World No. 1 Novak Djokovic played his first ATP match in six months at the Cincinnati Masters (being held in New York) yesterday. The Serb beat Ricardas Berankis in a tightly-contested encounter, but suffered from a sore neck throughout.
The neck pain had prompted Djokovic to withdraw from the men's doubles event on Sunday, leading to rumors that he might not be ready for a top-level return. But the 33-year-old looked sharp when it mattered despite the injury, pulling out an extra gear on the big points to win 7-6(2), 6-4.
Visibly bothered by a bad neck that the trainer massaged twice during medical timeouts, Novak Djokovic double-faulted seven times and trailed by a break in both sets. But his experience carried him to the finish line, and he will now face American Tennys Sandgren in the third round.
The World No. 1 is, however, optimistic about his recovery - as evident from his words after his opening round triumph. At the post-match press conference he also gave his thoughts on the speed of the courts at Flushing Meadows, which have reportedly been playing quicker than normal this year.
Bothering me on serve, but better than it was 2-3 days ago: Novak Djokovic on neck pain
With his victory over Berankis, Novak Djokovic improved to a perfect W-L record of 19-0 in official ATP tour matches. The Serb has won titles at the Australian Open, ATP Cup and Dubai Open this year, but his winning streak seemed in danger of ending in the first set on Monday.
Asked about his neck in his post-match press conference via Zoom, Djokovic assuaged the fears of his fans by saying:
"It's unfortunate, after six months. It is bothering me on serve, but it's getting better. It's been four days. It's not yet where I'd like it to be but it’s heading in the right direction."
With a mask on his face, Novak Djokovic underwent treatment from an ATP physio during the second set. Trailing 4-2 at one point, many fans thought that Djokovic's neck issues might send him packing from the tournament.
However, the Serb then rebounded to win the last four games of the match to disarm all such worries.
"Hopefully it will not react with the inflammation after tonight's match. We'll do everything possible with the physio and then we'll see what tomorrow brings," Djokovic added.
I don't know what they've done to the surface: Novak Djokovic
While Novak Djokovic survived the inspired challenge of Berankis, the top seed on the other half of the draw Dominic Thiem wasn't so lucky in his opening match against Djokovic's countryman Filip Krajinovic.
After having played for most of the lockdown, Dominic Thiem was left red-faced in a 6-2- 6-1 blowout, where he won a total of two points on his return. Dragging most shots out of the court and approaching the net mindlessly, Thiem failed to find his rhythm on the Flushing Meadows courts.
Shedding some light on the surface speed, Novak Djokovic was quick to assert that the courts were playing faster than previous years.
"I don't know what they have done with the surface, but it's at least 20-30% faster than it used to be. It takes time to adjust," Djokovic claimed.
Novak Djokovic would hope for slower courts at the US Open as he mounts his challenge for a fourth title there. Medium-slow and slow hardcourts have been Djokovic's favorite surface throughout his illustrious career.Published 25 Aug 2020, 11:22 IST