Bothered by a bad neck that a trainer massaged twice, Novak Djokovic double-faulted seven times and trailed by a break in each set before avoiding the rash of upsets at the Western & Southern Open by taking the last four games for a 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over Ricardas Berankis on Monday.
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic was playing his first ATP match in six months because of the coronavirus pandemic. He withdrew from the doubles event on Sunday because of his neck.
“I’m trying to deal with it on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s been like that for the past three or four days.”
Djokovic improved to 19-0 in 2020 as he prepares to seek a sixth title in the past eight Grand Slam tournaments when the US Open begins in a week. That major championship’s site in Flushing Meadows is hosting the Ohio-based Western & Southern Open as part of an unusual doubleheader with no spectators.
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Djokovic got by, even though he was wincing and stretching his neck between points.
He wound up lying on his back — with a medical mask and protective glasses on his face — while having his neck manipulated after the first set.
While the tours were shut down, Djokovic tested positive for COVID-19 in June after a series of no-social-distancing exhibition matches that he organized in Serbia and Croatia.
As tennis ramps up — this is the first tournament of the resumption for the men; the women returned earlier this month — there has been a host of surprises, including defending women’s champion Madison Keys’ 6-4, 6-1 departure versus Ons Jabeur in an hour Monday night.
No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem, a three-time major finalist, wasn’t competitive in a 6-2, 6-1 defeat to Filip Krajinovic, and No. 5 Alexander Zverev hit 11 double faults — five in his last two service games — while being defeated by Andy Murray 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
Like Djokovic, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka emerged with difficult victories, and two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, the No. 6 seed, lost Monday. Each of the top two women’s seeds, Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin, were defeated Sunday.
Djokovic next meets American Tennys Sandgren, a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (5) winner over No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who accumulated 15 double faults. Another American, Reilly Opelka, eliminated No. 9 seed Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 7-6 (4).
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