Before the match started, I told my friend a little about Serena Williams' opponent, Bojana Jovanovski. The basics, she's 19 year old Serb ranked 54th in the world who's had some solid results this year; a very good young player who could give Serena a test. Hahahahaha, wrong; not about Jovanovski being a good player, but her being able to test Serena was laughable. Not this Serena, not this night.
Serena got her Steffi Graf on last night, demolishing the young talent 6-1, 6-1 in 56 minutes. Serena's display of raw power often left Jovanovski hitting off her back foot and turning the Serb's grunt into a desperation squeal as she lunged for balls that the American used to re-paint the lines on Arthur Ashe stadium. The rust that was evident in Serena's grasscourt return was all but forgotten as the US Open Series winner was in devastating form in Queens.
What was most impressive about Serena's victory though, was her celebration. There was no tear-stained towel a la Eastbourne, she simply raised her racquet to acknowledge the crowd and headed to her seat. She's still a player who's grateful for how far she's come since the frightening medical situations of the beginning of the year, but she's laser focused on her game right now. Focused in a way that tennis fans often wished she was as a younger star dabbling in acting and effortlessly racking up majors when she deigned to appear. This year, Serena Williams is focused on returning to grand slam glory. If she can maintain this level of focus and play until the end of the fortnight, I have zero doubt she'll earn it.
Yesterday was a pretty good day for the old guard. In a sport where youth is traditionally served and players are ushered off to Shady Pines in their late 20s/early 30s, a number of veterans, in addition to Serena, posted solid wins yesterday. 30 year Nikolay Davydenko whose ranking has fallen off a cliff in recent months (he was Top 10 a year ago, and narrowly missed being seeded here) ground out an up-and-down five setter over 32nd seeded Ivan Dodig out on Court 11. He looked as quick as he did in the old days, blunting the force of the Croat's big groundies to earn his way back into the second round.
Local favorite James Blake, who finished last year outside of the Top 100, held court over on Louis Armstrong in a 4 set win over Jesse Huta Galung of the Netherlands. It looked as if Blake had everything under control after two sets before a lapse allowed the Dutchman back into the match. Ultimately, James was able to use the crowd support and his good memories of playing here to push his way to a second round matchup versus 5th seed David Ferrer who looked a just a bit vulnerable in his opener.
29 year old former top tenner David Nalbandian scored a come from behind win against American Bobby Reynolds. Nalbandian, minus his formerly famous paunch, is careening toward a potential 3rd rounder with Rafael Nadal, but will have to take out fellow "old man" Ivan Ljubicic who came past 23 year old Blaz Kavcic in another four set first rounder. Just a hint in case you want to see a good second rounder on Thursday (presumably) Ljubicic/Nalbandian, tell your friends, the old guys can still play a bit.
Part of what makes the US Open so special is that New York is home to people from every corner of the US and the World. There was a vocal Israeli contingent cheering Shahar Pe'er on Court 17 yesterday against Sania Mirza (who sadly seemed largely abandoned by the Indian fans who cheered her so vociferously in years past). Tons of Swiss flags (painted and fabric alike) appear whenever Roger Federer is holding court in Queens. There were even Irish flags in Arthur Ashe for Conor Niland, though unfortunately, he ultimately left the court humbled and hobbled having to retire from his match with Novak Djokovic down 0-6, 1-5. Each of those countries will still have players to root for, Somdev Devvarman will fly the Indian flag versus Andy Murray; the Swiss still have their heroes of course in the draw and Ireland's Louk Sorenson will face a vulenrable Robin Soderling on the grandstand. That doesn't make Li Na/Na Li's loss any easier to swallow, she had the potential to go deep in this tournament and really boost her profile with a big run in New York.
The shadow of Li Na/Na Li's French Open victory loomed larger then the player herself yesterday as she was bounced from the US Open in the first round by Romania's Simona Halep. Li Na/Na Li is a player who had the potential to bring a lot of electricity to this US Open, given New York's large and vibrant Chinese community; instead she just adds another chapter to the puzzling back half of her year. After pushing Kim Clijsters to a three set decision at the Aussie Open and hoisting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen herself in Paris, Li Na/Na Li was just 1-2 in the last two majors of the year. Her Wimbledon performance is forgivable seeing as it came hot on the heels of her unexpected breakthrough in Paris, but given her performance in Australia, we expected and hoped for far more on the New York hardcourts. As we've learned though from some of the other tour veterans; there's always next year.