Top-ranked, top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia cruised into the second round of the US Open on a day when two-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain also advanced, while last year's runner-up Kei Nishikori crashed out of the tournament.
In Monday's first-round action, Djokovic needed only one hour and 11 minutes to capture a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Brazil's Joao Souza. "There's something I love about number one for sure. Hopefully I can keep it up," said Djokovic. "I'm just hoping I can continue to play this way and if I can, I feel I have a really good chance against anybody."
Djokovic, who said he is playing with newfound serenity since becoming a father last October, was pleased to have produced such an emphatic opening win. "I lost three games the entire match against a player I never played against before," he said. "It can always be tricky because you're approaching the match without really knowing how he's going to react.
"I couldn't ask for a better opening of this year's U.S. Open. Hopefully I can continue in that rhythm."
Despite going 56-5 this year, Djokovic said a victory like Monday's can give the nine-times grand slam singles winner a boost. "With a dominant win like the one today, it adds to your confidence, your self-belief," he said. "It's also making a statement for everybody that is out there watching. We are all seeing how each other progresses. It's important you're out on the court with the right intensity and you're sending a good message, and I've done so."
Djokovic will next meet either Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria, who beat Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (0), 6-0, 6-1.
Kei Nishikori reacts after losing a point against Benoit Paire during their men's singles first-round match of the 2015 US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in New York, on August 31, 2015. (AFP Photo)
Nishikori, who was Djokovic's highest-ranked possible semi-final opponent, was ousted from the first round of the US Open for the third time in five years as 41st-ranked Frenchman Benoit Paire saved two match points to beat the Japanese 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4. "To beat Nishikori, for me, it was impossible to imagine this," Paire said. "I'm really happy."
Paire, who had never before beaten a top-five foe, fired 21 aces to only three for Nishikori and blasted 64 winners, 30 more than Nishikori, with 67 unforced errors, 31 more than the Asian number one. "He was very aggressive, so there were many rallies and it was tough to get rhythm," Nishikori said.
Nishikori enjoyed his highest seed for any Grand Slam event all-too briefly, walking off Louis Armstrong Stadium with his head down. The Japanese fourth seed led the tie-breaker 6-4 but swatted a forehand long, watched Paire smack two service winners and then netted a forehand to force a fifth set.
Paire, who won his first ATP title last month at Bastad, broke for a 3-2 lead and held to the finish to win after three hours and 14 minutes. "To be honest, I think I'm lucky," Paire said. "Today, for me, it's a good day. I'm really happy to win."
Nishikori had won three titles this year, including a US Open warm-up win at the Citi Open in Washington that saw him avenge last year's US Open final loss to Croatian Marin Cilic. "It's very sad always to lose first round," Nishikori said. "I think it was more because of him I wasn't playing 100 percent."
Cilic won his opener 6-3, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) over Argentine qualifier Guido Pella. "Defending a Grand Slam title for the first time for sure is something I will learn from," Cilic said.
Rafael Nadal celebrates winning a point in the fourth set against Borna Coric during their men's singles first-round match of the 2015 US Open at the USTA National Tennis Center in New York, on August 31, 2015. (AFP Photo)
Nadal beats Coric
Nadal showed flashes of his top form in the last night-session match on Arthur Ashe Stadium to beat 18-year-old Croatian Borna Coric 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to close the first day's play at the championships.
The first two sets brought a vintage performance on a sultry night from Nadal, who has dropped to world number eight in what has been a lackluster 2015 season for the 14-time Grand Slam champion. Given his last chance to keep alive a 10-year streak of winning at least one Grand Slam title a season, the Spaniard schooled Coric over the first two sets.
But Coric responded with his best tennis and broke the Spaniard in the 10th game of the third set to send the match into a fourth set.
The Spaniard finally prevailed thanks to a service break on a forehand service return winner in the seventh game.
"It's a very happy moment for me," said Nadal, returning to Flushing Meadows for the first time since his 2013 US Open triumph after missing last year with a wrist injury. "Last year was very hard not having chance to being back in one of my favorite tournaments," he told the crowd in an on-court ESPN interview.
With the win, Nadal avenged last year's 6-2, 7-6 loss to Coric at Basel in their only previous encounter. The up-and-coming Coric, ranked 33, is the youngest player in the world's top-50 and showed glimpses of his enormous potential with his spirited fightback. "The first two sets were a high level for me. I was happy with the way I played," said Nadal, who served brilliantly over the first two sets and in the fourth. "He is a great player and has an amazing future."
Nadal next plays Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 winner over Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer.
In other first-round matches, seventh seed David Ferrer of Spain defeated Radu Albot of Moldova 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 while 19th-seeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 in the soon-to-retire Finnish player's last Grand Slam match.
Canada's Milos Raonic, the 10th seed, beat American Tim Smyczek 6-4, 7-6 (8), 6-1 while David Goffin, the 14th seed from Belgium beat Italy's Simone Bolelli 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov, the 17th seed, beat Australia's Matthew Ebden 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.
Italian 25th seed Andreas Seppi beat American Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-0, 7-5, while fellow Italian Fabio Fognini also eliminated an American, beating Steve Johnson 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (2).
Spanish 23rd seed Roberto Bautista beat Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7) while fellow Spaniard and 18th seed Feliciano Lopez beat Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili 7-6 (5), 6-1, 6-3. Spaniard Tommy Robredo also advanced, beating Germany's Michael Berrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
French 27th seed Jeremy Chardy beat American Ryan Shane 6-2, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-2, while Slovakia's Martin Klizan beat Germany's Florian Mayer 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3, 3-0 retired.