Venus Williams moved on, Rafael Nadal came back and Marat Safin said goodbye at the U.S. Open on Wednesday.
Her left knee heavily wrapped, the third-seeded Williams defeated fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 6-2, in a much easier match than she had two nights earlier when she fell behind a set before rallying against Russian Vera Dushevina.
No. 3 Nadal, whose sore knees kept him out of Wimbledon, returned to Grand Slam play with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over Richard Gasquet, while Safin, another former world No. 1, closed out his Grand Slam career, losing to Jurgen Melzer of Austria 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Nadal showed very little rust after missing most of the summer with tendinitis in his knees. He ripped through Gasquet - also on the comeback after a 2-month drug suspension - and answered any questions about his mobility by easily getting to a pair of drop shots en route to a decisive break in the eighth game of the third set.
“I don’t have pain, so I don’t think about it,” Nadal said.
Federer on song
Roger Federer’s winning streak at the U.S. Open is up to 36 matches. He’ll try for No. 37 against a familiar foe.
Federer moved into the third round at Flushing Meadows by beating Simon Greul of Germany 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 before a night-session record crowd of 24,206.
“I thought, with a little bit of luck, I could win one set,” Greul said. “But it didn’t happen. He was playing too well.”
Next up for Federer: 2001 U.S. Open champion Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt beat Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in the second round.
“I’m intrigued about this match-up. It’s an incredible run for me against him. I cannot believe I’ve beaten him that many times in a row,” Federer said. “But we had some close ones during those 13. Everyone starts from zero, unfortunately for me now. I hope I can win again.”
Federer is trying to become the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win the American Grand Slam tournament six years in a row.
“But on any given day, a former world No. 1, a guy who’s won majors, is very, very dangerous,” Federer said, looking ahead to playing Hewitt. “That’s why I have to make sure I get into the match quickly, not give him the lead, because we know he’s not going to go down without a fight. He’s physically almost as tough as anyone out there.”
Hewitt was asked whether he thinks hard courts might be the best surface on which to end his losing streak against Federer.
“Obviously, this surface, he’s been hard to beat for anyone,” Hewitt said. “Yeah, it’s probably hard to probably nominate the best surface against him.”
Williams hurt her knee in the opener, and the heavy tape she wore for the second round confirmed the injury was more than just a tweak. But the two-time U.S. Open champ, who fielded no fewer than a dozen questions about her health in the post-match interview, insisted she wouldn’t use it as an excuse.
“I’m still playing well and I feel I’ll continue to play better as the rounds go on,” she said. “I’m trying not to make this injury a factor at all.”
She said she had no plans to pull out of the doubles with her sister, Serena, where they are trying to add the U.S. Open to their Australian and Wimbledon titles this year.
“My mentality for doubles is, it’s a major title and I love winning majors,” Venus said. “It’s not a decision I take lightly. I’m going to do my best to be able to prepare.”
The defending women’s champion, Serena Williams, was spectacularly good in eliminating 51st-ranked Melinda Czink of Hungary 6-1, 6-1 in 53 minutes.
Safin says goodbye
While Williams and Nadal keep playing, Marat Safin’s Grand Slam career is over. It ends with two Grand Slam titles, a smaller number than many experts thought possible when he broke through by beating Pete Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open final.
“That match was a miracle for me,” Safin said. “It took some time for me to see how big this thing was. It was difficult because I was also 20 years old, I wasn’t ready for this. It was difficult to understand it.”
Now he’s 29 and wants to move to the next chapter of his life, though he concedes he’s not sure what, exactly, that will be. Watching his top-ranked sister, Dinara Safina, probably won’t be a big part of it.
“I really love my sister, but I think she can manage without me,” he said.
He leaves behind a lot of good memories. He was a fiery, emotional player in a sport that doesn’t have many - a player who estimated has broken more than 300 rackets in his career and also got fined for pulling his pants down once during a French Open match.
Will he miss tennis as much as tennis misses him?
“I need to get away from tennis for some time to realize what I’ll miss,” he said. “Right now, it’s difficult to decide exactly what I’ll miss.”
Also exiting was two-time major champion Amelie Mauresmo, who fell 6-4, 6-0 to Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada. Mauresmo recently turned 30 and is also thinking about retirement, though she won’t commit to a decision.
“The thing I don’t want to do is make the decision to stop and then after two, six, eight months think, it was not quite the time yet,” Mauresmo said. “Because then it’s too hard, I would say, probably to make a comeback as Kim is making now, given the age.”
Kim Clijsters, who came back to the U.S. Open after a long break with an easy win on Monday, played her second round and defeated Marion Bartoli of France 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.
Other seeded winners were men’s No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, No. 13 Gael Monfils, No. 18 David Ferrer, and No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero and No. 31, and women’s No. 7 Vera Zvonareva, No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, No. 18 Li Na, No. 22 Daniela Hantuchova and No. 26 Francesca Schiavone. No. 10 Flavia Pennetta also won 6-0, 6-0 over Sania Mirza of India - the first double-bagel of this year’s tournament.