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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

'Survival mode' sees Novak Djokovic through at steamy US Open

Federer escapes worst of the conditions as he headlined the night session, beating Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka 6-2, 6-2, 6-4

Novak Djokovic towels off in the heat against Marton Fucsovics. AFP
Novak Djokovic towels off in the heat against Marton Fucsovics. AFP

Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic suffered in sweltering US Open conditions Tuesday but battled through to the second round with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.

Djokovic, playing his first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium since falling to Stan Wawrinka in the 2016 final, received a brutal welcome back to Flushing Meadows as soaring temperatures and high humidity prompted organizers to offer the men a 10-minute mid-match heat break for the first time ever.

"We both struggled. We were not the only ones today. Brutal conditions," said Djokovic, who called for trainers who enveloped him in ice packed towels late in the second set.

"I had to find a way to dig myself out of the trouble."

Until late in the third it was "survival mode" said Djokovic, who endured a rocky start to the season after elbow surgery before breaking through for a 13th grand slam title at Wimbledon.

His Cincinnati Masters victory over Roger Federer stamped him a US Open favourite along with defending champion Rafael Nadal, despite his modest sixth seeding.

He certainly looked a contender as he reeled off the last 10 games against Fucsovics, showing signs of sharper focus even before the 10-minute heat break between the third and fourth sets.

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Read more on US Open:

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Men's preview: Nadal, Federer and Del Potro carefully manage their fitness to peak at US Open

US Open predictions: Will Sloane Stephens successfully defend her title?

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Federer, the second seed, escaped the worst of the conditions as he headlined the night session on Ashe. Nor did he meet much resistance from Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka in a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

Up 5-1 in the final set, Federer was unable to close out the match against Nishioka's serve, and then was broken on his first attempt to serve it out.

Federer, who claimed his 20th grand slam title at the Austrlaian Open in January, put the match away two games later, sealing it with a service winner.

"I didn't know how really good Nishioka was," Federer admitted of the 22 year old, who was ranked 58th in the world last March before tearing a left knee ligament and sliding out of the top 150.

"I wanted to play well at the beginning of each set. I was able to break the beginning of each set, cruise after that. I was very happy."

Fourth-seeded German Alexander Zverev kept his time in the sun to a minimum with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Canadian lucky loser Peter Polansky.

And Australian Nick Kyrgios, opening the evening action on Louis Armstrong stadium, fired 25 aces and 48 total winners in a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Moldova's Radu Albot.

For many, however, the day was a hard slog and the decision made some two hours in to afford the men a heat break after a third set wasn't enough to prevent half a dozen retirements.

Italy's Stefano Travaglia, Argentine Leonardo Mayer, Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Serbian Filip Krajinovic were all victims of the heat while Romanian Marius Copil succumbed to an arm injury in the third set of his match with seventh-seeded former champion Marin Cilic.

"I had heat stroke," Mayer said of his decision to call it quits against Serbia's Laslo Djere. "I was not going to die on the court, tennis is not for that."