The biggest day of Conor Niland’s career ended in a nightmare as he was forced to retire in the middle of his first round match with world number one Novak Djokovic at the US Open last night.
Irishman Niland retired due to food poisoning while trailing 6-0 5-1 at the Arthur Ashe stadium.
Niland had required attention early in the second set after apparently being ill during the warm-up, and although he soldiered on for a short while, he bowed to the inevitable as Djokovic proved far too strong.
Niland looked lost for most of the match as Djokovic swiftly got back to winning ways after losing his last appearance — against Andy Murray when he suffered a shoulder injury in the final in Cincinnati a week ago — for only his second defeat of an incredible season.
After completing a 6-0 whitewash in the opening set, Djokovic took the first game of the second too before Niland finally made a breakthrough, levelling it at 1-1 to earn a few cheers from the New York crowd.
But soon after he was receiving attention from medics and although he battled on gamely, it was clear he did not have anything like what it would take to trouble Djokovic and was forced out.
Niland said: “I got sick on Sunday morning and basically it was food poisoning. I’ve had it the last two days, I’ve been very ill and it’s just been really, really bad timing.
“I wanted to go out there and hope for a miracle that I’d be alright. But I wasn’t able to eat the last two days so I had nothing in my legs energy wise. It was an impossible task, really.”
Weighing up who might win the men’s singles in New York, Serb Djokovic believes Andy Murray must show his mental toughness in order to triumph.
Djokovic's second defeat of the year came against Murray in the final of the recent Cincinnati Masters, although he was clearly hampered by a shoulder injury and retired in the second set.
Djokovic said: “He has won in Cincinnati. He's definitely a player that everybody should look up to now.
“He has always come to the US Open with a Masters Series title, so I'm sure he's very eager to win his first grand slam.
“We are all fully aware of his potential and we are all fully aware that he has great talent.
“There are some things that he just needs to get together mentally.
“He has proven that he can win against anybody on any surface.”
Meanwhile, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had little trouble reaching the second round of the US Open yesterday but last year's semi-finalist Mikhail Youzhny was beaten in straight sets by Ernests Gulbis.
The 23-year-old has long been tipped as a future star of the game without ever quite living up to the hype but there have been signs recently that could be about to change.
Gulbis, a member of one of Latvia's wealthier families, won the ATP World Tour event in Los Angeles last month and reached the third round of the Masters event in Montreal to climb back to 53rd in the world rankings.
In contrast Youzhny, the 16th seed, lost his first matches in Montreal and Cincinnati and will lose big ranking points in comparison to last year's run, where he beat John Isner and Stanislas Wawrinka before going down to Rafael Nadal.
Gulbis got off to the perfect start with two early breaks and Youzhny simply could not recover, the Russian eventually losing 6-2 6-4 6-4.
Fifth seed Ferrer also made a bad start and was 4-0 down to Russia's Igor Andreev but once the Spaniard got going he did not look back, powering to a 2-6 6-3 6-0 6-4 victory.
Eleventh seed Tsonga, fresh from wins over Roger Federer in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and in Montreal, is considered a dark horse for the title and he was impressive in a 6-4 6-4 6-4 win over Lu Yen-hsun yesterday.
Four years after his first win at Flushing Meadows, American Donald Young finally got his second yesterday.
Young dominated Slovakian Lukas Lacko, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 on Court 17 in the first round.