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 number ones 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 number one 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 number one 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 kicked off with the men’s match between five-times 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 honour of closing the night’s programme 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.
Greul and Czink may see their names go up under the ”loser” banner on Wednesday but at least they were spared the fate of Sania Mirza, who was on the receiving end of a 6-0 6-0 drubbing by Italian 10th seed Flavia Pennetta.
With more than a billion Indians following her every move on the tour, the 22-year-old Mirza can expect her performance to be analysed to the nth degree back home, but she 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.”
Safin might have been eager to escape the zoo but fellow 29-year-old Williams was determined to prowl around Flushing Meadows for a few more days.
Less than 48 hours after coming within three points of defeat, Venus and her heavily strapped left knee enjoyed an easier workout against Mattek-Sands.
”I was moving pretty good and I try not to focus on my body. I put that out of my thoughts,” said the 2000 and 2001 champion, who needed a medical time-out in her opening match. — Reuters