He saved them, won the set, then needed less than an hour to close out a victory. The 2011 champion beat 87th-ranked Benjamin Becker of Germany 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-2 on Friday.
Becker had a chance to serve for the first set at 5-4. But he wasted the first with a forehand into the net and the second when a backhand sailed wide.
"Becker is a quality opponent and he should have won the first set," Djokovic said in an on-court interview. "I was fortunate enough to come back and win the first set, and after that, I was much more comfortable on the court."
The wind was swirling at Arthur Ashe Stadium, as it often does during the day to players' frustration.
"You need to have this adjustment, footwork, steps, in order to get on the ball," Djokovic said. "I didn't have that in the first set. I was still trying to find my way from baseline, and the other side he was serving well. I had my chances though first set earlier to break, but didn't capitalize.
"After I played a good tiebreak, everything kind of settled. I started to serve better, started to step into the court, which is important. I need to start the way I started in the first match, but my game is getting there. I feel that it was a big test for me today."
Another Grand Slam winner, Li Na, also showed some championship form earlier on Ashe.
This time, her opponent, Laura Robson, looked very much like a teenager.
The fifth-seeded Li avenged her third-round upset loss to the young Brit at last year's U.S. Open, winning in straight sets at the same stage at Flushing Meadows.
Li, the 2011 French Open champ, rallied from down a break in the second set for a 6-2, 7-5 victory.
Li was nervous after she noticed that her draw was a repeat from last year. A pep talk from coach Carlos Rodriguez eased her anxiety.
"After the talk I was feeling much, much better," she said. "Because before I never try to share the feeling with the team."
Agnieszka Radwanska needed nearly two hours to slip past No. 32-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 7-6 (1). The third-seeded Pole faced 10 break points, but Pavlyuchenkova was able to convert only two, while Radwanska was 3 for 5.
Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki, seeded 16th, won't be making a run at Flushing Meadows after she was eliminated in straight sets by Ekaterina Makarova. The 24th-seeded Russian won 6-4, 7-5.
A year ago, Robson's upset of Li was the biggest victory of her breakthrough run. Meanwhile, it was the third straight frustrating U.S. Open loss for the Chinese star.
Robson was ranked 89th coming into last year's tournament. She had never advanced past the second round at a Grand Slam event or defeated a top-10 opponent.
That all changed when she upset major champions Kim Clijsters and Li back-to-back to make the fourth round. Now 19, Robson was seeded 30th at Flushing Meadows and coming off a fourth-round run at Wimbledon.
Li had 34 unforced errors in their match a year ago, and she lamented then that the free points lifted the teen's confidence. This time, Robson never had much of an opening.
"She served very well today and I thought she was returning really deep," Robson said. "You know, there wasn't a lot I could do in some points."
Li surprised herself with 11 aces Friday -- including one on a second serve on match point -- and won all nine points when she went to the net. She's back in the fourth round at the U.S. Open for the first time since 2009.
Her run over, Robson now must face an unfortunate reality for many teenagers: getting her wisdom teeth out.
"All the other girls in the locker room are telling me their horror stories: `Oh, yeah, I pulled my gauze out and it was just blood,"' Robson said. "So that's not too nice."
Defending champs Serena Williams and Andy Murray are scheduled for matches later Friday. Williams will be back on court a day after playing singles and doubles, facing Yaroslava Shvedova in the nightcap at Ashe.
Two other U.S. Open winners, Juan Martin del Potro and Lleyton Hewitt, face each other.
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