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Day 3 features a luminous lineup

In a first-round battle on Arthur Ashe Stadium between the two oldest players in the women’s singles draw, No. 19 seed Venus Williams rebounded after a slow start to defeat 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
By Mark Preston
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Round one concludes and round two begins on Day 3 of the 2014 US Open, as an all-star lineup of the sport’s leading luminaries takes to the courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center today to begin—or continue—their respective quests toward a US Open title. Whether they’re taking their first or second steps in that direction, each share a similar aim—just keep stepping. Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Tomas Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt, Stan Wawrinka, Sloane Stephens, Grigor Dimitrov, Ryan Harrison, Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska headline the field with dreams.

Women’s No. 5 seed Sharapova slogged through a slow start before finding her feet against fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko in round one. After falling behind 2-4 in the first set, Sharapova, the 2006 US Open champion, ran off 10 straight games for the 6-4, 6-0 win, improving her nighttime record here at the Open to 17-0. The 27-year-old played near-perfect tennis in the second set, making just three unforced errors. That had to feel especially good to the former No. 1, who had a so-so summer after winning her fifth Slam singles crown at Roland Garros in June. Against a tough opponent, Sharapova was tougher—and that’s a formula that gets you far here in Flushing. Today, the Russian takes on Alexandra Dulgheru, a 25-year-old Romanian whose best career US Open showing was a third-round finish in 2010—the same year she cracked the Top 30. Now ranked No. 95, Dulgheru has lost both of her career encounters with Sharapova, the most recent on clay at the 2013 Madrid event. Expect Sharapova to get off to a quicker start today—and a quicker finish. In two, the fifth seed is on to round three.

Like Sharapova, Williams also struggled early in her first-round encounter with Kimiko Date-Krumm, dropping the first set to her 43-year-old opponent before rallying for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 win. It was something of a surprising start for the two-time US Open champion, whose game—and ranking—have each been on the rise this year. The former No. 1 recently cracked the Top 20 for the first time in more than a year, thanks to a series of solid showings, including her 45th career tournament title at Dubai in February. This summer, Williams reached the quarters at Stanford and the final in Montreal—knocking off little sister Serena en route. In her first-round comeback win, Williams did what the greats all do—find another gear when the going gets slightly sluggish. The rust should be removed tonight when she takes on Timea Bacsinszky, a 25-year-old Swiss slugger whose best-ever performance at a major was a third-round finish here in 2008. The two have met just once—at the 2008 Beijing Olympics—with Williams winning in straight sets. On a similarly large stage, expect a similar result. Williams moves on in two.

One of the more intriguing matchups on the men’s side pits 2001 US Open champion Hewitt against No. 6 seed Berdych, a semifinalist here in 2012 and a Wimbledon finalist in 2010. The 33-year-old Hewitt, now in his 18th year on the pro tour, is still very much a force to be reckoned with. This year, the Aussie has won two titles—on hard courts in Brisbane and on grass in Newport—to bring his career title total to 30. That number includes a Wimbledon crown in 2002. Even now, Hewitt is one of the game’s greatest movers and grittiest competitors, still running down balls like a man possessed. Berdych had a great start to this season, reaching the semis of the Australian Open, winning the title at the hard-court event in Rotterdam, and finishing runner-up to Roger Federer in Dubai. He also reached the semis in Miami. But the 29-year-old Czech has had a largely forgettable summer, losing in the third round at Wimbledon and winning just two matches this summer in three Emirates Airline US Open Series events. That’s not what you’d call great preparation for mastering a major. Hewitt loves playing on these hard courts; indeed, just stepping onto these blue rectangles brings out the Benjamin Button in the Aussie. For proof, just hark back to last year, when he took out Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set thriller en route to a fourth-round finish. The two have met only twice, with Berdych winning both encounters, but the most recent of those was five years ago. On paper, this match should go to Berdych. On cement, it goes to Hewitt. In four, the Aussie advances.

Another men’s match that merits major attention brings two of the game’s coming talents head-to-head for a second time on a major stage, as Bulgaria’s Dimitrov squares off with American Harrison. Dimitrov, 23, and Harrison, 22, met for the first time in their young careers at Wimbledon this summer, with the Bulgarian winning in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3. Dimitrov’s explosive game makes him a very real contender at the Slams, as he’s shown this year by reaching the quarters of the Australian Open and the semis at Wimbledon, where he knocked out Andy Murray along the way. The week before his Wimbledon run, Dimitrov won his fourth career singles crown at Queen’s Club, taking our Wawrinka in the semis before beating Feliciano Lopez for the title. Harrison has yet to win a title in his career but certainly has the weapons to do so. His big serve and booming ground game make him a threat on any surface. But the American has this year not been able to put his many ingredients together to cook up much in the way of results. His 5-12 mark on the year includes first-round losses at Australia and Wimbledon. He’s more familiar with Dimitrov now, but he’s also more aware that he’ll have to raise his game to improve his chances. It’s unlikely the Bulgarian will allow him to do so. In three, Dimitrov moves on.