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Novak Djokovic survives ‘not ideal atmosphere’

“Ruuuuuune.’’

That’s the ringing chant Novak Djokovic heard from the packed house at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the first match of his march toward history Tuesday night. It was especially evident during a wild second set.

The U.S. Open night crowd of 21,000 was pulling hard for fist-pumping qualifier Holger Rune. The 18-year-old from Denmark started to feel his oats in the second set and evened the first-round match at 1-1 after a stirring tiebreaker before eventually losing, partly due to cramps.

Both Djokovic and Rune were confused at the chants at first, thinking maybe they were boos. Not quite.

“It was not ideal atmosphere for me — I can tell you that,’’ Djokovic said. “But I’ve been in these particular atmospheres before, so I knew how to handle it.”

This was no cakewalk for the men’s top seed. But any chance of Rune ruining Djokovic’s bid for the first men’s Grand Slam since 1969 ended midway through the third set.

Djokovic gained control and Rune suddenly cramped up and limped toward the finish. And the cheering stopped.

Djokovic posted a 6-1, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2, 6-1 victory, but it raised questions whether the 34-year-old Serbian will get the crowd on his side in the next six matches — if he gets to all of them.

Novak Djokovic hits an autographed ball into the crowd after his first-round victory over Holger Rune.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Djokovic is gunning to be the first man to win all four majors in one year since Rod Laver captured Wimbledon, along with the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, in 1969. Djokovic is also a U.S. Open title away from moving past Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the all-time record for major championships at 21.

Do the Open fans want to see this happen or not? Djokovic has always been less-favored than Federer and Nadal.

“Obviously you always wish to have crowd behind you, but it’s not always possible,’’ Djokovic said. “There are things you can always rely on, go back to when you are experiencing turbulence. When it gets too much, I’ve developed a mechanism where I feel like I can mentally handle that.’’

Djokovic seemed oddly detached on the court, with no emotions, good or bad.

After Djokovic cruised in the first set, he got shaky and Rune’s play lifted — with an array of bold drop shots and running forehand winners, punctuated by shaking his fists toward the adoring crowd.

In the second set, Rune took a 3-0 lead before the Serbian rallied back for four straight games to go up 4-3. Instead of caving, Rune got better. He broke Djokovic, forcing a tiebreaker.

“I was trying to feel the ball out there,’’ Djokovic said. “Not the best performance. But he played well in the second set.’’

As the second-set tiebreaker was beginning, the crowd rose to its feet, giving the Dane a standing ovation. He jumped to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreak with the crowd swooning “Ruuuuuuune” after every point he captured — even after a Djokovic double fault.

While Djokovic rallied to within 6-5, he couldn’t get out of the hole. After a long rally, Djokovic hit long. The stadium exploded and Rune leapt, shaking his fists some more.

“I never felt anything like this,’’ Rune said. “It was [an] unbelievable feeling. I tried to give the crowd something, fight for every point, be pumped. The crowd was unbelievable. I mean, I couldn’t have asked for more.’’

Eventually, all those theatrics led to trouble. It was 1-1 and that’s where the storybook upset ended.

Djokovic got off to a hot start and the humidity and perhaps adrenaline ruined Rune. He started to feel it in his legs and needed a trainer after Djokovic went up 4-1. Rune was visibly limping as he retook the court. Cramping doesn’t allow for the standard 10-minute injury timeouts.

Djokovic said generous words to Rule as they shook hands at the net — the Serbian seemingly giving him a game at 5-0 in the fourth set with lazy returns.

He called Rune one of the “up-and-coming stars.’’

“It’s unfortunate he had to go through it,’’ Djokovic said. “He didn’t want to stop. I thought he’s going to stop the end of the third. He just kept going with dignity, finished off the match. He deserved definitely my respect.’’

Djokovic will face another obscure player in the second round, Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands.

It’s the calm before the storm. Djokovic may have to go through Matteo Berrettini, Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev in his final three matches. With the crowd or without.

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