New York | Federer and Djokovic open their respective challenges
The two players who have dominated the US Open and are most certainly expected to be contesting the latter stages if not the final itself, got their 2019 campaigns up and running on the opening day.
It was very similar at Wimbledon when I dropped the first set there, as well, in the first round, At the end you look at the last three sets, and they were good. That's encouraging. Roger Federer
While Djokovic, the defending champion, made light work of his opponent, Federer was found himself forced into a four set opening round by a player ranked 190 and still looking for his first win on the main professional tour.
Federer was certainly sluggish in the opening set against the Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal but recovered his poise to eventually run out a 4-6 6-1 6-2 6-4 winner and declare that the first set wobble was ‘not a bad thing’.
The Swiss third seed, a five-time champion in New York, produced 19 unforced errors to surprisingly drop that first set against his unrated opponent who had admitted prior to the event, that he was in awe of Federer.
“Maybe it’s not a bad thing to go through a match like this,” the 38-year-old said on clinching his 1,224th career victory.
“It was very similar at Wimbledon when I dropped the first set there, as well, in the first round,” he added. “At the end you look at the last three sets, and they were good. That’s encouraging.”
At Wimbledon of course, he went on to face Djokovic in the final and despite holding two match points lost a five-set thriller.
That scenario can’t be repeated at Flushing Meadows as if their runs go according to the seedings, they will meet in the semis with the winner expected to face Rafa Nadal for the title.
“I broke every time first game each set. That was good. I think trying to forget the first set is never sort of easy I guess in a first round, under the lights. People expect a different result. I expect something else,” he said after winning his 62nd consecutive first-round match at Grand Slam level dating back to the 2003 French Open.
“I just wanted to pick up my game really, start to play better. I was able to do that. That was a relief, going up 3-0 in the second set, realising that it is in my racket, how I also felt it in the first set.
“The thing is I wasn’t serving consistently enough. I was hitting double-faults that usually I don’t do. Also, I was just hitting too many unforced errors. I was in two minds, I guess.”
There was also a bit of a wobble when he served for the match in the fourth set which was reminiscent of the Wimbledon final, but this time he regained his focus to complete the task.
“I thought he was getting a bit down on himself naturally after set two and three. That’s why it was key to stay ahead, and I did,” Federer, who with the win qualified for his 17th ATP Finals, said.
“You have to get over the finish line. I got that the hard way in Wimbledon. He did a good job to stay with me. I had to close it out. That was a tough last game. Maybe exactly the kind of service game I needed to serve it out.”
Meanwhile his rival and the top seed, Djokovic, who has won four of the past five Grand Slam singles titles, booked his place in the second round by defeating Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4 6-1 6-4.
In other action former US Open runner-up Kei Nishikori, eased into the next round when his opponent, Argentine qualifier Marco Trungelliti pulled out with back problems after just 47-minutes.
Seventh seed Nishikori raced into a 6-1 4-1 lead when the world number 205 was forced to retire.
“It’s a little bit sad to see. He’s a great player,” a sympathetic Nishikori said.
“For me I played great tennis from the beginning and I’m happy with the way I played today.
“But honestly I wanted to play a little more because I was feeling good on the court and I wanted to get little more confidence, playing more points, more confidence playing matches. I think my rhythm was going,” he added.
Nishikori, the 2014 finalist reached the last four on his two most recent appearances, in 2016 and 2018.
“First set I was playing really well, and he started feeling pain after first set. Of course, that’s going to help me for the physical side. I’m really fresh now.”
Grigor Dimitrov required 2-hours and 55-minutes to dispatch Andreas Seppi 6-1 6-7(2) 6-4 6-3 in what is the Bulgarian’s 9th appearance at Flushing Meadows and will face Borna Coric in the next round, he Croat having in turn beaten Evgeny Donskoy 7-6(7) 6-3 6-0 after one hour and 55 minutes of play.
Another Italian to surprisingly fall in the opening round was 11th seeded Fabio Fognini who became the first main casualty in the men’s draw. He failed to produce the magic he is capable of on court as the towering American Riley Opelka, who stands at 6ft 11in, dispatched him 6-3 6-4 6-7(6) 6-3.
“I’ve done a great job staying within myself, within my limits, against those [top] guys,” said Opelka, the world No. 42 who dominated with 26 aces, “The margins, the gap, is so small between top 10 and top 20 and whatnot. For example, today, I did a great job of staying within myself.”
A third Italian, ‘lucky loser’ Paolo Lorenzi, 37, dug deep to outlast 16-year-old US wildcard Zachary Svajda 3-6 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(4) 6-2 but a fourth, Jannik Sinner found Stan Wawrinka, the 23rd seed, too strong eventually capitulating 6-3 7-6(5) 4-6 6-3 while Tomas Berdych’s poor run of results continues and this time he lost to Jenson Brooksby of the US 6-1 2-6 6-4 6-4.
One of the favourites to perhaps upset the Big Three, Daniil Medvedev, the fifth seed from Russia needed just 85 minutes to beat India’s Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4 6-1 6-2. The Muscovite who arrived at Flushing Meadows as the ATP player with the most match wins so far this year, doesn’t want to be seen as a Grand Slam contender. “I always say at this moment of my career I haven’t even been in the quarters of a slam yet,” he pointed out. “So that’s the first step to make, and if I make this step, then I can talk about bigger goals and bigger achievements.”