More and more, the US Open is becoming a tournament of hello and goodbye. As fast as the young ones spring forward, the older ones take their final bows.
Andy Roddick is not quite there yet; he will play the young Australian Bernard Tomic on Arthur Ashe Stadium at 7 p.m. ET on Friday. But on his 30th birthday Thursday, the stalwart of American tennis decided to announce his retirement, just 24 hours after Kim Clijsters played her last match.
Then Venus Williams capped the evening of swan songs, succumbing to the determined Angelique Kerber after the clock had struck midnight in Round 2. Kerber, who has climbed to No. 6 in the world in recent weeks, showed why in winning a tough, enthralling contest, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. With a small but vociferous crowd willing her on, Williams kept attacking, knowing that aggressive approach shots and penetrating volleys were the weapons required to penetrate the German’s defense.
It worked the first time Kerber served for the match at the end of the second set and gave Williams new life with a third set. But at 6-5 in the third, having just dropped her serve at 5-all after two forehand errors, Venus could produce only one stinging backhand volley on Kerber’s serve before running out of gas.
”I know this is not proper tennis etiquette, but this is the first time I’ve ever played here that the crowd has been behind me like that. Today I felt American for the first time at the U.S. Open,” Williams said. ”So I’ve waited my whole career to have this moment and here it is.”
Asked after the match if she’s ready to join Roddick in retirement, Williams replied: ”No, because if I could have made two more shots, I probably could have won that match. There’s a big difference for me because I’m beating myself. I’m not getting destroyed out there. … If I was out there and people were killing me, maybe it’s time to hang it up.”
Meanwhile, the newcomers continued to push forward. Jack Sock, the strapping young man from Lincoln, Neb., who grew up in Kansas City, reached the third round by out-hitting Flavio Cipolla, an 87th-ranked Italian, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, off the back of 41 winners to 17, while Sloane Stephens showed that there is more to her than a smooth-looking game and a brilliant smile by toughing it out against the German Tatjana Malek to win 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.
And Friday’s schedule will bring more young Americans in action, as Ryan Harrison tries to blunt the power of Juan Martin Del Potro; Steve Johnson takes on the talented Latvian Ernests Gulbis and Dennis Novikov plays the 31st-seeded Frenchman, Julien Benneteau.
Along with Harrison, Sock is emerging as the leader of the young brigade, and his win over Cipolla showed he has the capacity to learn from his mistakes.
“He beat me bad, 3 and 1, in L.A. a few weeks ago,” Sock said. “So I knew I had to be a little more patient, which I wasn’t the first time. So it worked well today.”
But the winners still flowed and whenever the chance of an Italian break-back loomed, Sock dealt with it like a champion in the making. He has a long way to go, but it was interesting to hear him say that it has been a long time since he was really nervous during a tennis match.
“I guess it’s a pretty good thing to have,” he said. “At break point down, I’m still confident.”
Stephens didn’t always look confident during her protracted struggle against Malek, a 25-year-old German qualifier ranked 141st. If she had moved forward and swatted a looped return instead of staying back and missing a forehand when she led 5-3 in the first set, everything might have been easier for the 19-year-old. Instead, she dropped serve, lost the set and became mesmerized by the heavily under-cut sliced backhands that Malek kept feeding her.
But despite a despondent expression, Stephens stuck with it and kept going for her forehand no matter how many times she got it wrong. In the end, it was the 25 winners that counted rather than the 36 errors off that flank and she was in charge by the end.
The same could be said for Mardy Fish, although he had been even further behind when he trailed Nikolay Davydenko by two sets to love in the early afternoon sunshine on Ashe. The little Russian, who has beaten the best in his time, began with the clinical accuracy that earned him the ATP World Tour Finals title in London in 2009, but his legs no longer carry him where he wants to go and Fish dominated the latter stages to win, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
“You swing a little more freely when you are down like that,” Fish said. “But, yeah, I mean, I was tight. I was nervous. I wasn’t playing well, and he was. But he’s sort of been up and down lately and maybe I was relying a little bit on that.”
Another of Roddick’s Davis Cup teammates, James Blake, rolled back the years with a dynamic display against the 24th-seeded Spaniard Marcel Granollers and, to the delight of his supporters on Louis Armstrong, swept into the third round, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. Granollers simply did not have the game to deal with Blake’s slash-and-burn style.
Sam Querrey was another untroubled American winner, beating Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3, but Serena Williams was far from happy with her performance, despite beating yet another Spaniard, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 6-2, 6-4.
“It was one of those days,” she said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing, wasn’t happy in general. I think I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”
But that did not stop her from brushing aside a suggestion that she might follow Roddick into retirement.
“No, no , no,” she insisted. “It makes me want to stay more. I mean losing Kim [Clijsters] was so hard. I saw her yesterday. I just hugged her. My eyes got watery. I really like her. She’s a great person. I didn’t expect that reaction, but she definitely will be missed on tour.”
There were kind words for Roddick, too.
“Andy’s been great, great for American men’s tennis, great for the US Open, doing so much, playing so well so often. A great attitude, incredibly fun to watch. I know a lot of people who look up to Andy Roddick. That’s who I want to be like.”
Many people would say the same things about Roger Federer, who didn’t linger long on Ashe in the evening, beating the veteran German Bjorn Phau, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.