NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serbia’s Novak Djokovic marked himself out as a serious contender for the U.S. Open crown with a clinical 6-1 7-6 6-3 win over American James Blake on Saturday that secured him a spot in the fourth round.
The number three seed, a runner-up in New York in 2007, had looked out of sorts in his opening match at Flushing Meadows when he was forced to five sets.
But despite being taken to a second-set tiebreak by Blake, he rarely looked in danger of conceding a set in a masterclass in tough conditions which, at times, silenced the crowd.
“I think the focus today was great - just the patience in this weather, finding the right way to play in the certain moments,” said Djokovic.
“It’s a big mental struggle when you have such a strong wind to find a way how to try to play good tennis, especially if you have somebody across the net who is so aggressive, taking everything early and playing a risky game.”
The American flag on top of the big screen on Arthur Ashe was whipped into a frenzy by the high winds but a rusty Blake failed to do the same to his home crowd.
The hometown favorite, who has been nursing knee, shoulder and hamstring injuries in recent weeks, was the crowd favorite from the moment the pair stepped on court.
But his ground strokes were wayward and he only managed to hold serve for the first time in the sixth game of the match, allowing Djokovic to race away with the opening set.
In contrast, Djokovic was unflappable in the gusty conditions until the fifth game of the second set. Two out of character shots from the Serb - one of which travelled into the night sky - gave Blake a break point which he took.
But Blake was broken straight away and the contest entered a tiebreak. The decider produced the moment of Blake’s night with a stunning passing shot to beat Djokovic, who could only applaud along with the packed stands.
In the end, Djokovic, a semi-finalist at Flushing Meadows for the last two years, had too much finesse for Blake and duly won the tiebreak. The Serbian then broke his opponent in the fourth game of the final set and was never really challenged again.
“I really hope that wasn’t my last match on Arthur Ashe Stadium - I definitely want to come back next year,” said Blake. “I lost in straight sets but I put a little scare in the number three player in the world. I think I’ve got more in me and I’m going to be back.”
Editing by Frank Pingue