikael Ymer
Jenson Brooksby and Mikael Ymer are two exciting young talents on the ATP Tour. Ymer, a 22-year-old Swede, reached the third round of two major tournaments this year, upsetting players like Gael Monfils and Hubert Hurckaz along the way. Brooksby, a 20-year-old American, recently broke into the world top 100 after a run to the semifinals at the Citi Open, beating Frances Tiafoe and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Both can be aggressive at the baseline, which makes for exciting tennis.
Ashleigh Barty begins her U.S. Open journey on Tuesday against a 2010 Open finalist, Vera Zvonareva.
Barty, the top woman in tennis, has fewer ghosts to wrestle than Novak Djokovic but also has less experience with playing her best in New York. Barty has never reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open in her five appearances, though she has played the event only once since winning her first major tournament at the 2019 French Open.
But though she also suffered Olympic disappointment, losing in the first round, Barty bounced back with a dominant run to the Western & Southern Open title near Cincinnati this month, not dropping a set along the way.
Because of Australian travel restrictions, she has not been home for months, but said her nomadic year, one in which she won her first Wimbledon title, has become one of her best.
“It’s become such a beautiful story for me this year; it’s become such a beautiful year on the tennis court,” Barty said last week. “All of those distractions, experiences, everything that’s come with it has made it all the better.”