Novak Djokovic still has not lost a set at the 2015 US Open but he admitted after a stuttering, wheezing win over Andreas Seppi on day five there is room for improvement – although no cause for concern about his health.
To this point, the world No1 had given every impression that the first week of the tournament was little more than a quality public workout, as he strolled through his first two matches for the loss of just 10 games.
Against Seppi on Friday afternoon in an unusually subdued Arthur Ashe stadium, however, he sometimes looked as if he were playing in a fog wearing a blindfold, before beating the Italian 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 in just under two-and-a-half hours.
Djokovic did not play badly but he breathed heavily at times, open-mouthed, as if struggling for air, raising suspicions he might have caught the cold virus that has struck Andy Murray and others, including his brother, Jamie. But he passed it off afterwards as a recurrence of one of the mysterious, yet-to-be explained dizzy spells that cut him occasionally.
“Yes, at the beginning, first set, I was struggling,” he said. “I managed to break through and felt better after that. Conditions are not easy, but it’s the same for both of us. Some times the nerves play a little bit of a role. You tend to feel not that light on the court occasionally.
“I’ve faced this particular feeling and situation so many times in my life. It comes and goes. I just have to stay out there and believe that I can feel better and play better.”
And he did, although he had to serve twice to take the match, and conceded: “I didn’t close out the match at 5-4, but he played a very good game. I got a little bit tight. The match could have gone either way. I was focused in the right moments. I came up with some big serves, but generally, it was a really, really tough three sets.
“I’m satisfied, but you can always do better. We’re all perfectionists in a way. We see certain things we could have done better.”
Much of his game was efficient rather than startling. He struck 11 aces and double-faulted three times, broke five times and gave two back, and 31 errors for a match of this length was only a little over par.
However, Seppi outlasted the best defensive player in the game 25 to 21 in rallies of nine shots or longer, normally the strongest part of Djokovic’s. If he does have a cold and his energy is flagging, he could be vulnerable against the disciplined Roberto Bautista Agut, who beat the Belgian David Goffin, who retired in the fourth set, trailing 1-3.
Try as the organisers did to deliver day five as “an irresistible marquee loaded with the game’s top names”, the resistance was mostly flickering, of the Seppi variety. The standout early result was Venus Williams’s impressive win over the young player of the moment, Belinda Bencic, who beat her sister in Toronto last month.
Venus – who was delighted to be drawn in the same quarter as Serena – won 6-3, 6-4 in just 78 minutes, hitting 31 clean winners. She next plays the Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit, who beat the American Madison Brengle, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0.
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