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Djokovic, Serena look to get U.S. Open crowd on their side

Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a return to Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina during their men's singles semi-final match at the Cincinnati Open tennis tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio August 18, 2012.

JOHN SOMMERS II/REUTERS

Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, two players who have tasted the wrath of the New York crowd, begin their title campaigns with first-round matches at the U.S. Open on Tuesday.

Once considered a joker given his talent for imitating fellow players, Djokovic was jeered at Flushing Meadows in 2008 for daring to hit back at claims by Andy Roddick that he exaggerated his injuries.

But last year, the Serb was cheered to the hilt as he beat Rafa Nadal to win the U.S. Open for the first time and complete his collection of grand slam trophies.

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"I feel the energy," said Djokovic, who plays Italian Paolo Lorenzi in round one. "It's incredible and a very unique feeling to come back to New York as defending champion. It's one of the most exciting cities in the world.

"You definitely can feel that. Especially the night matches in front of the packed stadium. It's a lot of entertainment, a lot of fun. The fans get into every point, they play with you, so it's quite different from all the other tournaments."

In other men's matches on Tuesday, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France plays Slovakia's Karol Beck and former champion Andy Roddick takes on fellow American Rhyne Williams.

Serena Williams has been on the wrong side of the crowd in each of the past two years with two of the biggest meltdowns in recent U.S. Open history.

In 2010, the American threatened to shove a ball down the throat of a lineswoman who called a foot fault on her when she was two points from defeat against Kim Clijsters.

Last year, the American unleashed a torrent of abuse toward the chair umpire who penalized her for shouting before Samantha Stosur had a chance to return a ball in the final, which the Australian won.

The 30-year-old won the last of her three U.S. Open titles in 2008 is the overwhelming favourite this year after following her triumphs at Wimbledon and the London Olympics.

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"You've got to embrace it whether you're the favourite or the one to beat or whether you are not," said fourth seed Williams, who plays American Coco Vandeweghe in round one.

"And I embrace it. In Wimbledon I wasn't the favourite, I embraced that. Hopefully I can do my best here."

Venus Williams, twice the winner in New York, is in action against American Bethanie Mattek-Sands while second seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland plays Russia's Nina Bratchikova.

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