Nadal has shaky start to U.S. Open title defense

NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal's first match as defending U.S. Open champion was hardly a tour de force.

Locked in a struggle for nearly three hours, the second-seeded Nadal eventually got past 98th-ranked Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-3, 7-6 (1), 7-5 on Tuesday night to reach the second round of the U.S. Open.

Three-time U.S. Open champion Serena Williams followed Nadal into Arthur Ashe Stadium for her first singles match in the tournament since her 2009 tirade at a line judge. She never was challenged by 54th-ranked Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia, needing less than an hour to win 6-1, 6-1.

Williams missed last year's U.S. Open because of surgery on her right foot after cutting it on glass at a restaurant in Germany in July. That was part of a series of health scares — including clots in her lungs, and a gathering of blood under the skin of her stomach — that sidelined the 13-time major champion for nearly a year.

Nadal expended a lot more energy Tuesday than Williams or Novak Djokovic, who overtook the Spaniard at No. 1 in the rankings last month.

Djokovic's opponent quit after 44 minutes Tuesday because of food poisoning. But it didn't take too long to see that Djokovic's right shoulder is feeling fine. He began with a 121 mph service winner. Four points later, he closed that game with a 120 mph ace. He whipped forehands exactly where he wanted them. He returned well, too.

Playing his first match since Aug. 21, when he quit because of a sore and tired shoulder, the top-seeded Djokovic began setting aside any questions about his fitness for Flushing Meadows, building a 6-0, 5-1 lead before 197th-ranked qualifier Conor Niland of Ireland stopped.

While Djokovic had no problems Tuesday, and Nadal overcame his, Day 2 of the tournament included a second consecutive first-round departure from the U.S. Open by the sixth-seeded French Open champion Li Na. Since becoming China's first major singles champion at Paris in June, Li has gone 5-6, exiting in the second round at Wimbledon, then losing 6-2, 7-5 to 53rd-ranked Simona Halep of Romania on Tuesday.

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