Novak Djokovic is playing his first US Open match since the 2021 final

ESPN News ServicesAug 29, 2023 at 01:12 a.m. ET3 minutes to read

NEW YORK – Novak Djokovic is back at the US Open and will now return to No. 1 in the world rankings.

Djokovic returned victorious after his absence from the tournament last year, to beat Frenchman Alexandre Mueller 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 on Monday evening.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion had to wait until Coco Gauff won in three sets to open the night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium, followed by an opening ceremony marking 50 years of equal prize money at the US Open.

“Well, I knew it would be late for me, a late start to the match,” Djokovic said. “However, I mean, I was excited to get out on the field. I didn’t care if I started after midnight because I had been looking forward to this moment for a few years, to be on the biggest court in our sport.” The loudest stadium in our sport, where we play the night session.”

Djokovic was not allowed to travel to the United States last year because he had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Monday’s match was his first at Flushing Meadows since losing to Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 final, a loss that prevented the Serbian player from completing the first major tournament in the calendar year in men’s tennis since 1969.

The crowd told the 36-year-old they missed him, and Djokovic burst into applause as he exited the tunnel onto Arthur Ashe Stadium.

And it was clear he missed them, too, as he embraced the cheers of a record crowd of more than 30,000 people, which included former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

“I was excited to be out on the court,” Djokovic said in front of the New York crowd. “It’s been two years, so it’s always fun to stand in front of you.” “Thank you for coming, and thank you to all the people who stayed until about 1:00 in the morning

“Night sessions at Arthur Ashe are always something special.”

The No. 2 seed took the first set in just 23 minutes and won the first eight games before Mueller finally stepped to the plate, raising his arms in triumph after making it 2-1 in the second set.

“I didn’t care if I started after midnight because I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a few years, to be on the biggest court in our sport, the highest court in our sport, and play the night session,” Novak Djokovic said of his comeback.Frank Franklin II / AP

“I think the performance explains how I felt tonight, especially in the first two sets,” Djokovic said. “It was a great tennis match, a flawless first set.” “I probably had the answer for every shot he took in his book.”

Djokovic improved to 17-0 in his first round matches at the US Open and confirmed that he would regain the No. 1 ranking on September 11. Because he couldn’t play last year and didn’t have any ranking points to defend, Djokovic only needed to advance to the second round to ensure he regained first place from Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz. This will be Djokovic’s 390th week at the top of the world rankings, extending his record.

Alcaraz, who beat Djokovic in the epic Wimbledon final in July, will open his title defense on Tuesday against German Dominik Koepfer.

Meanwhile, Djokovic faces Spain’s Bernabe Zapata Mirales, who won in straight sets over American Ethan Coen.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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