Novak Djokovic was screaming.
To or at whom, it was unclear at the time, but the No. 1 player in the world had finally just taken a challenging second set against Damir Dzumhur in the first round of the U.S. Open and let out another loud yell towards the stands.
That was about as animated as Djokovic got as he began his chase for a fourth Open title in front of no fans, fending off Dzumhur’s best shot and then cruising in the third set to win his first-round match 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“The intensity was there, definitely,” Djokovic said. “I came out, played really well. Second set I lost my focus and got stressed out a couple times and screamed. So that’s obviously still there regardless of the empty stadium. But this is what I bring to the court.”
Djokovic, who was coming off a win at the Western & Southern Open on Saturday — after battling a stiff neck during the tournament — got off to a strong start Monday. He took the first set in seven games before his friend Dzumhur challenged him in the second set. The unseeded speedster from Bosnia and Herzegovina led 4-2 and 4-3 in the middle set, which included a few long games with both players covering plenty of ground and Djokovic screaming toward his box a few times.
“Second set, there were a lot of long rallies and he was not missing much, so it was kind of anybody’s game,” Djokovic said.
But after tying it 4-4, Djokovic broke serve to go ahead 5-4 and then served his way to the set win in the next game, at which point he let out a bellow to the empty stadium.
“Not the first time, probably not the last time,” Djokovic said with a grin of one of his screams. “I was frustrated with my game, with some of the shots that I was playing at that time. Just I guess channeled it out in that way. … Sometimes these things happen.”
Djokovic recorded 32 winners to 29 unforced errors and only lost one game while serving.
With Roger Federer — the defending champion — and Rafael Nadal not playing in the tournament, the field belongs to Djokovic. He improved to 24-0 on the year, a feat he said he isn’t ignoring, but instead is trying to use it to his advantage.
“I am aware of it, absolutely. I can’t lie,” said Djokovic, who will face unseeded Brit Kyle Edmund in the second round. “I’m also not overanalyzing or I’m not overthinking about it. By potentially doing that, I would be putting an additional pressure that I really don’t need at this point. I know pressure is a privilege, pressure is part of what we do. I try to embrace it. I don’t have an issue with pressure because I’m used to it.
“Do I want to keep the streak going? Of course I do. Am I thinking about it as a priority No. 1 every single day? No. It’s there, and of course it’s an additional motivation for me. It actually fuels me to play even stronger, play even better, I think bring the right intensity every match.”