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Federer, Williams sisters advance with ease

They all have little trouble defeating their first-round opponents at the U.S. Open.

August 27, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- After the winning clarity of Serena and Venus Williams carried the late afternoon and early evening, the globally famous enigma turned up at night.

How would Roger Federer look Tuesday night near the end of his oft-tormented summer? Well, as it happened, he looked quite a bit like Roger Federer in a 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 win, partly because he benefited from a first-round draw of infinitely more mystery.

"Never saw my opponent before," Federer said. "Never saw him play, obviously, 'cause I never saw him."

To the occasion, the 118th-ranked Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina brought along his lifetime record in ATP Tour-level hard-court events: 0-0. He also brought along his record in Grand Slam main draws: 0-0.

Among the billions of people on Earth with 0-0 tour-level hard-court records, though, he probably fared better than just about any would have.

"It's unbelievable for me," he said afterward from his seat in a small interview room amid mostly Spanish-speaking reporters. "It was like a dream. I was so happy. . . . I played so good, he played unbelievable, I think, all the time. For me he's No. 1 always."

For the world he's No. 2 after a summer with a storybook loss to Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final, then an uncharacteristic 4-3 record since. What's novel is, he's learning the distinct joys of No. 2 after an eternal 239 weeks at No. 1.

"The change I feel is fans are really supporting me and telling me I'm still number one and still the best, 'You're going to be there again,' and stuff. So I feel like I've got unbelievable support from the fans watching me and seeing people in the streets and stuff," he said.

Everybody loves an underdog, even that oddest kind of underdog, the four-times-defending-champion underdog. In the champions parade Monday night that feted 40 years of open-era tennis, by far the largest swell of ovation came for Federer.

"We shouldn't forget that they're supposed to scream for the Americans here," he said. "I guess I'm very close to their hearts by now."

Federer even brought back a speck of the puckish wit he has hidden for some time, saying that nowadays he has to start reading draws from the bottom.

He said this about 11 hours after a No. 1 player, Ana Ivanovic, looked as if she'd need a U-Haul to carry around the ranking.

Breathing heavily when she remembered to breathe, she weathered 57th-ranked Russian Vera Dushevina, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, in a first-round match fairly excruciating to watch.

That led to the Williams sisters, two people who have been No. 1 and may yet acquire it again, even in their late 20s.

Yet they spoke of the power of two, still glowing from their Olympic doubles gold medal.

"I'll definitely be living off that moment for a while, so it's going to take me a year to come down off that," Venus Williams said, and then spoke of playing the Olympics in 2012 and 2016.

She had just beaten the Australian doubles maestro Samantha Stosur, 6-2, 6-3, blasting through a 3-1 deficit in the second.

"It's definitely confidence I can take" from Beijing, Serena Williams said, and she had just beaten the capable, 46th-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine, 6-1, 6-4, looking very much like somebody intent on bandaging the strange bit of history that has her lacking a U.S. Open semifinal or final since 2002.

Asked if six years feels unreasonably long, she said, "Absolutely. I don't even remember holding up the trophy.

"I didn't even know I won this tournament, that's how long it's been."

--

TODAY'S FEATURED MATCHES

* Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Arnaud Clement (78), first round. With the Federer-Nadal yarn hogging the attention, here's a reminder that Djokovic had seven set points in the 2007 U.S. Open final against Federer.

* Lindsay Davenport (24) vs. Alisa Kleybanova (34), second round. In her third grand slam since her return, Davenport, the 1998 champion, tries to make her deepest run.

* Andy Roddick (8) vs. Fabrice Santoro, first round. Santoro, 35, is a tour Methuselah. Roddick, almost 26, may yet become a tour Methuselah.

* Jelena Jankovic (2) vs. Sofia Arvidsson (63), second round. Some say the top of the women's game lacks verve. Some just don't know Jankovic.

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