Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic admitted on Monday that they miss old sparring partner Roger Federer who was forced to skip the US Open for the first time since 1999.
Federer, the winner of a record 17 majors and a five-time champion in New York, shut down his season to rest a knee injury, which was aggravated in a semi-final loss at Wimbledon.
“Roger today is having the same injury issues, so I wish him a fast recovery,” Nadal said after beating Denis Istomin to make the second round.
Nadal had come into the tournament under an injury cloud after a serious wrist problem had forced an early withdrawal from the French Open as well as an absence from Wimbledon.
“It is very tough to see the players outside of the Tour. The fans miss the players, the Tour needs the players,” added the Spaniard.
World number one Djokovic, who beat Federer to win a second US Open last year, also felt sympathy for the 35-year-old Swiss.
“It’s not the same when you don’t have Roger for the tournament, for the fans. He’s been one of the most popular players of all time, one of the most successful players of all time,” said the Serb, a first round 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 winner over Jerzy Janowicz on Monday.
“There is no doubt that every tournament is missing him. But on the other hand, we have got to focus on the players that we have at the moment. So I think even without him, it’s a very strong field. I’m sure it’s going to be a good tournament.”
Defending champion Novak Djokovic overcame an arm injury scare and long-time rival Rafael Nadal shone in 33-degree heat as the US Open showcased its Nadal, the 2010 and 2013 champion and seeded to face Djokovic in the semi-finals, eased to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.
Djokovic had admitted that he was “not 100 per cent” after suffering a wrist injury on the eve of the Olympics where he was a first-round loser.
But it was the upper right arm that bothered the Serb on Monday night as he played his first Grand Slam match since his shock third round exit at Wimbledon.
The 29-year-old needed treatment after just five games of the first set but eventually pulled through against Janowicz who had played just two matches all year due to a knee injury.
“It was hard to follow Phil Collins,” joked Djokovic in reference to the lengthy opening ceremony which featured the veteran English rocker under the new $150 million (Dh550.8 million) roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
On his arm injury, Djokovic added: “It’s never easy to play at this level throughout the year. There are periods where you aren’t 100 per cent.”
Djokovic next faces Jiri Vesely, the Czech who knocked him out of Monte Carlo this year.
Nadal’s reward for a fifth win in five meetings with Istomin is a match-up with Italian veteran Andreas Seppi.
Canadian fifth seed Milos Raonic, the runner-up to Andy Murray at Wimbledon, overcame German dangerman Dustin Brown 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.