US Open: Novak Djokovic puts on a clinic in his return to Queens, beating France’s Alexandre Muller 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 after missing 2022 tournament over his refusal to get COVID vaccine

It’s like he never left.

Novak Djokovic made his triumphant return to the U.S. Open on Monday by putting on an absolute clinic in a 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 win over France’s Alexandre Muller.

Unable to compete at Flushing Meadows in 2022 because he was not allowed to fly to the country as a foreign citizen who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, the 23-time Grand Slam champion effectively issued a warning to the men’s field by breezing to a first-round win. Muller’s effort was beyond question, but even that couldn’t prevent him from being defeated in an hour and 35 minutes. 

Following the match Djokovic credited his quick start for the strong performance.

‘I started tremendously well out the box,’ Djokovic said. ‘Started quite late, obviously there was the ceremony between matches and I knew I might have a late start.’

Djokovic missed the 2022 tourney over his refusal to get vaccinated before entering the US

Djokovic missed the 2022 tourney over his refusal to get vaccinated before entering the US

‘Nevertheless… I was excited to go out on the court, it has been a couple of years and to come in front of you guys is always a pleasure and an honor to play in Arthur Ash.’

Djokovic also thanked the crowd for staying until nearly 1 AM before making them laugh by saying children in attendance should ‘go to sleep.’

The Serbian star is now set to play Bernabe Zapata Miralles. 

‘He’s a clay court specialist but again you know, over the years all these guys learn how to play on the hard courts so there is no easy opponent,’ Djokovic said.

‘Obviously I respect everyone, I don’t underestimate anybody and try to give my best and hopefully I try to get another win in a few days.’

Fans wore shirts with pictures of Djokovic's face on them as they watched him play

Fans wore shirts with pictures of Djokovic’s face on them as they watched him play

Djokovic was asked Friday whether he harbored some resentment over the way things happened; He sat out tournaments in California and Florida in addition to the U.S. Open because of a federal rule related to the pandemic that was lifted in May.

‘No, there was no anger. It was last year during the Open that I felt it’s a pity that I’m not there. I felt sad for not being able to participate,’ Djokovic said with a shrug of his shoulders, draped in a gray hoodie. ‘But this year, I mean, is this year. I don’t think about what happened in the last year or last couple of years. Just focusing my attention to this year’s tournament.’

The last match the 36-year-old from Serbia played in Ashe was the 2021 U.S. Open final, a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 loss to Daniil Medvedev. Not only did that drop Djokovic’s record in title matches at Flushing Meadows to 3-6 but, of more significance, it left him one victory shy of completing the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since Rod Laver’s in 1969.

France's Alexandre Muller congratulates Novak Djokovic, who won in straight sets on Monday

France’s Alexandre Muller congratulates Novak Djokovic, who won in straight sets on Monday

Djokovic wept at the end of that match, something he attributed that day to a mix of relief at his pursuit of the milestone no longer hanging over him and of appreciation for the way the thousands of spectators saluted his effort.

‘What I felt from the crowd — that kind of connection and love and support that they gave me throughout the entire match, and also in the closing ceremony — was something that I carry still in my heart,’ he said Friday. ‘I still feel vibes from that night of the finals, two years ago. I’ll try to use that for this year’s tournament.’

While that bit of history went by the wayside, Djokovic is still winning and chasing more achievements.

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