NEW YORK // Serena Williams designs her own jewellery. Maria Sharapova prefers to shop for her baubles from the designs of world renowned architect Frank Gehry. And because she does, Gehry invited Sharapova to his Santa Monica studio in California where he designed a pair of earrings to represent the currents of a flowing river. "Very architectural," Sharapova called them.
The 22-year-old Russian was speaking about her earrings because her tennis on Tuesday night at the Arthur Ashe Stadium was so relentlessly overpowering. In only 73 minutes, she swept away Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3, 6-0. Pironkova was buried in an onslaught of Sharapova's 29 winners. Sharapova, who was once ranked No 1 in the world but is only seeded 29th here as she makes her way back after shoulder surgery last October, was positively giddy after her victory.
A year ago, Sharapova said, she could not even watch the Open on television. "As an athlete and competitor, to not be there and not be competing is pretty tough," Sharapova said. Another former No 1-ranked player may have some of the same feelings. Last year Ana Ivanovic was here as the No 1-seeded player. She lost in the second round. This time Ivanovic was seeded 11th and after 2 hrs and 25 mins, she left Louis Armstrong Stadium as a first-round loser, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 to 52nd-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko.
"My forehand let me down on a few occasions," Ivanovic said. "It hurts." Bondarenko has some pain of a physical nature. Her left thigh was heavily taped and she winced in pain a number of times. "Yes, the leg was bothering me," she said after the match. A beneficiary of the injury may be 25-year-old Shenay Perry, once considered a possible top-10 player until she had to have knee surgery. Perry made it through qualifying into the main draw and then beat Monica Niculescu of Romania 6-4, 6-2 on Tuesday. Perry will play Bondarenko in the second round.
There was also more angst than despair, more unforced errors and double faults, more head-slapping, head-turning tennis awfulness than inspiration from the world No 1 Dinara Safina as well. And at the end it may have been cheers of pity rather than appreciation that Safina heard, not that she cared. She barely avoided becoming the first women's top-seeded player to be a first-round loser with a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 victory over the Australian Olivia Rogowska.
Safina won despite having 48 unforced errors to only 19 winners. She served 11 double faults. Rogowska was in the main draw only because the US Open and Australian Open each offer one wild-card invitation to the other's national championship. But Safina still had big ground strokes and the occasional deft placement with her backhand. And she had the benefit of playing an 18-year-old who is ranked 167th in the world and who had never played in a major tournament.
With her voice wavering, Safina spoke to the crowd that had groaned with her mistakes and embraced her at the end. "Please," Safina said, "try to see the ball when you serve. Until the third set I was almost one step away from the court on change-overs and had to think that. When you serve please, watch the ball until the end." It was as if Safina was using the stadium as a giant coaching and therapy session.
There was much less drama for the 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian had opened play with a routine 6-2, 6-3 victory over Julia Goerges, a 20-year-old from Germany who is ranked 97th in the world. Melanie Oudin, a rising American player who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, got her first Open match victory 6-1, 6-2 over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Though she is only ranked 70th in the world, Oudin is the third-highest ranked American woman, behind Serena Williams (No 2) and Venus Williams (No 3).
* Los Angeles Times