With a record of 25-0 this season and closest rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer missing, how could he not be?
Still, it was some shock that the Serbian conceded the opener, even if his British opponent possesses one of the biggest forehands in the game.
France’s Kristina Mladenovic lost a tiebreak but also the match in one of grand slam tennis’ biggest blown leads, having been up 6-1 5-1 and four match points on the 102nd-ranked Varvara Gracheva.
And women’s top seed Karolina Pliskova fell to Mladenovic’s compatriot Caroline Garcia in another outing featuring a tiebreak, 6-2 7-6 (2). It was a mild upset, given Garcia is a former top-5 player and Pliskova has made one quarterfinal at a major since the start of 2019.
“I’m not a robot, so I don’t have to play every day amazing,” Pliskova, handed the top seeding because of the absences of Ash Barty and Simona Halep, said.
Djokovic has been playing amazing in the truncated 2020 campaign and in tiebreaks.
He had won 18 of his previous 20 tiebreaks, the lone blemishes both coming in London against Dominic Thiem at the ATP Finals in November and Hubert Hurkacz at Wimbledon in July.
However, London was also the site of his greatest tiebreak success in a single match. He memorably won all three in last year’s Wimbledon final against Federer, not making a single unforced error. That included Wimbledon’s first ever 12-12 tiebreak in a finale.
On a steamy day in New York where ball people needed to clean sweat marks on court, Djokovic did make a few unforced errors in the tiebreak against Edmund — notably a drop shot into the net when leading 4-3.
But an early break in the second got the 17-time grand slam winner on the path to victory against Edmund, who topped Djokovic on the clay in Madrid in 2018 and made the Australian Open semifinals months earlier.
We should have known there would be some drama in the tussle, since British players had produced their fair share of theater the opening two days.
Mladenovic said she had been placed in what the US Open has called an enhanced protocol plan — or in her words a “bubble in the bubble” — after coming into close contact with a player who had tested positive for the virus.
For that, she likened it Monday to being in a “nightmare.”
There was another nightmare for Mladenovic to endure Wednesday, as she “collapsed” against Gracheva. She held the four match points returning serve at 5-2 in the second set before exiting 1-6 7-6 (2) 6-0.
“Yeah, it’s definitely the most painful match and loss I’ve had in my career because it’s a grand slam and I was 6-1, 5-1 and 0-40,” she told reporters in English in a Zoom call. “I was playing really good tennis there but couldn’t close it out and convert my match points. I think that she saved it well.
“She was brave and went for it but I didn’t take my chances and I would like to answer that question but from 5-2 slowly I started feeling that I was crashing down and I got tight and I just collapsed. I had nothing left in the tank.”
Asked whether the extra protocols she had been placed under played a role in the outcome, she replied, “Physically and mentally I’m completely drained. It’s just worse and worse. I just would like to thank the USTA for the unreal experience and, yeah, I don’t want to comment.”
Players must be used to highs and lows and Mladenovic has certainly had both. She is a former doubles No. 1 and former top 10 in singles and led her country to a long-awaited Fed Cup title last year.
Conversely, besides the devastating setback against Gracheva, Mladenovic once lost 15 matches in a row.
The losses are nowhere in sight for Djokovic.