By Jane Voigt
Novak Djokovic, the number one seed and defending champion, has landed safely in the second week at The U. S. Open. However, he’s only been on court for three hours and eight minutes.
Madison Keys, seeded number eight this year in New York, also has made her way to the second week. It’s the American’s sixth consecutive fourth-round berth at a major. Although women play best-of-three format, she’s spent five hours and twenty minutes on court.
Djokovic first beat Jerzy Janowicz on opening night. Then his second-round opponent, Jiri Vesely, pulled out before they even stepped on court, which gave Djokovic a walkover. Today, No. 61 ranked Mikail Youzhny retired with hamstring problems as Djokovic lead 4-2 in the first set.
“I’ll try to get the positive out of these six games,” Djokovic said today, as reported by eurosport.com, after Youzhny retired. “Obviously I did start very well with a good intensity. I’ll try to carr that into the next match.”
This series of non-starters does not make a player match tough, like Grand Slam match tough. And make no mistake, the stakes are high for Djokovic even though he remains the odds-on favorite to hoist the trophy next weekend. He desperately wants a 13th slam title, which would put him within one of Rafael Nadal who has 14.
The positive perspective for the Serbian’s week … he can rest his left wrist, which has been a problem ever since the Rio Olympics where he lost in the first round to Juan Martin del Potro. But the down side of less match play could spell more woes in a year predicted to be otherworldly.
Apparently, though, Djokovic doesn’t remember the 2011 French Open. “This particular situation I never had in my Grand Slam career,” Djokovic said, as reported on tennis.com.
That was the year Djokovic had his best career start. His record going into Paris was 37-0. It was the best record in 27 years, since John McEnroe’s 42-0. Djokovic had also won all seven tournaments he’d entered in 2011, which included his second Australian Open title.
“He’s doing amazing things,” Rafael Nadal said, USA Today reported then.
Djokovic was a strong favorite to win the title, but he never did until this year. Instead of glory, Djokovic lost in the semifinals to Roger Federer. Djokovic’s 43-0 record still stands, but the upset postponed hopes of clinching a career Grand Slam.
One reason for the loss, Djokovic had not played in four days. Rain plus a walkover against Fabio Fognini side-lined Novak. When he faced Federer the magic of momentum, confidence and critical timing against a legend had slipped.
Djokovic was not match tough then and the same ailment could confront him Sunday when he’s expected to play Kyle Edmund. The Britain upset No. 20 seed John Isner.
“But considering the stage of the season, the amount of matches I’ve played, what I’ve been through with my body, I think it’s actually good to have some days off and then shorter matches, from one side.”
The lack of matches will be exacerbated by the injury. However, his experience over the five years since his loss to Federer in Paris will prove valuable. Remember he’s looking for his 13th major title, not his 7th as had been the case in 2011 Paris. With age and maturity, Djokovic has only gotten better. He’s far and away the best over the last three years.
So what does this tell us about Madison Keys?
She’s tough-as-nails match tough. Today against 18-year-old Naomi Osaka, Keys dug herself out of a 1-5 deficit in the third set to win the right to stick around the Big Apple, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3).
“It’s my best comeback at a slam,” Keys told ESPN later.
That type of experience is invaluable, especially since she broke into the top ten in June and became the the first American to accomplish that in 17 years. Keys followed in the footsteps of Serena Williams who made her top-ten debut in 1999.
Matches get tougher as the Open spins on. Sunday, Keys will face Caroline Wozniacki a former finalist for a coveted spot in the quarterfinals. Although the Dane has suffered multiple setbacks use to injuries over the last 18 months, she loves New York, the big stage, and the fact she’s playing better and better. Today, she eliminated Monica Niculescu, a tricky opponent, 6-3, 6-1.
“It’s been a good week so far,” Wozniacki told the press. “I’m excited to have gotten so many matches on Ashe. I’m happy to be here just being healthy and playing well.”
Keys and Wozniacki have never faced each other. They are far enough apart in age that they almost seem from different eras. Keys is 21 and Wozniacki is 26.
“I feel like we’ve both been around for some time,” Keys told ESPN. “I know her well and she’s obviously playing well. It’s nice she’s doing well.”