• AP, AFP-JIJI

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Novak Djokovic admittedly got a bit distracted.

He was unaware of the U.S. Open rule about time allowed between points. He barked in the direction of his entourage — among the only people in the Arthur Ashe Stadium seats. In the end, though, he did what he always does in 2020: win.

“I lost my focus,” Djokovic said afterward. “Kind of got stressed out a couple times. Screamed.”

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic began his bid for Grand Slam title No. 18 on Monday night by extending his winning streak to start the season to 24-0 with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Damir Dzumhur at Flushing Meadows.

“Do I want to keep the streak going? Of course, I do. Am I thinking about it as a priority No. 1 every single day? No,” said Djokovic, who opened 2011 with a 41-0 mark. “It’s there, and of course it’s an additional motivation for me. It actually fuels me to play even stronger, play even better, I think, bring the right intensity every match.

During a pre-match TV interview, Dzumhur said about Djokovic: “Hopefully, he is not 100 percent.”

That was probably a reference to the way Djokovic dealt with neck and stomach issues during last week’s run to the Western & Southern Open title on the same hard courts being used for the U.S. Open.

Djokovic played a three-set semifinal Friday, then a three-set final Saturday.

But the 48 hours before facing Dzhumur, who has been ranked as high as No. 23 and is now 109th, apparently were enough for a full physical recovery.

“I felt good on the court today,” said Djokovic, who trails only Roger Federer, with 20, and Rafael Nadal, with 19, in the men’s Grand Slam trophy standings.

Neither of his rivals is entered in the U.S. Open, only part of the reason Djokovic is an overwhelming favorite to win what would be his sixth title in a span of eight major tournaments.

One minor hiccup during his opening match had to do with the way the serve clock is being implemented at the U.S. Open: Chair umpires are starting that 25-second countdown much sooner than they were during the Western & Southern Open.

Djokovic was not the only player to wonder aloud about that system during a match Monday.

“Why did you start it?” he asked chair umpire Damien Dumusois, noting that during the previous event players got more time to go collect their towels between points.

Dumusois said the pace is intentionally supposed to be quicker at the U.S. Open, to which Djokovic replied: “You do it here different? Why? There is no explanation? … Thanks for letting us know.”

After the match, Djokovic said: “No one really brought it to my attention. The lack of communication is something that worries me once again. I mean, that’s something that really upset me. … We’ve played in the certain tempo, so to say; got used to it during the Western & Southern tournament, which just ended two days ago. Two days later, we have a different rule that was just not communicated to us. That’s something that I found just not acceptable, not fair.”

On the women’s side, top-seeded Karolina Pliskova shrugged off the surreal setting of an empty arena to breeze past Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina 6-4, 6-0.

Pliskova’s brisk victory set the tone for the remainder of the opening day in the women’s draw, where 15 of the 16 seeds in action progressed safely.

World No. 3 Pliskova, who was elevated to the top seed in the absence of world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and second-ranked Simona Halep, faces France’s Caroline Garcia in the second round.

Pliskova, who made a disappointing early exit at last week’s Western & Southern Open, said she was adjusting to playing before empty stands.

“I felt better than in my previous match, last week,” the Czech star said.

“I think the center court is better place to play no matter — I mean, it’s still without people, but I just felt somehow a little better.

No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka, meanwhile, proved her fitness in a 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over Japanese compatriot Misaki Doi.

With the draw going largely to form, Coco Gauff’s hopes of launching another giant-killing run were halted in their tracks after a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 loss to Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.

The 16-year-old from Florida delighted fans at Wimbledon last year by advancing to the fourth round as a qualifier but was unable to make the most of her chances against her 31st-seeded opponent.

Gauff said her development this year had been hampered by a lack of playing time in a season decimated by the coronavirus shutdown.

“That’s what I need on tour, Gauff said. “I’m playing against people older than me who have been in more situations, difficult situations, than I have.”

“I think the biggest thing is I just need experience.”

Elsewhere Monday, sixth seed Petra Kvitova also advanced safely, downing Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-2.

The 30-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, who has never gone beyond the quarterfinals in New York, said she was adjusting to the empty stands, as well as tournament regulations which prevent players from sightseeing in the city.

“It’s been different, for sure,” Kvitova said. “I’m glad that I had a couple of matches before to kind of get used to these new things.

German Angelique Kerber, the No. 17 seed and 2016 champion, booked her second-round berth with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.

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