All you needed to know about Serena Williams' first-round match Monday night at the U.S. Open was this:
The opening ceremonies featuring Josh Groban took up the first 40 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium court. Williams' victory over Vitalia Diatchenko officially was timed at 30 minutes, of which only about 15 involved actual play.
As Williams launched her bid for the calendar year Grand Slam, Diatchenko, the 86th-ranked player in the world, didn't figure to provide considerable opposition. But Diatchenko showed up with a bum left ankle, moved gingerly and slowly, took a medical timeout to have it wrapped, took another timeout to leave the court, and by the time she was down 6-0, 2-0, it was time to call it quits. In tennis lingo, she retired.
The two hugged under the umpires' chair and had a long chat. Let's just say that Williams' warm-up for the match was considerably more demanding.
"It was definitely different and bizarre,'' Williams said. "But at the same time, I was still focused. I kept thinking stay focused, don't lose it. You never know what can happen.''
"I felt it when I was warming up for my match,'' said Diatchenko, a Russian who is in New York without a coach or her family. "I felt like sharp pain when I did the sprints . . . I had surgery at beginning of the year, but it was in completely different place.''
The pain in her ankle seemed matched by the pain of not being able to compete with her idol on the biggest stage in the game.
"I wish her good luck and tell her I want to be healthy when I play her again . . . She is one of the players I want to play all of my life. She was kind of idol for me.''
Williams will play Wednesday against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 winner over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Bertens, like Diatchenko, never has played Williams and is ranked No. 110 in the world. She has very little experience against the top-ranked players and was routed by Petra Kvitova in a first-round match at Centre Court Wimbledon in July.
Asked if she will able to enjoy an Ashe Stadium appearance against the No. 1- ranked player in the world and the No. 1 favorite of the New York crowd, Bertens said, "I certainly hope so.''
Arthur Ashe Stadium has pretty much been Williams' home since she won the first of her six U.S. Open titles in 1999, including the last three in a row. But home has had a new makeover, what with the roof trusswork, new LED lighting and spotlight effects for the night matches. It's not exactly cozy, but it seems somehow homier to her.
"It feels more intimate, which is weird, but it does,'' Williams said. "It feels more private. It feels like a dome. I think that's the best way to describe it.''
And describing her support in New York as she tries to follow up victories at the Australian, French and Wimbledon with another Open title, she said: "It's kind of awesome this is the last Grand Slam of the year, because if it were in a different country, I think I would still love it, but it's not the same as being an American playing in New York, playing for that ultimate goal.''
That goal got one small step easier Monday night.