Novak Djokovic is guaranteed to reclaim the world No 1 ranking for the 10th time after he defeated Alexandre Müller of France in his opening match at the US Open.
Djokovic did not appear at last year’s US Open because of his refusal to take the Covid vaccine, which means that he is not defending any points here.
Anything he collects, even the mere 45 points on offer for a first-round win, thus counts as pure profit. However, the rolling 12-month system used by the tennis tours means that Djokovic’s great rival Carlos Alcaraz – the defending champion here – cannot gain anything at all.
Facing Müller, who is ranked No 84, Djokovic had things all his own way in a one-sided opening set, before losing his focus ever so slightly as the match went on. No matter: he was still so patently superior that he chalked up a 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 victory in just 1hr 35min.
Haste was important because Djokovic had not been able to hit his first ball until after 11pm. Here was another indictment of the majors’ increasingly ridiculous late-night scheduling, which Andy Murray has recently been calling out as “not good for anyone”.
Alexandre Muller just made a shot he'll never forget against Novak Djokovic 👀 pic.twitter.com/6MPy1UbxkI
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 29, 2023
According to Murray: “If they want to start at 7.30pm [which was close to when Coco Gauff’s match began on Monday], playing two women’s matches is fine. Or if they want to play a men’s match, then you can only play one match unless you’re going to start sooner.”
Djokovic-Müller was the second match of a night session which had been listed as starting at 7pm, but which was held up by two separate ceremonies – the first featuring the national anthem; the second celebrating Billie Jean King’s activism via a speech from Michelle Obama among other things. (This is the 50th anniversary of the US Open’s switch to equal prize money).
“We started quite late,” Djokovic told Brad Gilbert in his on-court interview. “Obviously there was a ceremony between matches and I knew I might have a late start. But nevertheless I was excited to go out on the court. It’s been a couple of years. Thanks to all the people for staying out. It’s nearly 1am and I appreciate it.”
In the first match of the night session, 19-year-old Gauff had progressed after a feisty three-setter, which finished with her opponent Laura Siegemund being booed off Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Siegemund made herself unpopular with the crowd by constantly querying line calls – even though the US Open uses automated line judges – and slowing down play. Eventually, she received a point penalty from chair umpire Marijana Veljovic for not being ready to receive serve.
Gauff eventually completed a hard-earned 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory, whereupon Siegemund refused to shake Veljovic’s hand. Asked by on-court interviewer Pam Shriver what it had been like to play the match, Gauff replied:“Slow.”