Iga Swiatek suggested there has been a lack of leadership at the top of tennis in how to deal with Russia's invasion of Ukraine after Victoria Azarenka was shunned by Marta Kostyuk at the US Open on Thursday.

Ukrainian Kostyuk elected not to shake hands with Azarenka following a second-round defeat at Flushing Meadows, instead merely tapping rackets.

That came after Kostyuk criticised the Belarusian for participating in a charity match for Ukraine, before the United States Tennis Association announced she would no longer be involved.

Belarus maintains close ties with Russia and has been under sanction from western nations for supporting Vladimir Putin after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March.

Both situations led to a frosty atmosphere following the conclusion of the tie, which Azarenka won 6-2 6-3.

Asked if anything could be done to address tensions between players on the tour, world number one Swiatek, who booked her place in the third round with a 6-3 6-2 win over Sloane Stephens, said: "Well, basically I think it's already too late. I mean, it's never too late, you know, but I think the best time for ATP or WTA to do anything was when the war started, and where the tension was pretty big in the locker rooms.

"I think right now it's already pretty messed up, and maybe next time it's gonna be easier for us to handle it if somebody is going to guide us and somebody is going to even arrange some meetings between players and showing that we should be united.

"Even though there are countries who are invading other countries, we are tennis players. It's sad but it's not our fault that it's happening. Yeah, I think it would be much, much easier at the beginning to do that.

"Right now, it's kind of too late to fix that. But I think it's just in between players and their personal relationships how you're going to handle it and how you're going to communicate to each other.

"But from my case, right now it's easy to say that maybe there was lack of leadership, but at that time I didn't know what to do either. But there are smarter people than me, so they should kind of have an idea."

Victory over Stephens means Swiatek has now won 52 matches in 2022. The last players with more WTA-level wins in a single campaign were Ash Barty (57) and Kiki Bertens (55) in 2019.

Serena Williams is dominating the headlines, though, in what is likely to be her last tournament before retirement – a situation Swiatek is more than happy with. 

Asked if she felt like she was flying under the radar, Swiatek said: "Maybe a little bit, yeah, for sure. You can see the difference than on Roland Garros and on Wimbledon when I came back after winning Roland Garros.

"But I would say it doesn't really matter for me. If I'm going to play well and if I'm going to do my work on court, I know I will be fine in terms of everything that's going around.

"But, yeah, Serena totally deserves it and it's pretty obvious for me that she's going to be in the spotlight in this tournament. That's kind of her time right now. I'm just playing and focusing on that, and that's the most important thing for me."

Swiatek will face Lauren Davis in the next round after the American beat Ekaterina Alexandrova 0-6 6-4 7-6 (10-5). 

Victoria Azarenka was not concerned by being shunned by Marta Kostyuk at the US Open, adding that she has tried to contact the Ukrainian throughout the year.

Kostyuk elected not to shake hands with Azarenka following a second-round defeat at Flushing Meadows, instead merely tapping rackets.

That came after Kostyuk criticised the Belarusian for participating in a charity match for Ukraine, before the United States Tennis Association announced she would no longer be involved.

Belarus maintains close ties with Russia and has been under sanction from western nations for supporting Vladimir Putin after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March.

Both situations led to a frosty atmosphere following the conclusion of the tie, which Azarenka won 6-2 6-3.

"Well, I wasn't surprised. I don't believe that making a big deal out of it is important. I always shake hands with my opponents. I had the same situation with [Dayana] Yastremska in Washington. It is what it is. I just move on. I cannot force anybody to shake my hand. It's their decision," Azarenka said in a press conference.

Asked if she had spoken to Kostyuk, Azarenka added: "I've offered many times through WTA, because I believe that there is a sort of sensitivity. I've been told that that's not a good time.  

"I don't have, or I never had a close relationship with Marta. I obviously knew who she is, but I've never practiced with her. I've never really had conversation with her.

"So in March when everything happened, I reached out to all the players that I personally know and I still have a good relationship with and, you know, I don't feel that forcing myself to speak to somebody who maybe doesn't want to speak to me for different reasons is the right approach. But I offered."

Kostyuk was asked about the decision not to shake hands and explained her reasons, saying she believed it was not "the right thing" in the current climate.

"I just don't think it's the right thing to do in the circumstances I'm in right now," she said.

"We had a great match, don't get me wrong. She's a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete but that has nothing to do with her being a human being."

Victoria Azarenka has played down the significance of being shunned by Marta Kostyuk at the US Open, adding that she has tried to contact the Ukrainian throughout the year.

Kostyuk elected not to shake hands with Azarenka following a second-round defeat at Flushing Meadows, instead merely tapping rackets.

That came after Kostyuk criticised the Belarusian for participating in a charity match for Ukraine, before the United States Tennis Association announced she would no longer be involved.

Belarus maintains close ties with Russia and has been under sanction from western nations for supporting Vladimir Putin after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March.

Both situations led to a frosty atmosphere following the conclusion of the tie, which Azarenka won 6-2 6-3.

"Well, I wasn't surprised. I don't believe that making a big deal out of it is important. I always shake hands with my opponents. I had the same situation with [Dayana] Yastremska in Washington. It is what it is. I just move on. I cannot force anybody to shake my hand. It's their decision," Azarenka said in a press conference.

Asked if she had spoken to Kostyuk, Azarenka added: "I've offered many times through WTA, because I believe that there is a sort of sensitivity. I've been told that that's not a good time.  

"I don't have, or I never had a close relationship with Marta. I obviously knew who she is, but I've never practiced with her. I've never really had conversation with her.

"So in March when everything happened, I reached out to all the players that I personally know and I still have a good relationship with and, you know, I don't feel that forcing myself to speak to somebody who maybe doesn't want to speak to me for different reasons is the right approach. But I offered."

Kostyuk was asked about the decision not to shake hands and explained her reasons, saying she believed it was not "the right thing" in the current climate.

"I just don't think it's the right thing to do in the circumstances I'm in right now," she said.

"We had a great match, don't get me wrong. She's a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete but that has nothing to do with her being a human being."

Iga Swiatek is through to the third round of the US Open after securing a routine victory against Sloane Stephens at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Stephens, who won the 2017 US Open, struggled to keep up with Swiatek as the latter showed her quality on Thursday to win 6-3 6-2.

The number one seed set the tone early by breaking her 29-year-old opponent, and though Stephens responded by breaking straight back, she lost her own service again immediately after.

Swiatek almost broke for a third-straight time but Stephens was able to rescue herself from 15-40 down in the fifth game of the match, though it just delayed the inevitable as the Pole sealed the first set after her opponent hit a backhand effort down the line too long.

There was little sign of a momentum shift as Swiatek broke twice more and raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set.

Though Stephens was taking several games to deuce, Swiatek showed her class to edge over the line in most of them and although the American made the score more respectable with two service holds, it was not enough.

Swiatek confirmed a routine victory with a service hold to love, and will now face another American, Laura Davis, in the next round.

Data Slam: Swiatek's impressive 2022 numbers grow and grow

Swiatek has now won 52 matches in 2022. The last players with more WTA-level wins in a single campaign were Ash Barty (57) and Kiki Bertens (55) in 2019.

The way she is playing at Flushing Meadows, it would not be a surprise to see her overtake Bertens before the end of the tournament.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Swiatek – 14/17
Stephens – 7/18

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Swiatek – 1/2
Stephens – 1/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Swiatek – 4/12
Stephens – 1/2

Serena Williams revealed how Tiger Woods encouraged her to return to tennis for one last glory mission after she powered into round three of the US Open.

Golf great Woods was on his feet and rapturously celebrating as Williams beat number two seed Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday night in New York.

He had been invited to sit in Williams' player box and shared conversations with Venus Williams as they watched Serena push past Kontaveit with a dynamic display, coming through 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-2 on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It was remarkable from the 40-year-old on court as she found an extra gear for the deciding set, teeing up a clash with Australian world number 46 Ajla Tomjlanovic.

Williams has firmly indicated this will be her final tournament before retirement, and a host of stars have come out to watch her in action, with former US president Bill Clinton in the crowd for her first-round match.

Woods, actress Zendaya and film director Spike Lee were among those watching the Kontaveit match, and Williams suggested afterwards that she and 15-time major champion Woods had helped each other with their respective comebacks.

At this time last year, Williams was sidelined by a leg problem sustained at Wimbledon, while Woods was recovering from the serious leg injuries he suffered in a car crash.

"He's one of the reasons I'm here, one of the main reasons I'm still playing," Williams said. "We talked a lot. He was really trying to get me motivated.

"There's a few people, but we were like, 'Okay, we can do this together'.

"It was good, because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was just lost, so many questions. When you can rely on someone like that, I mean, my goodness, he's Tiger Woods, it was really helpful to get clarity."

What Williams is wary of at this stage is raising her own expectations.

She was charmingly dismissive of an on-court question when asked if she was surprised by how well she was performing.

As far as Williams is concerned, she has proven countless times she is the greatest player, certainly of her own era, so even with limited preparation she backs herself.

But thinking too intently about winning majors may have been costly in recent years, with Williams having lost her last four grand slam finals to remain on 23 singles titles, one short of Margaret Court's all-time record.

"I cannot think that far," when asked about the prospect of winning the tournament. "I'm having fun and I'm enjoying it. Honestly, I've had so many tough matches the last I don't know how long that I just feel like just being prepared for everyone that I play is just going to be really, really difficult. Get through those moments."

In typical Williams fashion, she has danced around the subject of retirement since writing in Vogue in early August she would be "evolving away from tennis".

She spoke of wanting to "relish these next few weeks" in the magazine article, and so far at Flushing Meadows she is savouring every moment.

Serena and Venus were due to play doubles on Thursday, again on the Ashe Stadium court, with more fanfare expected.

"I think I've mostly been kind of blocking everything out, but then at the same time I've been embracing a little bit of it, because I also want to enjoy the moment," WIlliams said.

"I just feel like I have had a big red X on my back since I won the US Open in '99. It's been there my entire career, because I won my first grand slam early in my career.

"But here it's different. I feel like I've already won, figuratively, mentally. It's just pretty awesome the things that I've done."

Britain's Jack Draper claimed one of the biggest scalps of the US Open so far after stunning sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in a 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory to progress to the third round.

The 20-year-old defeated last year's Flushing Meadows semi-finalist to reach the last 32 in his first main-draw appearance at the final major of the season.

On the back of a second-round appearance at Wimbledon earlier this year, it represents Draper's best showing at a Grand Slam to date – and at few points did the Briton look at risk of letting the tie slip away from his grasp.

Draper saved all three of the break points he faced and took three of the 10 presented to him in a fine showing at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

For the Canadian, it brings a premature end to what the 22-year-old likely hoped would be a promising tournament that could have seen him go one better than last year.

He is the third top-10 seeded men's player to be eliminated, following first-round exits for Stefanos Tsitsipas and Taylor Fritz against qualifiers Daniel Elahi Galan and Brandon Holt respectively.

 

Serena Williams' remarkable run in her final grand slam continued to gather pace on Thursday as she reached the US Open women's singles third round with a 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-2 triumph over Anett Kontaveit.

The record-breaking 23-time major winner may be set to step away from tennis following the conclusion of this year's event at Flushing Meadows, where she is also partnered with sister Venus in women's doubles.

But her latest victory arguably ranks as one of the most impressive she has racked up in recent years, with the record-extending stats underneath her win backing up her place in the sporting pantheon.

Williams has now won 367 matches in grand slam tournaments, comfortably extending her Open Era record for women's tennis and moving her within two of Roger Federer's outright record of 369.

In turning over Kontaveit, she also made it 10 victories against top-two seeded opponents in grand slam tournaments on the trot, last losing such a match at the 2007 US Open against Justine Henin.

In addition, it also brought up 100 US Open match victories when winning the opening set, with Williams having only tasted defeat on a further three occasions when striking first at this major.

US Open reigning champion and top seed Daniil Medvedev has put the pressure on 22-time grand slam winner Rafael Nadal who he believes is the frontrunner for the Flushing Meadows title.

Medvedev endured a 10pm start time playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium after Serena Williams' three-set win over Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday evening to defeat Arthur Rinderknech 6-2 7-5 6-3 in two hours and 11 minutes in the second round.

The Russian was not happy with his level early in Wednesday's match, admitting he did not adjust seamlessly to the late start time, but said he worked into it.

The win books a third-round clash with Chinese qualifier Wu Yibing but Medvedev was pressed on the favourites for the men's singles title in the absence of Novak Djokovic this year.

Medvedev claimed his maiden major at last year's US Open with victory over Djokovic in the final, while he lost to Nadal in a memorable five-set Australian Open decider earlier this year.

"First of all, I don't want to put pressure on anybody, but I think Rafa is a big favourite also," Medvedev told reporters.

"He won the last time he played here against me actually. He won two slams this year. I think Novak is better on grass, but Rafa didn't play.

"He actually didn't lose in a Grand Slam this year. He retired [in the Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios], which is not the same.

"In my opinion Rafa is big, let's call it like this, I don't want to say favourite, big favourite, he's definitely big figure in this tournament.

"Then for sure there are many other good guys. I'm happy to see my name sometimes in the odds or something like this because I'm like, that's great. That means that I play some good tennis.

"Being amongst the favorites just brings me more motivation to try to do well."

Medvedev compared his 2022 form in New York (he beat Stefan Kozlov in the first round in straight sets) to last year's when he won the title, admitting he did not feel he was going as well as 12 months ago at this stage.

"These two matches felt a little bit less good comparing to last year, but at the same time I know I already played a lot of Grand Slams," he said.

"That's not the most important. The most important is to win, to stay in the tournament, to try to get as far as possible, for sure try to raise your level when the opponents go stronger and stronger.

"Finally you're going to play somebody who has a Grand Slam or something like this."

Nick Kyrgios has complained of the smell of marijuana during his second-round US Open victory over Benjamin Bonzi on Wednesday.

The 2022 Wimbledon finalist made the claim to the chair umpire late in the second set of his hard-fought 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 4-6 6-4 win over the Frenchman at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

The chair umpire remarked that the smell could be coming from the kitchen which Kyrgios retorted with "it was f***ing marijuana".

"People don't know I'm a heavy asthmatic," Kyrgios told reporters after the match.

"When I'm running side to side, I'm struggling to breathe, probably not something I want to be breathing in in between points.

"Yeah, US Open, it's a very different vibe to everywhere else. I feel like Wimbledon was so proper. Australian Open, you kind of expect it there, being an Aussie.

"But here, it's just like noisy. Point in, point out, I can't barely hear. Half the time I can't even hear my team because it's so noisy all the time."

The latter half of Kyrgios' second-round match coincided with major drawcard Serena Williams playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium against second seed Anett Kontaveit.

"Ashe was unbelievably noisy," Kyrgios added. "I couldn't hear anything. Constant jitter. Things going off, sirens.

"In Armstrong today, hearing trains and people. For someone that's struggled to focus in my career, I'm really trying hard to put my head down and play point by point, try to dig myself out of some certain situations.

"It's hard because there's a lot of distractions. Obviously a lot of heckling going on as well. People are saying things. I got to be very careful with what I say these days."

Kyrgios' win means he will take on American J.J. Wolf in the third round on Friday and the 23rd-seed Australian, who won August's Citi Open in Washington DC, said he was feeling motivated and more professional than ever.

"This year's been amazing in so many different ways," he said. "For my tennis, I kind of wanted to almost reinvent myself, get back to the top of the game where I know I belong.

"The Wimbledon final was a turning point I think for me mentally. If I won that match, I don't know where my motivation would have been at. Losing it and being so close, it was really tough for me to kind of swallow that.

"Winning Washington, winning so many matches, I just feel like I thought the pressure would be off me after winning Wimbledon. He's a Wimbledon finalist, he's nearly-over-the-hump-type thing.

"I didn't think I'd be putting this amount of pressure on myself. Every day I come in, I watch what I eat, I try and get sleep. Like every practice session I try and have good intent. I almost don't know who I am anymore, to be honest, because that's not me.

"I feel like I'm really professional right now. I never thought that the Wimbledon final would make me that way. I thought it would be the other way, the reverse, almost a bit lax and a bit chilled with it."

Serena Williams says this is the most free she has felt on a tennis court in over 20 years after shocking world number two Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-2 to advance to the third round of the US Open.

Williams, 40, found another gear in the deciding set as she rode the wave of momentum that came from the raucous, sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

While Williams rose to the occasion, Kontaveit folded, posting three winners and 11 unforced errors in the third set, allowing the all-time great to secure the victory with a break-to-love.

On the court after the match – after a recorded video message from Oprah Winfrey also aired after Monday's win over Danka Kovinic – Williams said while everyone else may have been surprised by the result, she still has supreme confidence in her abilities.

"Well, I'm a pretty good player," she said playfully. "You know, this is what I do best. 

"I love a challenge. I love rising to the challenge. Yeah, I haven't played many matches, but I've been practicing really well. 

"In my last few matches, it just wasn't coming together. I'm like, this isn't me. The last couple matches here in New York, it's really come together."

Williams admitted that she thought to herself "this could be it" after dropping the second set, but highlighted the fact that this is the first time in over 20 years that she does not feel like she has a target on her back.

"Honestly, I'm just looking at [this run] as a bonus," she said. "I don't have anything to prove. I don't have anything to win. I have absolutely nothing to lose.

"Honestly, I never get to play like this since '98 really. Literally, I've had an 'X' on my back since '99. It's kind of fun.

"I really enjoy just coming out and enjoying it. It's been a long time since I've been able to do that."

Lastly, Williams talked about what it will be like to step back out onto the doubles court with sister Venus Williams on Friday night.

"I'm so excited for doubles," she said. "It's like, it's been so long. We got to play again, we got to bring the reunion back.

"I'm excited to play with Venus, get some more practice – because I could use the matches."

Serena Williams gave the celebrity-laden crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night a taste of her very best, pulling through in the third set to defeat world number two Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (4-7) 2-6 6-2.

The two-hour-and-27-minute victory sees Williams, who has announced her intention to evolve out of playing tennis after the US Open, move into the third round where she will face Australian world number 46 Ajla Tomjlanovic.

The opening set had Williams' power serving game on full display, winning 89 per cent (24-of-27) of the points when she landed her first serve fair, while producing six break point opportunities in her return game while only facing three.

She could only convert one of those break point chances, going up 5-4 with a chance to serve out the set, before handing the break straight back, leading to a tiebreaker.

Of the 11 tiebreaker points, only one went against the serve, with Williams seizing her opportunity to secure the opening frame.

As Williams' serve fell off in the second set – only winning 50 per cent of her successful first serves – Kontaveit fought her way back into the game, producing a clean set as she hit 13 winners to only three unforced errors, wrapping up the frame in a snappy 36 minutes to take it to a decider.

After holding serve to open the set, Williams then took a 2-0 lead as she was able to convert her third break point chance of the marathon 13-point game. That was followed with a 12-point game where Kontaveit was able to break back, as the 40-year-old American was visibly slowing down the longer the match dragged on.

As Williams' energy reserves began to run low, she tried to compensate with as many one-shot rallies as possible, going for sink-or-swim drives down the line and across the court – resulting in some spectacular winners, but also an increase in unforced errors.

It turned out to be the right strategy as Kontaveit continued to have trouble with Williams' power, giving up the late break again to go down 3-1 before the living legend consolidated her advantage with a hold-to-love, sending the crowd wild as they could see the finish line.

With Tiger Woods in her players' box cheering her on, Williams secured a point from a 19-shot rally as the atmosphere hit fever pitch, and despite the effort required in that point, she was able to repel another break point opportunity to hold and go 5-2 up.

Ultimately, the cauldron inside the sold-out stadium proved too much for Kontaveit, who could not find winners down the stretch. She posted three winners and 11 unforced errors in the final set, including a double-fault in her final service game as she was broken-to-love to secure the stunning result.

Data Slam: Serena continues to win the big matches

Williams has now won her last 10 grand slam matches against opponents ranked in the top-two, with her last loss coming to Justine Henin 15 years ago at the 2007 US Open.

She has also only lost three of her previous 104 US open matches when she has won the first set, and is 42-0 in the opening two rounds at Flushing Meadows.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Williams – 38/39

Kontaveit – 30/27 

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Williams – 11/6

Kontaveit – 5/5 

BREAK POINTS WON

Williams – 5/12

Kontaveit – 5/11

Andy Murray is a "legend" of the sport who Matteo Berrettini knows he must play his best tennis against in the US Open third round.

Berrettini had to come from behind to beat Hugo Grenier on Wednesday at Flushing Meadows, setting up a fourth career meeting with Murray.

Like Berrettini, former world number one Murray came from a set down to defeat Emilio Nava 5-7 6-3 6-1 6-0.

Berrettini holds a 2-1 lead in his head-to-head series with Murray, who won the first match between the pair in Beijing in 2019.

Murray lost to Berrettini as the Italian went on to win at Queen's Club in 2021, with the Scot going down to the 26-year-old again in the final in Stuttgart earlier this year.

"We played in different conditions. We played 2019 in Beijing, so was hard, but best-of-three. Then twice on grass. All the matches were great fights," Berrettini said in a press conference.

"I think obviously Andy now is in way better shape than he used to be, especially last year. He's a legend of the sport. I think it's going to be a great match, a tough match for me, but feeling confident. I always like to play here, especially in big stages, big matches like the one I'm about to play. Yeah, I think it's going to be a tough one, but I'm ready."

Berrettini also revealed he and Murray have practiced together, though he does not think that will help much in Friday's tie.

He said: "We're friends, but we're not like best friends. A good relationship.

"He had a crazy hip surgery. Everybody saw it. It's not easy to come back, especially when he was number one in the world. Mentally it must have been, like, really tough for him. But I think it's inspiring the will that he has, the love that he has for this sport. I always admired that.

"We often practice together, as well. When I was a kid I was watching him on TV, for me it's still a dream coming true playing against this kind of player.

"I remember 2016 he played against Paolo Lorenzi here. My brother, he played quallies here, the juniors. I was like, Wow, you're playing next to Andy, and now I'm playing against him. It's something that I really appreciate. That's why I'm even happier for the match now I'm going to play.

"But it doesn't matter. When you play Andy Murray, you're playing Andy Murray. You have to play your best tennis."

Andy Murray believes he is in his best physical shape for years after he made the third round of the US Open for the first time since 2016 on Wednesday.

Murray dropped the first set against American wildcard Emilio Nava, but the Scot powered back to win 5-7 6-3 6-1 6-0 in New York.

He will face 13th seed Matteo Berrettini in the last 32 on Friday, and the 35-year-old has his sights set on a lengthy run at Flushing Meadows.

"Physically this is the best I've felt in the last few years," he said. "My movement is by far the best it's been in a long time.

"I'm getting closer to where I want to be and hopefully I can have a deep run here."

Murray reunited with coach Ivan Lendl for the third time earlier this year – a decision he cites for his improved form.

"There's a lot of belief in the relationship because of results we've had in the past," he added.

"I trust that if I play with a game style he wants me to that will bring me success.

"It gives me confidence. He knows what it takes to win and perform well at this tournament. It's great to have him back."

Speaking about his next opponent, Berrettini, Murray said: "He's had a bit of an unlucky year.

"I know he got Covid at the beginning of Wimbledon. When he has been on the court he's done really well.

"We played a tough three-set match in Stuttgart. I'm expecting it to be really difficult but if I play well and my return's on point then I've got a good chance."

The hype around Serena Williams' potential swansong tournament is "the biggest thing I've ever seen in women's tennis", says Torben Beltz, the coach of her next opponent Anett Kontaveit.

Williams has announced she is soon to retire, and the US Open is widely expected to be her final tournament.

The 23-time grand slam champion came through in straight sets in her first-round match against Danka Kovinic to set up a tough meeting with world number two Kontaveit on Wednesday.

Beltz wanted to watch Williams' opening match but could not do so after Arthur Ashe Stadium sold out, with reports of tickets on the secondary market on sale for around $1,000.

And Beltz says he has not seen anything like it, telling the New York Times: "I couldn't get a ticket. 

"This is the biggest thing I've ever seen in women's tennis. I think it's the greatest thing for the sport, and we all have to thank Serena for all she did. Especially right now with the end coming."

While Beltz's charge Kontaveit is favourite for the second-round match, the Estonian's coach knows it will be a tough match against the six-time US Open champion.

"I think her ball speed, serve and return is really up to her prime time," Beltz added.

"I saw her other matches, and it looks like she's improved over the last couple of weeks. She looks in better shape and looks good now.

"For Anett, I think the key is to just go out and try to play her best tennis but also enjoy the moment. It's going to be a big challenge, a great challenge, but I think she wants that challenge and wants to embrace it."

Rafael Nadal was "super happy" to be back on the court after injury, coming from a set down to beat Rinky Hijikata in the first round of the US Open.

Hijikata raced out to a one-set lead against the 22-time grand slam champion to give him hopes of a major upset.

But the 36-year-old Nadal romped back to win the next three sets and secure safe passage into the next round 4-6 6-2 6-3 6-3.

Although Nadal has won the Australian Open and French Open titles this season, he has also suffered with injuries, withdrawing from his Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios with an abdominal problem.

That issue meant he had played just once – in defeat to Borna Coric at the Cincinnati Masters – between the previous major at the All England Club and Tuesday's match at Flushing Meadows.

The lay-off prompted doubts in Nadal's mind, and he was therefore relieved to be back in action.

"It's been a long wait," said Nadal in his on-court interview after the match.

"For some time, I thought I may not be able to be back, so I am super happy. I just have to be humble and accept the process, day after day in practices and matches, and stay positive.

"I think I started not that bad the first couple of games, but then I had some opportunities that I was not able to make.

"I think I didn't play a good game with my serve. Then he had the break. Then I was a little bit nervous. First match here in New York after three years, a night session, it's always exciting. Yeah, I went through this tough moment.

"It's always the same story: things are not perfect when you are not competing very often, when you come back from injury. I am able to play again in two days, and I hope to play better."

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