NEW YORK: Defending champion Rafa Nadal progressed to the second round of the U.S. Open on Monday after fellow Spaniard David Ferrer retired midway through the second set due to a calf injury.
Nadal, the world number one, breezed through the first set without facing a break point but the 36-year-old Ferrer fought back in the second, breaking Nadal twice before the injury forced him to stop with the score at 6-3. 3-4.
Ferrer, whose decision to retire brings the curtain down on his final appearance at a Grand Slam, said he had taken an injection before the match but was in obvious discomfort and need treatment courtside before he decided to quit.
"I feel bad," he said in a courtside interview. "I had one shot in my calf and there was pain. I tried to play. I tried.
"I'm so sorry because I can't finish the match, but anyway, thanks a lot."
Nadal, who like his opponent was sweating profusely in the oppressively humid conditions, paid tribute to Ferrer, whom he beat in the 2013 French Open final.
"I'm very sorry for him. He's one of my closest friends on the tour and we faced many amazing moments together," Nadal said. "It's sad for him to finish like this."
Meanwhile, Serena Williams took the first cautious step towards a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a 6-4, 6-0 first-round win over Magda Linette on Monday as an excited U.S. Open crowd welcomed the new tennis mother back to the 'Big Apple'.
It was not the imposing performance many are used to seeing from Williams on Arthur Ashe Stadium court as the six-time champion continued to shake the rust off her game as she continued her comeback campaign after the birth of her first child.
Telling the crowd that her spirit was broken after not saying goodbye to her daughter before leaving for her match, Williams appeared distracted during an uneven opening set until she finally seized control with a break to go up 4-3.
Williams, the winner of 72 career singles titles, has the ability to sense when she has an opponent on the ropes and moved in quickly to deliver the knockout punch, breaking the 68th ranked Pole to open the second.
While her game might not have been firing on all cylinders her ruthlessness remained razor sharp as the American showed no hesitation in storming through second set before finishing off her opponent with a thundering ace.