Nadal cruises past Istomin, Djokovic struggles in U.S. Open first round

The Rafael Nadal of the Rio Olympics–not the Rafael Nadal of the Cincinnati Masters–was on display during the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday afternoon. That’s exactly the way his legion of fans wanted it.

Nadal, who captured the gold medal in men’s doubles with Marc Lopez and finished fourth in singles despite having not taken the court since the French Open, stormed through his opener at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Denis Istomin in two hours and seven minutes. By turning in such a performance, Nadal put to rest any concerns that had arisen when he got clobbered by Borna Coric in the Cincinnati third round two weeks ago.

“After the Olympics, I [felt] destroyed,” the Spaniard explained. “But it’s normal, no? (It) was a very important event for me.”

So is this one. Nadal is a two-time champion in New York City and he played like it, at least for a while, against Istomin. The world No. 5 dropped only one game in a 33-minute first set and did well to right the ship after giving back a break in set two. He added another break at 5-4 to clinch the middle set and it was all but over when he delivered a forehand pass to break for 4-2 in the third.
Rafa 3
“Normal,” the Spaniard answered when asked to assess his performance. “Not very good; not very bad. (It) was a good start for me, obviously, winning here in straight sets.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the first match of the night session was not a straight-setter, as Novak Djokovic needed four to get past Jerzy Janowicz 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 after two hours and 37 minutes of topsy-turvy tennis between two players who been struggling physically of late.

Janowicz has been just about invisible on tour in 2016 due to knee and back problems, so his ability to make it through four sets–even winning one–was a moral victory of sorts. Aside from winning a title in Toronto, Djokovic has slumped since his French Open title in part due to wrist and arm issues. The top-seeded Serb even had the trainer work on his elbow at 3-2 in the first set, but it proved to be nothing more than a precautionary move.

“Hopefully as the tournament progresses, I’ll reach my peak,” Djokovic said. “It was just prevention. It’s all good.”

“It wasn’t easy today playing against Jerzy for the first time.He’s a very potent player–powerful serve, big forehands. He’s unpredictable really. (To) play well as he did in the second set and (then) he makes a couple of double-faults in a row in the important moments, it’s really up and down. That’s why it wasn’t easy to keep the concentration.”

Next up for the world No. 1 is another injury-plagued competitor, Jiri Vesely, who needed five grueling sets to beat Saketh Myneni. Nadal, meanwhile, will go up against Andreas Seppi.

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