Read & Watch: Novak Survives Extreme Heat, Fucsovics
It was a trying afternoon at the US Open on Tuesday, with many players suffering the effects of extreme heat and humidity. Ice towels, fluids and energy tablets were a hot commodity all day.
Novak Djokovic struggled to find his form in the adverse conditions, but eventually survived a stern test from Marton Fucsovics on a steamy Arthur Ashe Stadium. The Serbian, a two-time champion in New York (2011 & 2015), prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 in two hours and 58 minutes.
Djokovic would lose a set in a Grand Slam opener for just the second time since 2010, and he would face a break point to go down 2-5 in the third. The former World No. 1 battled through stomach discomfort and overcame depleted energy, receiving a visit from the physio and tournament doctor on multiple occasions. Both players took a much-needed ice bath during a 10-minute break between the third and fourth sets, a new heat rule that the USTA has employed. But, with his back against the wall, Djokovic dug deep to reel off 10 games in a row and book his spot in the second round.
"It was a tough one," said Djokovic. "We both struggled. We were not the only ones today. Obviously you had almost 10 retirements in the men's draw. Brutal conditions. But it is what it is. You have to kind of deal with it. I had to find a way to dig myself out of trouble. It was a set all and I was a break down. I think that was the turning point. At 4-3 in the third when he was serving, I managed to play a good game. I saw that he's starting to slow down a bit. He started to experience some physical issues. That's where I felt to use this opportunity and try and get back in the match.
"After that, I hadn't lost a game till the end of the match. Obviously a 10-minute break was something that was very much appreciated and needed. I'm glad that we had that. I haven't experienced that before. That was the first time. I think we both needed it."
The Belgrade native is playing his first tournament since securing a historic Career Golden Masters, lifting the Western & Southern Open trophy for the first time. Also the champion at Wimbledon last month he has now won 16 of 17 matches entering a second-round meeting with Tennys Sandgren. The American won his first US Open match 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 over Viktor Troicki.
In other action, 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta took his first step toward returning to the semi-finals in New York. Last year, the Spaniard made a stunning run to the last four without dropping a set and Tuesday's opener was much of the same. He defeated Malek Jaziri 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and 52 minutes, converting an efficient six of seven break chances.
Carreno Busta, who carries his strong form to Flushing Meadows following a quarter-final run in Cincinnati and semi-final finish in Winston-Salem, will face Joao Sousa next. The Portuguese No. 1 routed Marcel Granollers 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Meanwhile, another former semi-finalist - 26th seed Richard Gasquet - was at his ruthless best in surging past Yuichi Sugita 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. He turned aside both break points faced and launched 37 winners, including 10 aces, to score his first victory at the US Open since 2015. Next up for the Frenchman is Laslo Djere, who advanced past Leonardo Mayer when the Argentine retired while trailing 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 1-2.
Many will remember Lucas Pouille's stunning quarter-final run in 2016, when the Frenchman upset Rafael Nadal in a fifth set tie-break. Now, the recently engaged Pouille hopes to rekindle that magic on the big stage after defeating qualifier Yannick Maden 7-6(6), 6-2, 7-5. He next faces former World No. 8 Marcos Baghdatis for the first time since taking an encounter on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2014. Baghdatis advanced when fellow veteran Mikhail Youzhny retired due to a leg cramp while trailing 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-1.