US Open 2020: Novak Djokovic makes it 25 straight to end Edmund hopes
Zverev, Goffin also through, but Garin and Hurkacz join exit of seeds
With his opening win at an extraordinary US Open, Novak Djokovic extended his unbeaten record in 2020 to 24.
And although, in the non-pandemic 2011, he reached 41 wins without loss, there is no getting away from it: the world No1 has shown stunning form, both before the closure of the tennis tour at the start of March and since it resumed in August.
Djokovic began by winning all his matches in Serbia’s title run at the ATP Cup, then won his eighth Australian Open, followed by his fifth Dubai trophy.
On the resumption of the tour last month, he won the Cincinnati title to become not just the first man to win the complete set of nine Masters, but the first to do so twice. It was his 80th career title, and drew him level with Rafael Nadal’s record 35 Masters crowns.
And the Serb already knows that he will overtake Pete Sampras later this month in his tally of weeks at No1. Now he has Roger Federer’s all-time record of 310 weeks in his sights—and it would be a brave pundit who bet against him reaching it. With No2 and defending US champion Nadal absent from the draw, Djokovic can increase his lead at the top once he makes the quarter-finals. And it will take another brave pundit to predict a Djokovic loss much before the final in New York.
The next person to try his luck, however, was the 44-ranked Briton Kyle Edmund. But while the 25-year-old reached a career-high No14 less than two years back, he went on to have repeated injuries and bouts of illness that knocked him down the ranks.
Even so, that 2018 high saw Edmund score his only win in six matches against Djokovic, albeit on the clay of Madrid. Because other surfaces have been another story. Sixty of those 80 Djokovic titles have come on hard courts, three of them at the US Open.
Edmund was only too aware of the scale of the task ahead, after his win from a set down against the big, talented Alexander Bublik. He told ATPTour.com:
“It’s the hardest match on tour right now—rankings, form, everything really. He’s the guy in the best form, the guy to beat. It’s going to be a very tough match for many, many reasons… He’s just such a tough player to break down. I have an aggressive game, I have success breaking down people, but there’s a reason he’s world No1. It takes a lot of resilience to play against him and sometimes you can play well—doesn’t necessarily mean it works out.”
Djokovic, of course, was complementary about Edmund’s strengths:
“He does have a really good serve and forehand, two really big weapons… I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a really hard worker, puts a lot of hours on and off the court into perfecting his game.
“His results were kind of up and down a little bit, but I think he does have the game and the potential to be in the top 20 without a doubt… So it’s going to be a tough one.”
But make no mistake: Djokovic is ambitious not just to maintain his unbeaten 2020 record, and not just to win this particular US Open. Both are a means to an end, as was made patently clear in a long interview in Serbia with Graham Bensinger in May:
“I believe I can win the most Slams and break the record for longest No1—those are definitely my clear goals. But at the same time, they are not the only things that motivate me on a daily basis…”
Against such form and ambition, Edmund had his work cut out. And he was up against it right from the first. An 11-minute third game saw him play five deuces and fend off three break points. Djokovic had deployed four drop shots already to get Edmund moving, trying to exploit one of the Briton’s limitations.
Yet Djokovic also faced a break point in the fourth game, courtesy of another drop shot, though quickly rectified with his impressive serving, 2-2. But Edmund was now holding his own, and not just on the forehand side; His double-hander was performing well, drilled deep and fast.
So they headed to a tie-break, where the Djokovic record was enough to strike fear in Edmund’s supporters: Played 10, won 10 tie-breaks in 2020.
A 100mph forehand winner put Edmund 2-0 up, but Djokovic was grooving right and left, and edged back in front. The Briton, though, drew an error to go 6-5, and aced for the set, 7-6(5).
The second set brought a momentary dip from Edmund, with two double faults to give up his serve, and after a run of nine points from 11, Djokovic led 4-1.
Edmund was struggling with the New York humidity and sweating profusely. He had already changed shoes and socks, now needed to change shirt and more. Djokovic had ball-kids drying drops of sweat from the court, but he seemed largely unaffected, holding cleanly for 5-2. He served it out, 6-3, with his ninth ace of the match.
Edmund battled hard to live with the higher level and constant pressure from Djokovic, but succumbed on the second break point in the third game. Another break, to love, and Edmund looked as though he had little more energy to use, while the Serbian level became impregnable.
Edmund unexpectedly pulled a break back courtesy of a flat game from Djokovic, only for the Serb to reply in kind. But Edmund broke again in a bizarre patch of play, before Djokovic finally broke the pattern and held serve for the set, 6-4.
At the start of the fourth, it took eight minutes, but Djokovic roared himself to an opening break, and he roared again after an outrageous retrieval. He wanted to close this out after more than three tough hours, and he soon got his wish, 6-1, his 25th straight win of 2020.
It sets up a replay of his Cincinnati quarter-final a week ago against No28 seed Jan-Lennard Struff. The German has been playing impressive, big tennis on the Flushing courts, but he has lost all four previous matches against Djokovic, that last one being a demolition job.
The next highest seed in the top quarter, No7 David Goffin, beat Lloyd Harris 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, to set a third-round meeting with No26 seed Filip Krajinovic.
In the bottom quarter of this half, No5 seed Alexander Zverev beat American teenager Brandon Nakashima, 7-5, 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-1, and will next play No32 seed Adrian Mannarino, who beat Jack Sock in straight sets. But in the same quarter, the No13 seed Cristian Garin followed fellow seeds Dusan Lajovic and Diego Schwartzman out of the competition. Instead, Mikhail Kukushkin will play Jordan Thompson for a place in the fourth round.
And another seed out of this quarter is No24 Hubert Hurkacz, leaving Alejandro Davidovich Fokina to play Briton Cameron Norrie, who beat Federico Coria in straight sets to reach the third round of a grand slam for the first time.