Williams sisters pay tribute in their own way


Serena Williams kept picking at that pesky pink bow, then pulled it completely off the front of her black dress.

On a night when so much had gone right, she wasn't about to let any wardrobe malfunction stop her Monday at the U.S. Open.

With Janet Jackson in the stands for a tribute to Althea Gibson, the Williams sisters honored the trailblazer in their own way &

with wins.

"My outfit was dark, and I definitely played a dark match," Serena said.

Aretha Franklin got the evening off to a rollicking start, belting out "Respect." Then Venus Williams beat Kira Nagy of Hungary 6-2, 6-1 &

highlighted by a Grand Slam-record 129 mph serve &

and Serena finished off a full opening day with a forehand smash to down German teenager Angelique Kerber 6-3, 7-5.

"I know every time I step out on the court I play for me and I play for all the other African-American kids out there who have a dream and might not have the means," Serena said.

Roger Federer and Justine Henin played up to their No. — rankings with straight-set victories, and American prospects Donald Young and John Isner played up to their potential.

There were few upsets. Among the seeded players who lost were No. 17 Tatiana Golovin on the women's side and crowd favorite No. 18 Marcos Baghdatis in the men's draw.

Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick were scheduled to play their first-round matches Tuesday night.

Back in 1957, Gibson became the first black player to win the championship at the U.S National Championship, which became the U.S. Open.

While the main show court on the grounds is revered as Arthur Ashe Stadium, not everyone is aware of Gibson's legacy. Federer candidly admitted he did not know anything about her.

"Nothing, to be honest," the three-time Swiss champion said. "It's before my time. Isn't much I can really say about it. I don't know, I'm sorry."

The Williams sisters hope to raise that awareness. They narrated a video that opened the ceremony.

"I have all the opportunities today because of people like Althea," Venus Williams said. "Just trying to follow in her footsteps."

But stepping onto the Ashe court after the tribute wasn't easy, especially after wrist and knee problems limited her to one tournament since she won Wimbledon.

"It was definitely a tough act to follow. ... It was really moving," she said.

"It's like, 'OK. Williams can't lose tonight. That's not part of the plan. It's supposed to be an all-American win tonight.' I was definitely thinking that."

Serena won in her first match since injuring her left thumb at Wimbledon.

"I didn't play well at all. It was a crazy match out there," she said.

Isner and Young were more in a celebrating mood, as was Ahsha Rolle. Playing in her third Grand Slam match, the 22-year-old Rolle upset Golovin 6-4, 1-6, 6-2.

"I was watching a little bit of the (Gibson) tribute. I thought that of all the nights, I've got to do it tonight," Rolle said. "I wasn't scared, I wasn't nervous. I was ready to bring it."

At 6-foot-9, so was Isner. Playing in his first Slam match, he rocketed serves up to 140 mph and beat 26th-seeded Jarkko Nieminen 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4.

"To be able to beat a guy like that means a lot, says a lot: No matter who I'm playing, seeded or not ... I feel like I can go out there and compete," said Isner, who led Georgia to the NCAA tennis title.

When he was done, he stood tall. He barely had to reach to shake the chair umpire's hand.

Another American who got a wild card for the year's last major tournament was Young. The Wimbledon junior champion recalled writing a biography about Gibson when he was in sixth grade.

"When you play out here, there's not that much pressure, because I'm (ranked) like 200 in the world, and everybody's top-100," the 18-year-old Young said after beating Chris Guccione 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

Fourth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko felt a little uneasy, though &

even with a 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 victory over Jesse Levine.

When he was done, Davydenko talked about the gambling probe surrounding a match he played early this month. The Russian reiterated he did not bet and did nothing wrong.

"I try to say every week, 'I don't do anything like this,'" he said. "I never did."

During a match in Poland this month, Davydenko lost to 87th-ranked Martin Vassallo Arguello, retiring because of injury in the deciding set. A British online gambling company voided all bets on the match after receiving about $7 million in wagers, 10 times the usual amount, mostly on Arguello.

Davydenko said he expected to talk to investigators &

he wasn't sure which ones &

after the China Open next month.

"It's pretty tough for me, somebody talking about gambling," he said. "I don't know how long I have more questions about it. Maybe all year."

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