If Carlos Alcaraz was under any doubt about the task facing him as he begins his US Open title defence today, Novak Djokovic will have refreshed his memory after he made a blistering return to the tournament and snatched his world No 1 ranking in the process.
The Serb did his best impression of Roger Federer – who always loved a night session at Flushing Meadows – blitzing through his first-round match with France's Alexandre Muller in just one hour, 35 minutes.
A long Coco Gauff match and then a ceremony involving Michelle Obama and Billie Jean King, celebrating 50 years of equal prize money at the US Open, meant the match didn’t start until 11pm.
But Djokovic, back at the US Open after missing last year due to a ban on travel into the country for unvaccinated non-citizens, was close to his very best, thumping winners all over the place as he wrapped up a 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 victory.
“I think the first set, I started tremendously well,” he said. “Yes, I knew that I might have a late start but I was excited to go out on the court. It’s been a couple of years. Night sessions in Arthur Ashe are always something special and I think I played great from the beginning to the end.”
The result means that Djokovic will regain the world No 1 ranking from Alcaraz after the US Open, whatever the Spaniard does in the next two weeks.
Alcaraz begins his title defence today against Dominik Koepfer of Germany, chasing his third Grand Slam title, having beaten Djokovic to win his first Wimbledon last month.
It was here last year that Alcaraz shot to fame, winning the title at 19 and becoming the youngest world No 1 in the process.
The Spaniard insists he’s still the same person, just a little more well-known, especially in New York, where he has been enjoying himself visiting various restaurants with his team.
“My life changed a lot, a lot,” he said, with a smile. “Probably is different life, talking about the way that I'm more, let's say, famous. A lot of people are starting to know my name after the US Open last year, for example.”
Coming into a Grand Slam event as the defending champion is a new experience for Alcaraz, but as Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 winner, pointed out on the eve of the event, Alcaraz does not usually struggle to cope with anything that’s thrown at him.
“I'm sure Carlos is such a strong player that I'm sure it's not going to bother him too much about thinking to defend his title,” Medvedev said.
One man neither will have to worry about in this year’s event is Holger Rune, the fourth-seeded Dane who has burst onto the scene in the past 12 months.
But Rune saw his US Open challenge end at the first hurdle as he was beaten in four sets by Roberto Carballes Baena, having struggled with physical issues both before the tournament and during the match.
“Disappointing day,” he admitted. “I had a setback after the tournaments in Toronto and Cincy where I had to retire. Not the best preparation. Not satisfied with the result obviously, but also with my tennis. There is only one way, and it's to work.”