Novak Djokovic is Sensitive, Even When the Crowd’s Not Against Him

Novak Djokovic is Sensitive, Even When the Crowd’s Not Against Him

Men’s stars like Jack Kramer, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi never managed. Federer and Nadal surely won’t either.

But Djokovic is close enough to taste the Grand Slam now, having won the first three of the four legs in 2021. After Tuesday night’s victory he is just six matches away from joining Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf on the short list of those who have achieved it.

Though the shoulder that bothered him at the Tokyo Olympics did not seem to be a problem, it was not an entirely reassuring start. Rune, a teenage qualifier from Denmark whose boyhood hero was Federer, was making his Grand Slam debut. A former world No. 1 as a junior, Rune is a dynamic player with explosive power and contagious energy. He not only won the second set. He got the crowd on his side in Ashe Stadium, the biggest venue in tour-level tennis with its five tiers and 23,771 seats.

Though Djokovic looked frustrated and off rhythm as Rune evened the match at one-set-apiece, Djokovic never looked genuinely rattled and was under no threat down the stretch.

Rune, playing his first best-of-five-set match, began to cramp in his legs early in the third set and winced and hobbled between points. He was unable to jump into his serve, unable to run down Djokovic’s drop shots and groundstrokes into the corners.

One suspects that Rune has a bright future (and not because he resembles a young Leonardo DiCaprio). But the final two sets on Tuesday lasted just 51 minutes, less time than it took Rune to win the 58-minute second set.

“Unfortunately, my fitness let me down,” Rune said. “I knew if I had to win, I really had to fight for every point. With my body at this point, it was impossible.”

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