Novak Djokovic aims to defend US Open and close in on Federer’s major haul

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  • Djokovic seeking to add to his 16 major wins
    • Evans handed tricky draw against Mannarino

Kevin Mitchell at Flushing Meadows  –  The Guardian

Only a third-rate bookmaker or a dim-witted gambler would seriously imagine that Novak Djokovic is not a logical favourite to add a fourth US Open title to his collection of 16 majors this coming fortnight. Standing in his way are the usual suspects – Roger Federer, whom he outlasted in the Wimbledon final six weeks ago, who is on his side of the draw, and Rafael Nadal, perhaps, on the final day – although a lesser Spaniard, Roberto Carballés Baena, the world No 76, is unlikely to detain him long when they meet in the first round on Monday.

After dodging questions about his American friend Justin Gimelstob, the world No 1 was in relaxed mood discussing his prospects of retaining his title and closing in on Federer’s 20 majors, as well as Nadal’s 18.

“I have been blessed to play well on these courts, especially the Arthur Ashe,” he said when asked if his success against Federer at the tournament (4-2 overall) had anything to do with the surface or the schedule. “I have not lost too many matches in my career playing night sessions – and a lot of matches that I get to play in Arthur Ashe are night sessions. You adapt to it. You accept it. You embrace it.”

Unfortunately Djokovic does not take the same attitude to the embarrassment of supporting Gimelstob, who has been eased from the main narrative in tennis after his conviction for misdemeanour assault last year. Both were among the architects of Chris Kermode’s removal as chief executive of the ATP in the spring, although the Londoner’s five-year tenure does not finish until the end of the year. There have been tense meetings here this week, with strong backing for Kermode among the tournament owners and several players, and a mixed response from the players’ council, where Djokovic is president, but which has been bolstered by the recent return of Federer and Nadal. There is mileage yet in a dispute whose real origins are difficult to fathom.

Meanwhile the tournament will bring the season to fever pitch over the next two weeks, as it invariably does: noisy, hot and usually full of incident.

Dan Evans embarks on his campaign without a coach after splitting with David Felgate recently, although he does not see it as a problem going into his first match, against the gifted French left-hander, Adrian Mannarino.

“He’s not one of the top seeds but it’s a difficult draw,” he said, looking past Mannarino, who is one place ahead of him at 57 in the world rankings. “Plays well. Left-hander, obviously makes him a little trickier. I’m pretty happy with it.”

As for parting with Felgate, Evans is happy to go it alone until he finds a suitable replacement – preferably a British coach not too far from his native Birmingham. He says they parted amicably after he lost recently in Washington. Leon Smith, who has done much to turn around his career as Great Britain’s Davis Cup captain, will be in his box here.

“I definitely need someone,” he agreed, smiling. “If you could give me a list of British coaches who are decent, that would be helpful.”

It would take more than a great coach, probably, to help Evans through a tough first week. If he beats Mannarino – who won their only match, on the grass of Queen’s last year – he faces another Frenchman: either the 20-year-old Corentin Moutet, who beat Grigor Dimitrov at Wimbledon and reached the third round of the French Open, or more likely Lucas Pouille, ranked 25.

Then there is Federer, who beat him in three tight sets at the Australian Open. When Evans made an impressive run here five years ago, he was one win away from the fourth round, where his conqueror, Tommy Robredo, went on to beat Federer in a significant upset.

On his last visit three years ago Evans came desperately close to beating Stan Wawrinka, who went on to beat Djokovic in the final. So success is not out of Evans’s reach – it is just one tough gig, as he acknowledges. “I obviously really like it here,” he says. “But it’s another new tournament. I’ll just try to get through this first round.”

 

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