• Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

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Kei Nishikori withstood a fightback from Italy’s Salvatore Caruso on Tuesday to advance to the second round of the U.S. Open with a 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 win.

Playing his first match in three weeks due to a right shoulder injury, the world No. 56 from Japan took control early before the 113th-ranked Caruso tilted the momentum in the third set.

The Italian broke Nishikori twice in the fourth set, but the former world No. 4 used his strong return game and net play to reassert control before closing out the match.

“There were quite a few dangerous moments in the third and fourth sets, so it was a relief to wrap it up in four,” said Nishikori, a U.S. Open finalist in 2014.

“I’m glad I was able to play well in a difficult situation.”

The shoulder injury forced Nishikori to withdraw from the National Bank Open in Toronto last month after winning his first-round match.

“I couldn’t practice serving until recently,” he said.

Compatriot Yoshihito Nishioka lost his U.S. Open first-round match against Jack Sock of the United States 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, while Nao Hibino bowed out of the women’s draw in a 6-1, 6-4, defeat to France’s Fiona Ferro.

In other action, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic won without playing his best to reach the second round as he began his quest for a record 21st major title and a calendar-year Grand Slam.

The 34-year-old Serbian star dominated much of the way in beating 18-year-old Danish qualifier Holger Rune 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-1, in two hours and 15 minutes in the night feature at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It wasn’t the best of my performances,” Djokovic said. “At the same time, he played well in the second set when it mattered and I didn’t serve well in the second set.”

History-chasing Djokovic, who has won eight of the past 12 Grand Slam events, will next face 121st-ranked Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor, a rival the top seed admitted he didn’t know much about.

“I know this court well,” Djokovic said. “Hopefully that’s going to help.”

Djokovic is aiming to complete the first men’s singles calendar-year Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

With a U.S. Open title he would also break the deadlock for all-time men’s Slam titles at 20, which he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both absent due to injuries.

Rune, ranked 145th, began cramping in the third set and struggled to finish.

“From the third or fourth game in the third set, he couldn’t move much,” Djokovic said. “You could see he struggled a lot. I feel for him.”

Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves against Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune of Denmark on Tuesday in New York. | USA TODAY / VIA REUTERS
Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves against Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune of Denmark on Tuesday in New York. | USA TODAY / VIA REUTERS

Djokovic won the first set in 26 minutes without facing a break point but fell behind 3-0 to start the second before battling into the tie-breaker, where Rune grabbed leads of 4-0 and 6-3. After two Djokovic service winners, he sent a backhand service return long to drop the set.

In the third set, Djokovic broke to lead 3-1 and Rune began getting treatments between games, grimacing at times and struggling to run for shots to the end.

Earlier Tuesday, Tokyo Olympic champion Alexander Zverev pushed his win streak to 12 matches and warned he has his eyes on denying Djokovic the Slam.

Fourth seed Zverev, who beat Djokovic in the Olympic semifinals, dispatched American Sam Querrey 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

“I hope in two weeks’ time I’ll be on an 18-match winning streak,” said Zverev, who is eyeing a first Grand Slam title.

The 24-year-old German, last year’s U.S. Open runner-up, hit 18 aces and 40 winners while never facing a break point in advancing after an hour and 40 minutes.

“Novak is chasing history,” Zverev said. “But the young guys are going to try and get in the way of that. I’m going to try to give him a challenge as well.”

Zverev, who next faces Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas, could face Djokovic in the semifinals.

“I hope I can keep the level up,” Zverev said. “To beat Novak here is going to be an extremely difficult task.”

French-born U.S. qualifier Maxime Cressy fired 44 aces and saved four match points to upset Spanish ninth seed Pablo Carreno Busta 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7).

After beating Djokovic for a Tokyo Olympic bronze medal, the Spaniard’s U.S. Open ended with him slamming down his racquet in frustration.

“One point at a time. I just tell myself the same thing at that point in the match and today it came out my way,” Cressy said. “I’m really happy things are starting to pay off.”

In the women’s draw, world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, coming off wins at Wimbledon and Cincinnati, began her chase for back-to-back Slam titles by defeating Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 7-6 (9-7).

“Being able to work my way around that and get through in straight sets was really pleasing,” Barty said.

“When my back was against the wall late in that buster, I came up with some really good stuff.”

The 25-year-old Australian next faces Denmark’s Clara Tauson as she goes for her sixth title of the year.

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