Reporting from New York — It was only a single shot in a match that had no moments of uncertainty for five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer.
It came from deep in the back of the court, when Federer was almost running into the wall; it was born partly of desperation but also partly of confidence, a forehand hit between his legs, across the court and skipping across the sideline, a winner past helpless Brian Dabul of Argentina.
The night session crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium roared and Federer offered a little bow and a sheepish smile. The 29-year-old wasn't going to be tested by Dabul, who is ranked 96th in the world and who owns only a single Grand Slam tournament victory compared with Federer's 204. The 204th was the 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 first-round U.S. Open win Monday.
"I don't think I could do this again," Federer said, even though he hit an almost identical shot here last year against Novak Djokovic.
Federer said that maybe the 'tweener he knocked past Djokovic last year was more important because it came at a more crucial time, in a semifinal against a contender. "But in terms of difficulty," he said, "maybe this one was harder."
And it will maybe overtake a Federer video that had become viral 10 days ago, when Federer seemingly knocked the can off the head of a guy during a commercial shoot for Gillette. Federer has played coy about the video, refusing to say whether it is the product of editing or fearless skill.
He would say for certain, though, that he would not try to knock the can off anyone's head by hitting between his legs.
"That's kind of tough," he said, "the trajectory going up. You can feel the nose and everything being hit first. No, I wouldn't be able to do that."
Federer likes the lights at the Open. He is 16-0 at night here, and he wasn't the only one who appreciated being a late starter.
Venus Williams won with a wince, taking a careful step after hitting a crackling swing volley, and for a moment it seemed possible that the U.S. Open would be without any Williams sister after Day 1 since her top-ranked sister Serena is sidelined because of a foot injury.
But after cringing, the 30-year-old Williams hit through the pain and beat Italian Roberta Vinci, 6-4, 6-1. Williams had started the match with a 124-mph ace and finished it with another big serve, then did a jaunty dance to blaring rock music while she hit tennis balls to the fans.
Williams hadn't played a match since Wimbledon, withdrawing from all the summer circuit hard court events because of a bruised right kneecap.
Melanie Oudin, the 18-year-old who captivated fans last summer by upsetting four opponents in a row here and making it to the quarterfinals with energetic, fist-pumping, joyous tennis, had a smile on her face again Monday after her 6-3, 6-0 win over qualifier Olga Savchuk.
Oudin has struggled so far to build on last year's buzz. Her record this season was 17-20 and in the three previous major tournaments this season Oudin had won only a single match.
Stat of the day
American Taylor Dent slammed a 149-mph ace in his 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 win over Alejandro Falla.
Quote of the day
Ninth-seeded Andy Roddick, who turned 28 on Monday, the same day he beat Stephane Robert of France, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, on the occasion of turning older: "Obviously, I know I'm probably closer to finished than I am to the start. I don't know. It's a number. I'm barely older today than I was yesterday."
Tuesday's featured matches
Beginning at 10 a.m. PDT at Arthur Ashe Stadium: fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic, still seeking the ultimate Grand Slam success by winning a major, against Simona Halep; third-seeded Djokovic, runner-up here in 2007 and a semifinalist the last two years, against fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki; and 14th-seeded Maria Sharapova against Jarmila Groth (who beat Oudin at Wimbledon). Beginning at 4 p.m. PDT at Ashe, top-seeded but has-never-won-in-New-York Rafael Nadal against Teymuraz Gabashvili, then top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki against American wild-card entrant Chelsey Gullickson.