- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

NEW YORK | Finished with a mostly matter-of-fact victory in the U.S. Open’s third round Friday, defending champion Serena Williams switched into a yellow T-shirt with this bit of wisdom in blue script: “Can’t spell dynasty without nasty.”

Asked about it, Williams took the chance to push a sponsor’s new clothing line. Moments later, she found herself discussing her autobiography, though she refrained from shouting, “Available at a bookstore near you!”

About the only thing Williams doesn’t need to sell anyone on is the quality of her tennis, particularly at Grand Slam tournaments. By beating serve-and-volleying Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-3, 7-5 on Friday, Williams improved to 28-1 over the past five majors.

The secret to her success?

“You can never underestimate anyone. Some people, some days, they have great days,” said the second-seeded Williams, whose sister Venus also won. “I just go and look at every opponent as the best player in the world.”

Perhaps some of her colleagues should take that approach, as well.

This has been a topsy-turvy U.S. Open for the women: No. 8 Victoria Azarenka’s 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 loss to No. 26 Francesca Schiavone came a day after No. 4 Elena Dementieva and No. 5 Jelena Jankovic were upset. In the women’s draw, 11 of the top 20 seeds are gone, and the third round is only halfway done.

“Now there is not a lot of difference between players,” Martinez Sanchez said. “I think anyone can win any match.”

No. 3 Venus Williams, the Open champion in 2000 and 2001, avoided adding to the list of stunning results when she got past 46th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-2, 7-5. Next up for the elder Williams: a fourth-round match against Kim Clijsters, who recently came out of retirement and is playing in the tournament for the first time since winning it in 2005.

“She was a great champion,” Venus Williams said. “She still is.”

No. 1 Dinara Safina made it to Saturday’s third round, but barely. She needed more than 4 1/2 hours to get through two three-set victories.

The best men have faced no such problems.

Friday’s winners included No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 9 Gilles Simon. None of the top 10 men had dropped a single set - much less lost - until 2008 runner-up Murray’s little slip in his 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 win over 87th-ranked Paul Capdeville of Chile.

Capdeville and Murray know each other from way back, when both trained in Spain. Capdeville has seen Murray develop from a kid who would lose focus to a major title contender.

“Five years ago, he was a little young,” Capdeville said. “Now he’s a man.”

An upset seemed to be in the making, but 135th-ranked Jesse Levine of Boca Raton, Fla., wasted a two-set lead and wound up losing to No. 16 Marin Cilic of Croatia 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-0.

Indeed, heading into No. 3 Rafael Nadal’s match against Nicolas Kiefer later Friday night, the top 16 men were 15-0 in the second round. According to the International Tennis Federation, never in the 41-year Open era have the men seeded 1-16 all advanced to the third round at any Grand Slam tournament.

“There is a gap,” said Jurgen Melzer, who lost to del Potro 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3.

Serena Williams hasn’t had much trouble at all when it comes to the biggest tournaments. She is seeking her fourth championship in the past five Grand Slams, and 12th overall.

Referring to her shirt’s slogan, she said: “Yeah, I may have had a dynasty at one point in my career. I mean, I’m not doing too shabby now, either. I’m enjoying every moment.”

Serena Williams now faces No. 22 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who beat Vania King of the United States 6-2, 6-2. Other winners included No. 7 Vera Zvonareva, No. 10 Flavia Pennetta, No. 18 Li Na and No. 26 Francesca Schiavone.

With the way things are going, some of the top women might be open to advice.

Even the younger Williams listened to some unsolicited tips at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I heard a guy in the crowd saying, ‘Stop hitting lobs!’ So I didn’t hit any more lobs after that,” she said with a chuckle. “My lob was not working today.”

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