Novak Djokovic had struggled a bit on hard courts since his Wimbledon triumph, but he looked sharp in a dominant opening-round match win against Diego Schwartzman at the 2014 U.S. Open.
The men's top-seeded player in Djokovic made rather quick work of his outmatched counterpart on Monday evening at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, securing a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Schwartzman's second point on serve offered a glimpse at what was to come. Djokovic displayed an excellent all-around game and hit an easy winner as Schwartzman scrambled the wrong way behind the baseline and wound up conceding the early break.
Chris Skelton of Tennis View Magazine noted how tall Schwartzman's task was in facing Djokovic on the Serbinator's preferred surface:
Playing Djokovic in outdoor hard is a bit like playing Nadal on clay. Nothing comes cheaply.— Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87) August 26, 2014
To even entertain the notion of upsetting a star of Djokovic's caliber, Schwartzman needed to serve far better than he did throughout the match. From the beginning, it was evident that the underdog would be bowing out early.
The first set saw Schwartzman hit a woeful six out of 18 first-serve attempts in play, which is a recipe for disaster no matter who he'd encounter on the ATP circuit. That led to Djokovic winning a whopping 13 of 18 receiving points.
L'Equipe.fr's Carole Bouchard weighed in on Djokovic's virtuoso performance after he took the opening four games:
4-0 double break Djokovic vs Schwartzmann : strong hitting, playstation mode activated. Somebody doesn't wanna spend the night here.— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) August 26, 2014
Djokovic converted his first eight serves in the second set to keep the momentum going, applying pressure on Schwartzman that the Argentine couldn't surmount at any point in the match. In appropriate fashion, Djokovic closed the second set with his fifth ace.
It had to be a thrill for Schwartzman just to have break-point opportunities on Djokovic in his U.S. Open debut, much less secure two breaks. The last of those happened when Djokovic, visibly irked by a couple of shouting hecklers from the crowd, lost focus and allowed Schwartzman to even the third set at three apiece.
Djokovic not quite at finish line yet. DF's to hand break back for 3-all in 3rd. #usopen— Erik Gudris (@ATNtennis) August 26, 2014
But Djokovic responded like a champion in the next game, breaking back at love.
Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times was a bit critical after the match:
Novak Djokovic looks as sharp as he has since Wimbledon (not saying much), beating Schwartzman 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Gets Mathieu next. #usopen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 26, 2014
ESPN Tennis pointed out how Djokovic's recent marriage may have been at least some of what saw his form decline since his epic Wimbledon victory over Roger Federer:
Before the U.S. Open began, Djokovic discussed his planned strategic adjustment after two recent losses and the task ahead to fortify his status as the final major's favorite.
"Maybe I think about my defense too much," said Djokovic, per USA Today's Douglas Robson. "I have to get more in the offensive mode...There is one nice saying that I always like to use: The greater the challenge, the more glory in overcoming it."
Who will win the U.S. Open?
If this romp over Schwartzman is any indication, it appears Djokovic is well on his way to entering attack mode more often. He used his supreme groundstrokes, fitness and a potent, precise serve to tire out Schwartzman, and he's capable of doing just that to any of his forthcoming adversaries.
In the second round, Djokovic will have the benefit of facing a worn-down opponent. Paul-Henri Mathieu needed all five sets and three tiebreakers to advance past Gilles Muller and earn the opportunity just to face Djokovic.
Those circumstances should allow Djokovic to keep gaining a head of steam in his bid to win a second U.S. Open title. With Rafael Nadal out of action, Federer late in his career and Andy Murray still searching for a spark this season, Djokovic is in ideal position to take home the trophy in a second straight Grand Slam tournament.