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Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, right, holds her winners trophy, as she celebrates winning the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament along with her opponent, Naomi Osaka, of Japan, left, during a trophy ceremony on Aug. 29, 2020, in New York.Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press

Novak Djokovic got his campaign to win a fourth U.S. Open, and 18th Grand Slam title overall, off to a flying start on Monday by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1 6-4 6-1 to advance to the second round.

Djokovic broke Dzumhur’s serve for a seventh time to seal the win in the first night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium court, which, due to COVID-19, was missing the thousands of rowdy New York tennis fans that usually flock to Queens every year.

After a dominant start, Djokovic struggled in the second set and lost his temper even after closing it out.

“I thought I started very well, a set and a break (up) then things got complicated,” a masked Djokovic said in courtside interview.

“I lost my focus, he started missing less and he put some good variety in the game ... he came up with some good shots and it was anybody’s game midway through the second set.”

In the end Dzumhur, who hails from Bosnia and Herzegovina, had no answer to the world number one’s blistering serve and stout defence in a match that lasted just under two hours.

The 28-year-old did not make it easy on himself, committing 41 unforced errors and eight double faults to fall to 0-3 lifetime against Djokovic.

With the win the Serbian, who won his fourth title of the year at the Western & Southern Open on Saturday, improved to 24-0 on the season.

Djokovic’s health had been a question coming into Monday’s match after he needed treatment on his neck at the Western & Southern Open but he said he had recovered.

“I feel fine, to be honest I did struggle a bit in the semis and final back-to-back but I had 48 hours to recover,” said Djokovic, who resigned as head of the ATP’s Player Council at the weekend and announced the formation of the Professional Tennis Players Association.

Next up is a second-round meeting with Briton Kyle Edmund, who defeated Alexander Bublik earlier in the day. Djokovic holds a 5-1 advantage in their head-to-head meetings.

With the two other members of the sport’s Big Three – Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal – absent from the tournament, Djokovic is a heavy favourite to hoist the trophy and pull within one Grand Slam title of Nadal (19) and two of Federer (20).

Sevastova edges Gauff

Anastasija Sevastova beat American teenager Coco Gauff 6-3 5-7 6-4 to claim her first match win of the year on Monday and advance to the second round of the U.S. Open.

In a ragged, scrappy affair packed with breaks, double faults and unforced errors, it was the 30-year-old Latvian who made one fewer mistake, collecting her first success of 2020 on the fourth match point when 16-year-old Gauff sent a timid return into the net.

It marked the first opening round exit from a grand slam for Gauff, a crowd favourite at Flushing Meadows pre-COVID-19 when spectators were allowed into the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“I was just calm in the end,” said Sevastova, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2018. “Somehow I managed to be calm and stayed there and took my chances.

“I love being here, even in the bubble. I love the atmosphere, even now it doesn’t matter I have just amazing memories from the years before.

“And finally I won a match.”

After dropping the opening set Gauff somehow managed to win the second despite being broken three times, registering seven double faults and committing 16 unforced errors.

But when it mattered it was the teenager showing far more composure than her 30-year-old opponent who was left smashing her racquet when Gauff broke her twice over the final four games and then held serve to level the contest.

The errors dropped and quality improved in a much tighter third set, Sevastova getting the only break at 5-4 to clinch victory. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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