NEW YORK — That Andy Roddick’s last match as a twentysomething would not be his last match at the 2012 U.S. Open was hardly in doubt Tuesday, especially whenever he was launching that intimidating, tough-to-handle serve of his.
To close the first set: ace at 141 mph.
To close the second: ace at 134 mph.
To close the third: ace at 127 mph.
Yes, even as Roddick’s 30th birthday approaches on Thursday, even as his body has succumbed to injury after injury, that serve is pretty much still the same as it ever was. Now that he more frequently faces opponents who grew up cheering for him — such as 21-year-old qualifier Rhyne Williams of Knoxville, Tenn., the foil for Tuesday’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory — Roddick knows more than ever he needs to rely on the best thing he’s got, and 20 aces helped this time.
“You really don’t see that shot," Williams said glowingly about Roddick’s serve.
Following Roddick into Arthur Ashe Stadium was 32-year-old Venus Williams, playing her first U.S. Open match since she pulled out before the second round in 2011 and revealed she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
After a shaky start, dropping the first two games — and even seven points in a row in one stretch — Williams used her own powerful serve to right herself and beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the U.S. 6-3, 6-1. One serve at 124 mph jammed Mattek-Sands’ left index finger, shoving it into a racket string so hard she needed attention from a trainer.
“She was crushing her serves," Mattek-Sands said. “I don’t think anyone’s returning those, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much."
Venus Williams won the 2000 and 2001 U.S. Opens, two of her seven career Grand Slam titles. That’s half as many as her younger sister, Serena, who began her bid for No. 15 with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over 75th-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe in Tuesday’s last match in Ashe, yet another all-American affair.
Three of the day’s most notable upsets were turned in by young, up-and-coming Americans. In singles, 19-year-old Sloane Stephens, who is ranked 44th, eliminated 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 6-3, 6-4. And in doubles, 19-year-old Jack Sock and 22-year-old Steve Johnson knocked out the top-seeded team of Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Daniel Nestor of Canada 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, while brothers Ryan and Christian Harrison defeated last year’s runners-up, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland 7-6 (3), 2-6, 7-6 (7).
One other exit of significance: 2009 runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, who began the year ranked No. 1 but has struggled and was seeded eighth, lost 6-2, 6-2 against 96th-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania. Bothered by a bad right knee, Wozniacki also lost in the first round at Wimbledon.