Never one for early wake-up calls, Novak Djokovic shaved the night before so he could squeeze in a few more seconds of sleep before his morning match Sunday at the U.S. Open.
Little did he know the fashion police would be showing up early to Flushing Meadows, as well.
”Usually, I get used to being criticized from my mom for not being shaved fully, but thanks for reminding me of that,” Djokovic said to a reporter who commented about the noticeable stubble on his chin. ”I will make sure next time I’m looking nice and shaved.”
That, as it turned out, was about as rough as things got for the defending champion, who made it two straight matches without facing a break point and defeated No. 31 Julien Benneteau 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to move to the fourth round.
Second-seeded Djokovic drew the 11 a.m. starting time and cleared out of Arthur Ashe Stadium in 1 hour, 37 minutes, setting the stage for Andy Roddick, who was on next and defeated Fabio Fognini to extend his career at least one more match.
Djokovic and Roddick got caught up in a squabble here four years ago when Djokovic took umbrage to Roddick’s comments about a number of injuries Djokovic was dealing with before they played in the quarterfinals. They smoothed things out long ago and Djokovic says he’s enjoying Roddick’s final run at Flushing Meadows as much as anyone.
”He was actually one of the few top players that was very nice to me when I started playing professionally,” Djokovic said. ”He has all my respect.”
But while a deep Roddick run this year would come as a surprise, Djokovic came in favored to make his third straight final and has done nothing so far to dampen those expectations.
He has lost a total of 14 games through three matches and has averaged less than 90 minutes per win. He faced a break point in the first game of the tournament — and lost it to Paolo Lorenzi — but since then, hasn’t faced another.
”Obviously, the serve is something I’ve wanted to improve the last 15 months or so,” Djokovic said. ”I wanted to get more free points on the first serve. Today, it was working very well.”
Djokovic said the early starting time forced him to change his routine and refocus his energy.
”I’m not always the morning person, to be honest,” he said. ”You try to go to bed early and try to wake up early and get your body moving obviously. I wanted to start very sharp from the first point, and I’ve done that.”
As for being shuffled to a less glamorous spot in the day’s lineup — it’s something he understands.
”The attention comes and goes. It’s normal. This is sport,” he said. ”Obviously, Andy and his retirement attracted a lot of attention, so everybody is excited to see him play and see how far he can go.”
The win put Djokovic in the round of 16 for the sixth straight year. He improved to 36-6 lifetime at Flushing Meadows and stayed well in the mix for his sixth career Grand Slam title.
Djokovic won for the fifth time in six matches against his French opponent. The last three meetings, however, have involved three tiebreakers and two more sets that went to 7-5. Djokovic wanted no repeat.
”I came to the match knowing I had to start very strong,” he said. ”I felt from the start that from the baseline, I was very comfortable, defense, offense, in that position.”