Djokovic tops cramping teen Rune

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If the last-name chorus of "Ruuuuuune!" in support of his relatively unknown teenage opponent at the US Open bothered Novak Djokovic, he never let anyone know.

Nor was there any visible evidence that Djokovic was shaken by the uncertain patches he went through while dropping a set as he began his historic bid to complete the first calendar-year slam in men's tennis since 1969 and collect a record-breaking 21st major singles championship.

Playing his first event since a disappointing Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic wasn't perfect but he didn't need to be in his 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-1 win in Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach the second round.

Quickly regaining control after a second-set blip, Djokovic wore down his cramping foe - Danish qualifier Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune.

"It wasn't the best of my performances but at the same time, he played well in the second set when it mattered," Djokovic acknowledged.

What a difference between the two players.

Djokovic is 34; Rune 18. Djokovic is ranked No.1; Rune 145th. Djokovic owns 20 grand slam titles, the men's mark he currently shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who both withdrew from the U.S. Open with injuries; Rune had never played a single match in the main draw of a major tournament until Tuesday night. Djokovic's on-court career earnings entering this week were more than $150 million ($A240m); Rune's were less than $150,000 ($A240,000).

The crowd - back at the US Open after all fans were banned last year because of the coronavirus pandemic - gave Rune some serious backing, responding to his pumped fists and uppercuts and pleas for more noise when he was playing at his best level in the second set.

What at first sounded like booing was actually "Rune-ing" and the kid clearly loved the moment.

"It was a crazy experience, playing against Novak on Arthur Ashe is probably one of the dream come true," Rune said.

"To be able to win one set as well was great."

The Dane said his fitness struggles made winning "impossible".

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 stuck to his game plan with ruthless precision.

"I mean, obviously you always wish to have crowd behind you, but it's not always possible. That's all I can say. I mean, I don't know; I've been focusing on myself and what I need to do," said Djokovic, who next faces Tallon Griekspoor, a 25-year-old from Netherlands ranked 121st who got into the field when Roger Federer pulled out.

"I guess I have to just see how it feels on the court and try to keep it together. That's all I can do."

with Reuters

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