You had to feel sorry for Vera Dushevina and Björn Phau, who probably felt like gatecrashers at a Fourth of July party. The first night session of the US Open, with its glitzy opening ceremony, is always high on all-American razzmatazz and the Russian and the German must have known they were expected to have only walk-on roles. They duly played their parts by losing their first-round matches on Monday night to Venus Williams and Andy Roddick respectively.
Dushevina, nevertheless, seemed to have other ideas in mind when she won the first set tie-break against Williams, who had taken a nine-minute injury time-out for treatment on a troublesome left knee. The No 3 seed recovered to win 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 after nearly three hours, but it was a huge struggle. Williams was grateful to the crowd for their support, especially when she served to stay in the match at 4-5 in the second set. The American described their vociferous backing as "one of those great New York moments".
Williams, who has never failed to reach the fourth round here, was foot-faulted seven times and served 10 double faults. Her problems seemed to stem from the knee injury but she refused to complain. "Everyone has injuries they're dealing with," she said. "I did my best tonight despite everything I was going through."
The length of Williams' match, which had followed the opening ceremony, meant that Roddick and Phau did not take the stage until 11.15pm. The 23,000-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium was half full by the end, but at least Roddick did not keep the crowd waiting too long, completing his 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory in an hour and a half.
After the match the world No 5 hailed the "crazies that stay till one in the morning". He added: "There's not as many people, but the ones that are there sure are vocal-slash-drunk.
"I guarantee half the people out there were probably here all day, too. They have to be pretty passionate and really enjoy what they're seeing and the whole experience of it. It's one in the morning. I guarantee you, they all have to work tomorrow. They certainly have to get up earlier than I do."
Roddick, who found the target with 81 per cent of his first serves and looked in excellent shape, loves the differences between each of the Grand Slam tournaments. "The thing that makes Wimbledon so cool is the tradition and the whites," he said. "I get into that when I'm there. I love it. I think it's great. I think the equivalent of that here is the night sessions and the craziness, the fact that it's a show and it's an event as well as a tennis tournament."
That was evident earlier in the evening. The closest you get to an opening ceremony at Wimbledon is guessing what Roger Federer will wear when he enters Centre Court for the first match, but at the US Open the first-night festivities are a key part of the entertainment. Monday's on-court performers included The O'Jays, who sang "Love Train", and Rob Thomas, who performed "America the Beautiful". A team of US marines unfurled a giant Stars and Stripes flag across the court.
The biggest cheers of the night, however, were reserved for Andre Agassi, who returned to the stadium for the first time since playing the final match of his career three years ago in his 21st consecutive appearance at this tournament. Agassi, along with gridiron's Doug Flutie, football's Mia Hamm and basketball's David Robinson, was honoured in a ceremony to celebrate sportsmen and women who "give back" to the community.
Fifteen years ago Agassi set up the Andre Agassi Foundation, which built and runs a school for under-privileged children in Las Vegas. The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, situated in one of the poorest parts of his home city, opened 10 years ago. The first set of pupils graduated this summer and all 34 of them are going into further education.
"There has not been a single match, a single tournament, a single accomplishment on the tennis court that comes even close to the fulfilment I feel with what our foundation is doing," Agassi said.