NEW YORK — It was a day to get up early in the city that never sleeps. Roger and Serena went from late night to daylight, tough for the TV ratings but great for the fans who on a Friday when the temperature reached 86 degrees were at the U.S. Open.
Also great for Serena Williams, who said when she has a daytime match, rare for the top players, she has evening hours to spend with her daughter, Olympia, who’s nearly two.
Tennis and golf are sports constructed on personalities, the recognition factor, and few are more recognized than Serena or Roger Federer. Their passports — Williams is American, Federer is Swiss — matter less than their fame.
Federer’s popularity crosses oceans and borders. Serena has fans in Asia as well as Europe. The more they win, the more the sport itself is a winner.
The men’s game, the ATP, aware that Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic are in their 30s, keeps harping on the “next gen,” the younger players it hopes will be adequate replacements.
Stars, however, are not created, they develop, as did Federer and Serena.
It begins with success, winning, and Friday in the third round both Federer and Williams were winners, easily, quickly, while the sun was still high, the afternoon still hot.
Federer’s match against Daniel Evans of Britain began at 1:33 p.m. at Arthur Ashe Stadium and ended 1 hour 29 minutes later, Roger beating Evans 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. Then Williams arrived. Same place, different time (first shot 3:23 p.m.) and in 1 hour 14 minutes she had dispatched Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-2.
In other words, exactly what everyone expected, which satisfies and delights. There aren’t a lot of people cheering for the underdog in tennis or golf. People want Federer and Tiger Woods — and Serena Williams — to succeed. It’s a script that never grows boring or tiresome.
True, there’s anticipation of the third-round match Saturday between Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old, and Naomi Osaka, the defending U.S. Open champion, but in part because we’ve run out of things to say about Federer and Serena.
In fact, Serena’s post-match questioning closed with what she thought of the Gauff-Osaka matchup and whether she would watch. To which Williams answered, “I don’t know. I think it’s super-exciting tennis. Coco is obviously much younger. I think it’s the future of tennis. And I’m really excited to be a fan girl and watch.”
About her own match, Serena, said, “Had to go out there on business. Just different than the first two matches. I knew what Muchova could do.”
And obviously couldn’t do against Williams, who made it to the round of 16 for an 18th time, the same as Martina Navratilova and one fewer than Chris Evert’s 19. Serena will be 38 in a few days.
Federer already is 38, by a few days. He lost the opening sets of his first two matches this week, both at night, but he dropped only five games against Evans. So, naturally he was asked whether the media critics (blush) made too much about his, well, slow starts in his previous two matches in the Open.
“Not really,” was Federer’s diplomatic answer, delivered with a smile — or was that a smirk?
“It is what it is,” he said, of the tennis, not the smirk, a response we’ve heard from many, including Tiger Woods, a response that certainly is undeniable. Isn’t everything what it is?
“At the end of the day,” said Federer, “what matters most to me is that I am in the third round after all those slow starts. Give myself another opportunity to do better. And I did.”
Federer was asked if he had an advantage because Evans’ second-match didn’t end until 6 p.m. on Thursday. Federer reminded the rule is that a player’s next match can’t begin until 16 hours after the conclusion of the previous one.
“I have been there,” he said of the timing. “I know what you’re talking about. Yeah, you could argue that the scheduling was not in his favor ... that’s tennis. That’s entertainment, and the show must go on.”
On this day, it went on as a matinee.