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Tennis

Blake, Venus fall in tiebreakers, Murray cruises at rainy U.S. Open

Photo: Darron Cummings/AP

Despite winning the first two sets, James Blake didn't advance to the U.S. Open's second round.

NEW YORK (AP) -- James Blake's career ended in a fifth-set tiebreaker at the U.S. Open after he won the first two sets.

The 33-year-old American lost 6-7 (2), 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) in the first round to Ivo Karlovic just after midnight Thursday morning.

Blake announced Monday that this would be his last tournament.

He rallied from down a break in the final set to force the tiebreaker, but couldn't overcome the 6-foot-10 Croat's big serve at the end.

Karlovic closed out the victory in 3 hours, 24 minutes with his 38th ace.

Blake had won 11 straight first-round matches at Flushing Meadows since losing in his debut in 1999. He has been ranked as high as No. 4 in the world in his career and reached three Grand Slam quarterfinals.

Rain played a part in matches all day, suspending some matches and delaying others.

Sloane Stephens' second-round match at the U.S. Open did not get started until nearly midnight, and the 15th-seeded American made sure she got off the court in a hurry.

Stephens needed only 58 minutes to reach the third round at Flushing Meadows for the second time by beating 38th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland 6-1, 6-1 in a match that ended a little before 1 a.m. Thursday.

Stephens needed three sets and nearly three hours to win her opening match. But this one was far easier, as she hit 24 winners and only five unforced errors.

Rain delays earlier in the day meant Stephens and Radwanska did not play a point until 11:53 p.m. It was the second-latest start for a U.S. Open match; one in 1987 began at midnight.

And after waiting his entire career to get the chance to defend a Grand Slam title, Andy Murray had to wait a little more.

Once the 2012 champion finally did get on court at the U.S. Open, playing his first point of this year's tournament at 9:55 p.m. on Day 3, Murray wasted little time reaching the second round, playing nearly flawlessly during a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Michael Llodra.

Murray, who is seeded third, made only five unforced errors, while compiling 34 winners in the 1-hour, 38-minute match Wednesday night.

Four hours of rain delays earlier in the day pushed back action, and then Murray's match was preceded in Arthur Ashe Stadium by 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro's win, which lasted more than four hours.

Earlier, the U.S. Open came to an end for Venus Williams, who dug herself out of deficits over and over again, until she simply ran out of solutions, exiting the tournament before the third round for the third year in a row.

At 33, two-time champion Williams was the oldest woman in the second round at Flushing Meadows, and while she made things interesting after a poor start to the match and to the final set, she couldn't sustain her solid play all the way through and lost to 56th-ranked Zheng Jie of China 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) on a wet Wednesday.

The match last 3 hours, 2 minutes - making it the longest between women in the tournament so far - and the third set alone went 1 1/2 hours, closing when Williams missed a volley, then a return, on the last two points. She wound up with 44 unforced errors in all, half on forehands.

During her on-court interview, Zheng addressed the partisan crowd that was pulling for Williams, saying: "First, I want to say, `Sorry, guys.'''

Rain began falling in the early afternoon, jumbling the schedule, and eight women's singles matches were postponed, including Williams' younger sister, defending champion Serena, against Galina Voskoboeva. In all, there were more than four hours of delays during the day, and 2012 men's winner Andy Murray had yet to play a point as the time approached 9 p.m. Wednesday.

In the handful of matches that were completed by early evening - men in the first round, women in the second - 2011 French Open champion Li Na, and 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska won in straight sets, as did 30th-seeded Laura Robson of Britain. No. 17 Kevin Anderson, No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny and 109th-ranked American wild-card entry Tim Smyczek were among the men's winners.

Venus Williams and Zheng, a former top-15 player who twice reached Grand Slam semifinals, played all of two points at the beginning before their match was interrupted by showers.

When they resumed about two hours later, at 15-all in the opening game, Williams' play was full of mistakes. In the first set, she only managed to put 46 percent of her first serves in play, and she accumulated 15 unforced errors, 10 more than Zheng. The American, who owns seven Grand Slam singles titles in all, failed to convert any of six break points, while losing serve twice.

And then came the second set, and a significant shift. Suddenly, Williams looked a lot more like the player who won the U.S. Open in 2000 and 2001.

After falling behind by a break in the third set, and being two points away from losing - at 5-3, when Zheng served for the victory, then again in the next game - Williams put up quite a fight to extend the match, drawing raucous support from clapping, yelling and standing fans at Louis Armstrong Stadium. With a drizzle coming down, and play halted on other courts, Williams and Zheng stayed out there and kept going.

Zheng grabbed a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, before Williams made one last stand. It was 4-all after Zheng dumped a forehand into the net on a 23-stroke exchange, then leaned over at the baseline, resting on her racket as if it were a cane.

Then, at 5-all, Williams put a backhand volley into the net as she lost her footing and sat on the court, wincing. That gave Zheng her first match point, and Williams' backhand service return was off the mark, ending her stay in the singles draw.

Williams was ranked No. 1 in 2002, but she last was a member of the top 10 when she was No. 9 in March 2011, and she's currently 60th. The last time she made it beyond the third round at a Grand Slam tournament was a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon that season.

At the 2011 U.S. Open, Williams withdrew before her second-round match, announcing she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that saps energy. She lost in the second round in New York last year.

And her results have faded more, with losses in the first round at two her previous four trips to major tournaments, including at the French Open in May. Bothered much of this season by a bad lower back, Williams sat out Wimbledon for the only time in her career in June.

She looked solid in her first-round match Monday, a 6-1, 6-2 victory over 12th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens, a Wimbledon semifinalist this year.

But Williams could not follow that up Wednesday against Zheng and her contrasting style of blocking shots back and covering a lot of ground along the baseline.

On the men's side, Juan Martin del Potro overcame delays from the rain and his opponent to pull out a grueling four-set win in the first round of the U.S. Open.

The 2009 champion was frustrated by 74th-ranked Guillermo Garcia-Lopez's repeated calls for a trainer to work on his left leg. Del Potro, seeded sixth, rallied from a break down in the last set Wednesday to win 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (7) in 4 hours, 13 minutes.

The Spaniard saved three match points in the final tiebreaker before del Potro put him away with an emphatic backhand winner.

Garcia-Lopez upset 10th-seeded Juan Monaco in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the first round at Flushing Meadows last year.

Before the rain played havoc with the day's schedule, fifth-seeded Li Na defeated Sweden's Sofia Arvidsson 6-2, 6-2 in the day's first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium to advance to the third round. Shortly afterward, heavy rain came and Li's only concern was finding an umbrella to cover herself on the walk to the car.

"It's tough for them,'' she said, referring to the 58 players who still had singles matches to complete Wednesday. "For me, just relax all day and do whatever I want.''

A grand total of five matches were complete before the rain, including 18th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro's 6-3, 6-4 victory over American CoCo Vandeweghe and third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska's 6-0, 7-5 victory over Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain.

Radwanska dropped only seven points during a 21-minute first set, but the second lasted 66 minutes. Long, but not too long.

"Played first match and then I'm done,'' Radwanska said. "I can just relax, watch others and do treatment and do whatever I want. Sometimes it's good to play first, even when I have to wake up really early.''

Other early winners were 32nd-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and, on the men's side, one-time top-10 player Marcos Baghdatis.

With the storm bearing down, video monitors around the Billie Jean King Tennis Center warned fans to seek shelter and avoid trees because of potential lightning, though thousands of ticketholders were milling about without much concern for severe weather.

They're used to this scene.

The year's final Grand Slam tournament has finished a day late for five straight years because of rain delays.

This year, the U.S. Tennis Association announced it was building a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium as part of a renovation project that will cost $550 million. The roof could be ready by 2016, or 2017 at the latest.

Even that wouldn't have alleviated a logjam the likes of which the tournament faced Wednesday, with a full slate of matches in singles along with men's, women's and mixed doubles.

Among those on the schedule later Wednesday were defending women's champion Serena Williams and her sister, Venus; 2009 men's champion Juan Martin del Potro and defending champion Andy Murray, whose first-round match against Michael Llodra was set for a night session in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Li was one of the few who could plan on watching those matches from her hotel room.

"I'm happy,'' she said. "Because at least I'm done with my job for the day.''

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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