Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Nadal, Venus obliterate US Open rivals

DAY OF FAREWELLS: Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams shook off their injury woes to progress at the US Open, while Marat Safin and Amelie Mauresmo tumbled out

REUTERS , NEW YORK

Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return to Richard Gasquet of France during their first-round match on the third day of the US Open tennis championship at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

All eyes were on two of the most famous pairs of knees in tennis on Wednesday as Rafael Nadal and Venus Williams were back doing what they do best at the US Open — obliterating their opponents.

As the cameras zoomed in on their stricken joints, with both former world No. 1s struggling with tendinitis in recent months, Williams skipped into round three with a 6-4, 6-2 win over fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Less than two hours later a merciless Nadal subjected an unfortunate Richard Gasquet, who was making his own comeback following a doping ban, to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 first-round mauling.

The grand slam stage, however, became a poorer place on Wednesday when Marat Safin walked out of Flushing Meadows — which he likened to a “zoo” — for the last time with a final wave to his adoring fans.

Never again will spectators at the four majors catch a glimpse of the brilliance or entertaining antics of Safin after the 2000 champion bowed out in the first round following a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 defeat by Austrian Juergen Melzer.

On a day of farewells, 36-year-old Fabrice Santoro’s 69th and final major outing ended in defeat. His French compatriot, former world No. 1 and 17th seed Amelie Mauresmo, was unsure if she too would return next year after she was thumped 6-4, 6-0 by Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak in the second round.

Comeback mum Kim Clijsters completed a forgettable day for the French when she beat 14th seed Marion Bartoli 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.

This year’s Open is turning out to be a family affair as world No. 1 Roger Federer and Australian Lleyton Hewitt will get a chance to compare notes on how to survive the demands of the tour with young children in tow after they set up an intriguing third-round showdown.

In a break with US Open traditions, the evening session started with the men’s match between five-time champion Federer and Simon Greul.

The pesky German journeyman provided Federer with a few jitters when he held two set points in the second set and a 3-0 lead in the third but in the end could not ­prevent the Swiss from chalking up a 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 win.

Women’s holder Serena Williams was given the honor of closing the night’s program and the second seed was in no mood to hang around for too long as she overwhelmed Hungary’s Melinda Czink 6-1, 6-1.

Sania Mirza was on the receiving end of a 6-0, 6-0 drubbing by Italian 10th seed Flavia Pennetta.

With over 1 billion Indians following her every move on the tour, the 22-year-old Mirza can expect her performance to be analyzed to the nth degree back home, but offered no excuses.

“I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m playing such horrible tennis.’ She had an answer for everything,” Mirza said after the 50-minute, second-round blowout under sunny skies. “If she plays like that, she’s going to win the Open.”

For Safin, however, there will be no more chances to add to his two major crowns as he will be retiring at the end of 2009.

In a topsy-turvy career spanning 12 years, the Russian’s mantra has always been to expect the unexpected.

Whether winning a title in grand style, smashing rackets by the truckload or dropping his shorts on court after conjuring a spectacular winner, the one thing Safin can never be accused of is being boring.

Asked to sum up his abiding memory of the Open, he quipped: “Here first few days it’s like a zoo. It’s like a million people running around, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, so many people. That’s pretty much annoying.”

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