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Rediff.com  » Sports » Federer, Clijsters kick off US Open in style

Federer, Clijsters kick off US Open in style

Last updated on: August 31, 2010 10:50 IST

Roger FedererOne magical point from Roger Federer capped an exhilarating first day at the US Open on Monday as a host of former champions each took their turn in the Flushing Meadows spotlight.

Five of the former champions were on court playing matches while another, Martina Navratilova, was the guest of honor during a glitzy opening night celebration recognising people who had overcome adversity.

Belgium's super-mom Kim Clijsters and the Americans Venus Williams and Andy Roddick, all joined Federer by winning their first round matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium in straight sets.

It was a stifling hot day in New York but they all made light work of their opponents with Federer stealing the show with an outrageous between-the-legs winner during his 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 romp against Argentine baseliner Brian Dabul.

Reminiscent of his shot against Novak Djokovic in last year's semi-finals, the miraculous winner not only brought the capacity crowd to their feet but served as proof that his quest for a 17th Grand Slam title is back on course.

"I've only hit a few in my life and two on center court in night session play here in New York," the five-time winner told his audience. "It's amazing to share this moment with you guys. Thanks for the ovation and I love it."

Only one former champion failed to make it past the first day. Australia's Lleyton Hewitt fell to unheralded Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 at the Louis Armstrong stadium.

Hewitt won the US Open title in 2001 when he toppled Pete Sampras but his best days appear long past even though he has no plans to retire.

"I still believe I can improve as a player," said the former world number one, who was seeded 32nd.

GREATEST TRIUMPH

As Hewitt bid his farewell, his former fiancee Clijsters celebrated her maiden appearance as a defending Grand Slam champion four years after she won her first US Open title.

Now married to American basketballer Brian Lynch with an infant daughter, Clijsters returned to the scene of her greatest triumphs with a 6-0, 7-5 win over Hungarian Greta Arn.

"It couldn't have come any faster," she explained after missing the 2006 tournament with a wrist problem then 2007 and 2008 to start a family.

Monday also marked a return of sorts for Roddick and Williams, who have both been battling niggling injuries for the past two months.

Roddick claimed his only grand slam title at Flushing Meadows in 2003 while Williams won the second of her two US Opens the same year Hewitt won his.

They may not move as fast as they once did but they can both still wallop the ball and they know how to scratch out a win, Roddick celebrating his 28th birthday by blasting aside France's Stephane Robert 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and Williams outclassing Italian Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-1.

Williams made her first US Open final back in 1997, two years before her younger sister Serena announced her arrival by winning the family's first singles title. Serena is missing this year, forced to withdraw after slicing her foot on a piece of glass, leaving the elder sibling to carry on alone.

After Navratilova, who is battling breast cancer, was introduced to the crowd, and Gloria Estefan performed her hit song "Reach," Venus wandered into the limelight alone, wearing a shimmering black cocktail dress.

"It's my evening dress," she explained. "It's so much fun wearing lace on the court."

EARLY EXIT

The opening day's skirmishes produced no real surprises. Apart from Hewitt, seeded 32nd, the only other seed to make an early exit in a day played under brilliant blue skies and baking temperatures was Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, the 2007 Australian Open runner-up.

He retired from his match with Croatian qualifier Ivan Dodig because of a long-term knee injury that has left him contemplating his future in the sport.

"I'm not thinking about retirement quite yet but I've had a really bad six months and, if this was to go on for longer, maybe two years, then I would have to see," he said.

Former world number one Dinara Safina also made a sorry exit, beaten 6-3, 6-4 by Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, the latest in a series of early losses for the Russian, who has slipped 49 places to number 50 in 12 injury-hit months.

Sweden's two-time French Open finalist Robin Soderling was lucky not to lose to another qualifier before he regained his composure to beat Austria's Andreas Haider-Maurer 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4 and remain on course to meet Federer in the quarter-finals.

 

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