Tennis

Venus Williams pulls out of U.S. Open with illness

The U.S. Open's most stunning loss Wednesday was bigger than just the Grand Slam tournament, with Venus Williams withdrawing and revealing she's suffering from an autoimmune disease.

Her 2011 U.S. Open done and tennis future in doubt because of an immune system disease, Venus Williams rode away from Arthur Ashe Stadium in the back seat of a car a little before 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Inside, one young American, Christina McHale, was preparing to speak at a news conference about reaching the third round with a surprise victory over a past Grand Slam finalist. Another, Irina Falconi, was on court, starting a match that would end with her waving a giant U.S. flag to celebrate her own upset.

As those events unfolded — the most stunning, of course, being seven-time major champion Williams' withdrawal shortly before her second-round match because of an illness she hadn't previously disclosed — it was possible to see a symbolic shift for U.S. women's tennis.

Williams revealed she recently was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, which doctors say is usually not life-threatening. The most common complaints are dry eyes and dry mouth; in rare cases, it can cause joint pain.

"I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon," said Williams, who has played only 11 matches in the last 11 months.

Said Andy Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion who has known Williams for about two decades: "I do know one thing: I'm very concerned. Because if Venus isn't playing at the U.S. Open, it's got to be something. She didn't withdraw because she's sneezing too much."

Lately, as the 31-year-old Williams and 29-year-old sister Serena have dealt with health problems and played less frequently, people have wondered when — and perhaps whether — another American woman would make an impact in the sport. For one day, at least, McHale and Falconi did just that.

"I've heard so much about media talking about American tennis, and I really wanted to portray that there's a huge wave of American players," Falconi explained when asked why she pulled out the flag she keeps in her bag. "I strongly believe in all that is USA, and I wanted to represent it and show the world that it's coming. It's coming. No need to wait any longer."

Lone Canadian advances

Meanwhile, Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., the lone Canadian remaining in the singles draw, moved on to the second round with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 win over Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic.

The first Grand Slam victory of his career came as a major confidence boost.

"I'm still new to the scene," said Pospisil. "It takes a little bit of getting comfortable with these guys. In the past maybe it wasn't like that for me.

"But that is changing fast. I feel like I belong out there."

Sharapova gets easy victory

Maria Sharapova moved easily into the third round of the U.S. Open with a 6-1, 6-1 victory Wednesday night over Anastasia Yakimova.

This was the second meeting between the Russians and third-seeded Sharapova has won them both. After a bit of a slow start, Sharapova turned it into a mismatch. She had 28 winners to two for her opponent. She won 59 points to 32 for Yakimova and saved all five break points against her.

It was very different from Sharapova's opening match, a three-set squeaker over Britain's Heather Watson.

In search of her fourth major title, Sharapova will play No. 26 Flavia Pennetta in the third round.

Zvonareva moves on

Before the news broke that the older Williams sister was out, Vera Zvonareva was already happy just to advance. In a wide-open women's draw, that counts for a lot — and that became even more true with Williams' exit.

The second-seeded Russian needed three ragged sets to reach the third round, beating 69th-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. With the winners of the last four major tournaments missing from the second round, players with a lot of Grand Slam experience are in short supply. Zvonareva has that, losing in the final at Wimbledon and here at Flushing Meadows in 2010.

"I wouldn't say I'm pleased with the quality of tennis I showed, but I'm pleased the way I handled the match," said Zvonareva, who overcame 46 unforced errors.

Soderling out

A two-time Grand Slam runner-up on the men's side didn't even get started at the Open. Sixth-seeded Robin Soderling withdrew because of illness before his first-round match.

The Swede was scheduled to face qualifier Louk Sorensen in the first round. "Lucky loser" Rogerio Dutra da Silva of Brazil took his spot and made it to the second round, winning when Sorensen retired because of cramps.

Soderling's agent said in a statement that he started feeling "really bad" Tuesday night with stomach pain and a headache, and a doctor recommended he not play.

Roddick, Murray stay alive

Roddick beat 96th-ranked Michael Russell 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in all-American first-round match. Enduring a rough season filled with injuries, No. 21 Roddick dropped out of the top 20 in the rankings for the first time in a decade.

"Wasn't pretty," said Roddick, who fell behind by a break in the fourth set against before coming back to close out Russell, a player now 0-7 at the U.S. Open and 6-23 at all Grand Slam tournaments. "I'm certainly not fooling myself by thinking that was worthy of a championship performance, by any means."

Fourth-seeded Andy Murray had a tough first set then cruised the rest of the way, beating Somdev Devvarman 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-3 in the first round.

Tenth-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain lost 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 to 81st-ranked Julien Benneteau of France.

The top-ranked Bryan brothers lost a first-round doubles match at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2001. Unseeded Ivo Karlovic and Frank Moser beat the American twins 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

Bob and Mike Bryan had won three of the last four major titles, tying the Open era record with their 11th Grand Slam championship earlier this summer at Wimbledon. But they struggled against the 6-foot-10 Karlovic's powerful serve.