Djokovic labours into second round at US Open in bid for calendar slam

Novak Djokovic took a first unsteady step toward completing the calendar-year Grand Slam on Tuesday as the Serb laboured into the second round of the US Open with a 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-1 win over Danish teenager Holger Rune.

Novak Djokovic returns a shot to Holger Rune during the first round of the US Open in New York on Tuesday.   -  AP

Novak Djokovic took a first unsteady step toward completing the calendar-year Grand Slam on Tuesday as the Serb laboured into the second round of the US Open with a 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-1 win over Danish teenager Holger Rune.

On paper, the contest was a total mismatch -- an 18-year-old qualifier making his Grand Slam debut against a player chasing a 21st major title.

While the outcome was exactly what was expected, the effort needed by Djokovic to see off the fearless Dane, who battled to the end despite suffering cramp, was not.

The match got underway amid a somewhat flat atmosphere inside Arthur Ashe Stadium but the crowd were chanting the little-known Dane's name after he stunned Djokovic to win the second set.

"I never felt anything like this," said Rune.

"It was unbelievable feeling staying there. I tried to give the crowd something, fight for every point, be pumped and everything. I mean, the crowd was unbelievable. I couldn't have asked for more."

But the biggest applause came later as Rune hobbled around the court with cramp, gutting it out to a predictable defeat but winning the respect of the crowd.

"I never want to stop matches. I want to complete them," said Rune.

"I want to try to see if I can find solution. Against a player like Novak it's tough if you can't move 100%. Even if you move 100%, you're not sure you're going to beat him. It's tough if you have no legs," the Dane added.

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Aside from the second set which he dropped, it was a controlled effort from the 34-year-old Djokovic, far different from the Serb's last match on Arthur Ashe Stadium court which ended with him being disqualified after swatting a ball in frustration that struck a line judge.

The stone-faced world number one was all business from the start, breaking his opponent at the first opportunity and rolling through the set in just 26 minutes.

But playing his first event since a disappointing Tokyo Olympics, there were signs of rust and a lack of intensity, particularly in a sloppy second set when Rune broke him twice and forced the set to tie-break that he easily won.

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But there was never any panic from Djokovic, who turned up the pressure in the third set with an early break to regain control as Rune began to suffer cramp.

As Rune grimaced with every step, Djokovic showed his ruthless side, moving the youngster from line-to-line and taking the set 6-2.

Rune was determined to battle his way to the end but a Djokovic victory was now certain and the Serb wrapped up the match by taking the fourth set 6-1.

However, Djokovic did not deliver his customary post-match celebration - sharing his heart with all four sides of the court -- and he later said he thought the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd had been booing him.

"I didn't know what they were chanting honestly. I thought they were booing," Djokovic said at a news conference.

"I don't know, it was not ideal atmosphere for me ... But I've been in these particular atmospheres before, so I knew how to handle it. It's the largest stadium in sport. Definitely the loudest and the most entertaining stadium we have in our sport ... Obviously you always wish to have crowd behind you, but it's not always possible. That's all I can say," he added.

The world No.1 said that there were things one could rely on when one experienced turbulent emotions on or off the court.

"When it gets too much, then I've developed a mechanism where I feel like I can mentally handle that. I do have a formula for many years that has worked well for me, that got me to where I am. At the same time, it's not necessarily a guarantee that it will work every single time," he added.

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