NEW YORK — Venus Williams moved on, Rafael Nadal came back and Marat Safin said goodbye at the U.S. Open on Wednesday.
Her left knee heavily wrapped, the third-seeded Williams defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 6-2, in a less taxing match than she had two nights earlier when she fell behind a set before rallying against Vera Dushevina.
Nadal, whose knees kept him out of Wimbledon, returned to Grand Slam play with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over Richard Gasquet, while Safin, a former world No. 1, closed out his Grand Slam career, losing to Jurgen Melzer 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
It was a good day for Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak, who upset former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo 6-4, 6-0. The 21-year-old from Blainville, Que., handed the 17th seed from France, a semifinalist in 2002 and 2006, her earliest career loss at Flushing Meadows.
Williams hurt her knee in the first set of the opener, and the heavy tape she wore for the second round confirmed the injury was more than just a tweak. But the two-time U.S. Open champ, who fielded no fewer than a dozen questions about her health in the post-match interview, insisted she wouldn’t use it as an excuse.
“I’m still playing well and I feel I’ll continue to play better as the rounds go on,” she said. “I’m trying not to make this injury a factor at all.”
She said she had no plans to pull out of the doubles with her sister, Serena, where they are trying to add the U.S. Open to their Australian and Wimbledon titles this year.
“My mentality for doubles is, it’s a major title and I love winning majors,” Venus said. “It’s not a decision I take lightly. I’m going to do my best to be able to prepare.”
Nadal, the No. 3 seed, showed very little rust after missing most of the summer with tendinitis in his knees. He ripped through Gasquet — also on the comeback after a 2 1/2-month drug suspension — and answered any questions about his mobility by easily getting to a pair of drop shots en route to a decisive break in the eighth game of the third set.
“I don’t have pain, so I don’t think about it,” Nadal said.
While Williams and Nadal keep playing, Safin’s Grand Slam career is over.
It ends with two Grand Slam titles, a smaller number than many experts thought possible when he broke through by beating Pete Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open final.
“That match was a miracle for me,” Safin said. “It took some time for me to see how big this thing was. It was difficult because I was also 20 years old, I wasn’t ready for this. It was difficult to understand it.”
Now he’s 29 and wants to move to the next chapter of his life, though he concedes he’s not sure what, exactly, that will be. Watching his top-ranked sister, Dinara Safina, probably won’t be a big part of it.
“I really love my sister, but I think she can manage without me,” he said.
He leaves behind a lot of good memories. He was a fiery, emotional player in a sport that doesn’t have many — a player who estimated he’s broken more than 300 rackets in his career and also got fined for pulling his pants down once during a French Open match.
Will he miss tennis as much as tennis misses him?
“I need to get away from tennis for some time to realize what I’ll miss,” he said. “Right now, it’s difficult to decide exactly what I’ll miss.”
Defending champions Serena Williams and Roger Federer were scheduled for night matches.
Kim Clijsters, who came back to the U.S. Open after a long break with an easy win Monday, played her second round Wednesday and defeated 14th-seeded Marion Bartoli 5-7, 6-1, 6-2.
Other seeded winners were men’s No. 13 Gael Monfils and No. 24 Juan Carlos Ferrero, and women’s No. 7 Vera Zvonareva, No. 8 Victoria Azarenka, No. 9 Francesca Schiavone, No. 18 Li Na and No. 31 Elena Vesnina. No. 10 Flavia Pennetta also won 6-0, 6-0 over Sania Mirza — the first double-bagel of this year’s tournament.
Nobody in the top 10 had lost heading into the night session.