Thursday September 1st, 2011

Observations from the third day of the U.S. Open, where Americans had their highs and lows, and retirements and walkovers threw the tournament for a loop.

More like the USTA Billie Jean King National Infirmary Ward.

Venus Williams

Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open and revealed she has been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome. (John Angelillo /LANDOV)

Three days into the tournament and we've had a flurry of walkovers and retirements. The week kicked off with three Japanese players retiring. And the trend has continued, with poor Conor Niland picking up a bad case of food poisoning the day of the biggest match of his life, forcing him to retire against Novak Djokovic on Ashe on Tuesday.

Then Wednesday kicked off with No. 5 Robin Soderling withdrawing because of a viral infection and others, including Yanina Wickmayer, forced to pack their bags mid-match as their bodies gave out.

Of course, the most notable and concerning was Venus Williams' withdrawal before her second-round match against Sabine Lisicki. Williams disclosed that she was recently diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes extreme fatigue and joint pain.

Once I had some time to sit and think about it (you can probably imagine how crazy the day was in the wake of the announcement), I was reminded of a couple of quotes from Serena and Venus that have been stuck in my head all week. Earlier this week, Serena was asked about their career longevity and said, "If Venus were to stop, I'd probably still keep playing. The way I feel right now, I definitely will still go."

When asked about Serena's comments, Venus said: "Oh, I would be so upset if she retired. She could never do that to me. We have to go out together.

"But we've decided we're not going to lead a traditional career. We haven't to this point, so we won't. So we're going to play past the limit that anyone has ever played, and when our singles game goes, we'll continue to dominate in doubles, hopefully bring home more majors in that. So we've decided to just enjoy tennis. It's such an honor. We'll do it as long as we can. Right now the end is not really in sight."

It's a poignant answer in hindsight. As one charged with writing about tennis, I wish I knew when she was diagnosed, how she's feeling, when Serena found out, and what her plans are going forward. But as a tennis fan, I just hope she's all right. I know that sounds like such a simple thing, but it always tugs at my heartstrings to see an athlete's body betray her.

Get well, Venus. Your fans will still be here.

Bye Bye Bros.

If it wasn't for Venus' news, Bob and Mike Bryan's loss in their first-round match against Ivo Karlovic and Frank Moser would be the big American upset of the day. I don't love their fratty chest-bumping celebrations, but if there's one thing you thought you could count on at a Slam, it was the Bryans' being in the second week. There is some weird mojo floating around Flushing Meadows. I'm starting to get the sinking feeling we're in for a completely unpredictable fortnight.

Introducing, Madison Keys.

It was a big day for American women's tennis, as Christina McHale and Irina Falconi bounced seeds (No. 8 Marion Bartoli and No. 14 Dominika Cibulkova, respectively), and 16-year-old Keys pushed No. 27 Lucie Safarova to three sets. McHale and Falconi are fine players, but it was Keys who impressed.

Keys, the youngest player in the draw, has the height and athleticism to compete well in the current game. Armed with a serve that is already big and can only improve (she clocked one at 117 mph on Wednesday), there's a lot to be excited about in her potential. I prefer to be conservative in tapping young talent because so much can change in those teenage years. But I liked what I saw from Keys. Let's see what she can do when the juniors tournament kicks off next week.

U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi ...

Now that all 256 players have debuted their new kits, I officially declare this year's U.S. Open a complete fashion dud, veering on disaster. I knew something was wrong the minute Maria Sharapova stepped out on court in an ill-fitting lavender-grey Nike frock that was, and I will say it again for and with emphasis, ill-fitting. Sharapova's kits are made specifically to her measurements and even though she's had some questionable designs (the 2010 Australian Open "Avatar" dress comes to mind), they always fit beautifully. Not so this year. There's some odd scrunching going on around her shoulders and it made her look even more disheveled than she should have looked against Heather Watson. What can I say? I'm distracted by the simplest of things.

I'm not done with you yet, Nike. What's with the "old man sock" look you've forced on Roger and Rafa? The trend has bled over to Team Adidas as well, with Andy Murray taking the court socked in black.

Lastly, is it that difficult for Adidas to make alternate colorways? I've watched so many matches this week where the players have taken the court in the same exact kit. It happened twice to Laura Robson, who now knows what it's like for someone to show up at prom wearing the same dress. Awkward. Home and away kits, Adidas. Get crackin'.

Overheard in New York.

It's always amusing to hear fans roam the outer courts, strain to see the scoreboard and then try to figure out which player is which. More often than not, I've heard them either identify them wrong or just plain give up. Not so much Wednesday:

Fan No. 1: "One's from Spain and the other one is from Great Britain."

Laura Robson (after a backhand miss): "Make your shots!" Fan No. 1 and 2 (in unison): "Britain."

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