NEW YORK &
It was at last year's U.S. Open that James Blake finally won a five-set match.
Maybe now he's starting to get the hang of it.
The No. 9 seed had to work past midnight to beat 19-year-old fellow American Donald Young in the first round this year. the time the 2-hour, 48-minute match had ended, it was early this morning, and Blake had a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory.
"I said earlier my experience may help a little, and that definitely may have been the difference on one or two points in the match," said Blake, wearing a Mets jersey and cap.
Earlier, Rafael Nadal played for the first time as the world No. 1. Admittedly tired after winning Olympic gold just over a week before, Nadal swatted his very first shot wide against No. 136 Bjorn Phau. The Wimbledon and French Open champ was two points from dropping the first set when he surged and, despite needing to bandage a nasty blister, won 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (4).
The Olympic women's champ, Elena Dementieva of Russia, conceded that she too was still recovering from her emotional victory.
Dementieva took the final four games to defeat Akgul Amanmuradova 6-4, 7-5 in her first-round match. The No. 5 seed was glad to win quickly and give her mind and body a break.
"Right now it's a matter of how fresh I can stay for this tournament," she said. "Just want to take some rest and make sure that I don't practice as much as I did in Beijing. I need to save some energy for this tournament."
Former champs Lindsay Davenport and Svetlana Kuznetsova also opened with straight-sets victories. Many of the stars like to hurry through the first round &
it takes seven wins for the title, and any rest is welcome.
Nadal got a stiffer test from the German qualifier than many anticipated, and shook his head near the end of a match that lasted nearly — hours.
"I play (with) a little bit less intensity than the last few months, for sure," Nadal said.
Tenth-seeded Anna Chakvetadze was the top player to lose, beaten by Ekateria Makarova 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a matchup of Russian women.
Roger Federer, bidding for his fifth straight U.S. Open title, was scheduled to begin Tuesday, as were No. — Ana Ivanovic and the Williams sisters.
The final Grand Slam event of the season figured to be a scramble on both sides.
Nadal seems like the natural favorite, yet has never gone beyond the quarterfinals in five previous tries at Flushing Meadows. The 22-year-old Spanish dynamo took a while to find his rhythm against Phau, whose spirited play made him a crowd favorite.
Fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium, often quiet during early daytime sessions, cheered when Phau dived for a shot, rolled over on his back and chased a return.
The Open set a first-day record Monday with a total of 59,124 fans.
In the night's last match, they got behind Young, the former No. — junior player in the world. Young came back from down a break to win the fourth set. Serving with the final set tied 4-4, he seemed to have the momentum, earlier having fought off a break point with a broken racket string.
But Blake took control after he successfully challenged to take a point away from Young at the start of the game. Blake went on to break Young to go up 5-4, then served out the match. He successfully challenged again in the last game to reach triple match point.
Blake was 0-9 in five-set matches before a second-round victory here last year. He's now 4-11 all-time in matches that go the distance, including 2-4 at the Open. It was Young's first career five-setter.
The women's draw is even more tricky, now that 2007 champion Justine Henin has retired and Maria Sharapova is out with an injured shoulder.
Six different women have won the U.S. Open in the last seven years, and Dementieva is seeking her first major championship. To her, the Olympic singles title counts.
"The biggest goal for the year was Beijing," she said. "In Russia, if you stop anyone in the street and ask what is a Grand Slam, I don't think many people can tell you. But everyone knows the Olympic Games. There is nothing bigger."
Dementieva put together a workmanlike win over Amanmuradova. Her opponent from Uzbekistan served for the second set ahead 5-3, but Dementieva still had enough energy.
"I don't know what is best, to be a little bit tired but very comfortable and very positive, or to be fresh and not play in the Olympic Games," she said.
No. 2 seed Jelena Jankovic advanced with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over American CoCo Vandeweghe.
Li Na, who defeated Venus Williams in Beijing, beat No. 24 Shahar Peer of Israel 2-6, 6-0, 6-1. The No. 23-seeded Davenport defeated Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada 6-4, 6-2, and No. — Kuznetsova beat Zhang Shuai of China 6-4, 6-2.
No. 8 Vera Zvonareva of Russia, No. 12 Marion Bartoli of France, No. 14 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and No. 15 Patty Schnyer of Switzerland also won.
No. 22 Maria Kirilenko of Russia lost to Tamira Paszek of Austria 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
On the men's side, fourth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain beat Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina 7-6 (1), 6-2, 6-2 and No. 6 Andy Murray of Britain beat Sergio Roitman of Argentina, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.
Also winning were No. 7 David Nalbandian of Argentina, No. 10 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 16 Gilles Simon of France and No. 17 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.
No. 27 Feliciano Lopez of Spain lost to Jurgen Melzer of Austria 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. The No. 29-seeded Juan Monaco of Argentina lost to Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-2, 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
Blake outlasts Young, avoids early exit at U.S. Open
NEW YORK &