NEW YORK — For 68 minutes out on Arthur Ashe Stadium, it looked like the king was back.
Novak Djokovic told EPSN analyst Brad Gilbert on his way out to the court that “I missed tennis, to be honest” — he had played just six games and 31 minutes in the past five days since his opener at Flushing Meadows.
“I thought I came out of the blocks really good,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview, after wrapping up his 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 win. “I had a high intensity. It’s not easy waiting the entire day, until 10 30 in the evening, to start with the right intensity.
Djokovic coasts into Open quarters despite elbow
Novak Djokovic had his right elbow treated by a trainer early in the third set of his 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Kyle Edmund of Britain.
“But I made Kyle work for each point. I wanted to move him around the court. The baseline shots, both the forehand and the backhand were working well. I’m most pleased with that.”
For those first two sets, it was as one-sided as it gets in a round-of-16 major tie. The Serb, who had won their only other meeting 6-3, 6-3 at Miami earlier this year, was ruthlessly efficient; he was as frighteningly flexible on defense as ever, sliding and stretching and returning everything.
He anticipated almost every shot Edmund would make — “he got the text before Edmund even sent it,” as Gilbert said on commentary.
All the questions Djokovic faced coming into the tournament, into this match — the “personal” problems that contributed to his early Wimbledon exit; his first-round defeat in Rio; withdrawing from Cincinnati; the wrist and arm injuries he struggled with in his unconvincing first-round win against Jerzy Janowicz; the lack of time on court here — were all being emphatically answered.
It even looked like the crowd was going to see a second match of the night session, which was shorter than the wait they faced to get into Ashe Stadium, after Lucas Pouille finally beat Rafael Nadal in 4 hours, 7 minutes, finishing their day-session matchup around 7:30 p.m and delaying the start of proceedings.
But then Djokovic’s injury problems resurfaced, and Edmund — whom the world No. 1 had toyed with up until that point — got up off the canvas to battle back from 2-0 down to 2-2 in the third set.
Djokovic began to look at his box. He called for the ATP trainer, Clay Sniteman, and received vigorous treatment to his right elbow in a three-minute medical timeout. When they stepped back out, Edmund immediately broke him for a 3-2 lead, in what was a wild turn of events. Suddenly there was a sense that it could become an uncomfortable night for the Serb.
But the crisis was averted and Djokovic, seemingly almost affronted by having his superiority questioned, restored normal order by breaking Edmund twice more to close out the win in 1 hour, 55 minutes.
The No. 1 concern to Djokovic, though, will be the seven double faults he committed, and the paltry three aces he sent down. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, his quarterfinal opponent at Flushing Meadows, could well take it to him if he serves up similar stats on Tuesday.
The treatment Djokovic received on his elbow had also looked painful. “No, it was good. It was good. Everything was fine,” he later told a media conference.
When asked why he called for the trainer, Djokovic smiled and tried to bat away any concern with his characteristic humour. “I needed a little bit of massage,” he quipped. “I like Clay. That was a little deal we had before the match.”
The world No. 1’s four completed sets were the fewest any man has played to get to the second week of a major in the Open era, and, in the end, he was just glad to shake off the cobwebs.
“I’m feeling very good. I really wanted to start the match well today because I didn’t have much time on the court overall before the fourth round,” he added. “Very pleased, except a little drop in the level in the third set, midway through the third set. Other than that, everything was great.
“Considering I had some struggles before the tournament, I feel great at this moment physically; mentally as well I’m motivated. So coming into the second week of a Grand Slam quarterfinals feeling good, it’s exactly where I want to be.”
Unusually for Djokovic, he faced a lot of question marks coming into this US Open, more than he has had to answer at the start of a major for a long time, and the stark truth is that not all of them have been answered yet.