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U.S. has drive at Open

September 02, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- A sport that's supposed to be decreasingly American had a heady American Labor Day at the U.S. Open, the host country propped up once more by that long, huge state on its left edge.

Not only did two of California's most familiar daughters sustain their emphatic turn of saying hello again on Monday, but one of its freshest sons said a first hello to an Arthur Ashe Stadium that roared back approval at his arrival.

There went Venus and Serena Williams, gliding above their sport again at ages 28 and 26, their dominance so majestic here that the Williams-Williams Wednesday night quarterfinal they've arranged seems two rounds too soon.

Serena Williams romped through Severine Bremond of France, 6-2, 6-2, just after Venus Williams looked otherworldly against 11th-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 6-1, 6-3.

And here comes Sam Querrey, the 20-year-old Thousand Oaks High graduate, burrowing into the consciousness of his sport with such aplomb that he actually triggered evidence of human frailty in No. 1 Rafael Nadal in a midday match tense, thick and excellent.

"He had to earn it; I didn't just give it to him," Querrey said after Nadal went to 42-1 since May by winning 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

All this time since Williams versus Williams last played a U.S. Open final -- 2002 -- and here the Grand Slam title standings among the eight U.S. Open quarterfinalists stand at Serena Williams eight, Venus Williams seven and Everybody Else zero. There's still the scalding No. 7-ranked Dinara Safina, who sobbed from exhaustion to her coach before her fourth-round match Monday, then beat qualifier Anna-Lena Groenefeld 7-5, 6-0. There's still No. 2 Jelena Jankovic, and the No. 6 Elena Dementieva, the Olympic champion.

It's just that none has proved so impervious to challenge as the two sisters from Compton.

They've each won all eight sets easily. Venus Williams has lost 15 games, Serena Williams 14. Service breaks suffered through four rounds: Venus Williams three, Serena Williams one. Venus Williams has won all 22 sets in Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year; Serena Williams has won all her sets except two, which she lost to Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final.

It's all pangs and twinges of 2002, that time before, as Venus Williams put it, "Things happen. Life happened. You can't always predict it. The best part is that we're still here, going stronger than ever in my opinion."

Said Serena Williams: "You know, it's just disappointing to be so soon."

By contrast, the chockablock men's draw, down to 12, still has No. 6-ranked Andy Murray of Britain, who looked a threat Monday night as he annihilated No. 10 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.

It still has a breakthrough American, the Minnesotan-Floridian Mardy Fish, who anachronistically rushed the net 69 times, winning 54 of those points, as he impressively beat Gael Monfils, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, to get a spot opposite Nadal.

It still has Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick and 19-year-old Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, winner of four straight tournaments and 23 straight matches after beating Japan's Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

It doesn't have Querrey anymore, but it certainly won't forget the player ranked No. 55 and pointed upward.

As he tries to overcome a normal, happy childhood to play elite tennis, and looks like he just might, he climbed first from being down 6-2, 4-2 and break point, then from being a break down in the third set, and very nearly from being a break down in the fourth.

He made Nadal play a transcendent tiebreaker in the third.

He gave Nadal a haunted look that briefly reminded people that this is the Grand Slam where Nadal has thrived least. He engaged Nadal in a 16-minute seventh game of the fourth set in which the French and Wimbledon champion repelled seven break points.

The crowd swooned. Querrey's chums from the red-eye flight spelled S-A-M shirtlessly. Nadal extolled Querrey's big future, which features a serve the California delivers from his 6-foot-6 frame and an improving backhand on which Querrey said he "used to kind of bunt it a little bit."

"Not the worst thing in the world going out to the No. 1 guy," Querrey said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Today's featured matches

World rankings are in parentheses:

Roger Federer, Switzerland (2), vs. Igor Andreev, Russia (23) -- In yearning for a fifth straight title, Federer hopes to restore his aura of invincibility. Many of us hope just to get down the sidewalk without tripping.

Andy Roddick (8) vs. Fernando Gonzalez, Chile (11) -- Some spectators will endure the bruising tennis just to get to the post-match, on-court interview, where Roddick dispenses one-liners like his Friday night report at having, between points, noticed two people in the stands who needed to "get a room."

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