NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kim Clijsters made a triumphant return to the U.S. Open on Monday, capping her belated maiden appearance as a defending grand slam champion with a straight sets win over Hungarian Greta Arn.
Clijsters recovered from a brief lapse in concentration in the second set to win 6-0 7-5 at the start of a busy first day at Flushing Meadows featuring five former U.S. Open winners.
American Andy Roddick, champion in 2003, celebrated his 28th birthday at Arthur Ashe Stadium with a 6-3 6-2 6-2 romp of France’s Stephane Robert, clearing the way for Roger Federer and Venus Williams to take the spotlight in the night matches.
Clijsters was not at her best against Arn, going 4-0 behind in the second set, but managed to dig herself out of trouble as she finally walked on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court as the defending champion.
It had been a long time coming for the second seed but she said the wait was worth it.
“Just to come out there and defend my title ... I’ve never been in that position,” she said. “It couldn’t have come any faster. I wanted it to happen for a while, and I was just excited to go out there.”
Clijsters won the title for the first time in 2005 but missed the next three years, initially through a wrist injury and then when she took time off to start a family, before her fairytale comeback last year to capture a second crown.
Roddick, returning to the game from an injury-sapping illness, looked a picture of health in a straight sets win over Robert as the last grand slam of the season began under brilliant blue skies and stifling summer heat.
“Conditions are a little tricky out there. The wind blows a little out there,” said Roddick, who fired just eight aces.
Five-time champion Federer and two-time winner Williams were scheduled to start their tournaments in the featured night session while Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 champion, was booked to open his tourney inside the Louis Armstrong stadium.
The notable absentees from the list of former champions were the 2009 men’s winner Juan Martin Del Potro, who withdrew because of a long-term injury, and Serena Williams, who withdrew after slicing her foot on broken glass in July.
The opening skirmishes produced few real surprises with Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, the 2007 Australian Open runner-up, the first seed to make an early exit. He retired from his match with Croatian qualifier Ivan Dodig because of a knee injury.
Sweden’s two-time French Open finalist Robin Soderling was lucky not to lose to another qualifier before he regained his composure to beat Austria’s Andreas Haider-Maurer 7-5 6-3 6-7 5-7 6-4.
Italy’s reigning French Open winner Francesca Schiavone and Russian baseliner Nikolay Davydenko both made light work of their first round opponents.
Schiavone barely broke a sweat as she eased past Japan’s Ayumi Morita 6-1 6-0 in under an hour while Davydenko, a two-time semi-finalist in New York, was not tested in his 6-4 6-1 6-3 victory over American Michael Russell.
Unseeded American teenager Melanie Oudin also made a flying start after she opened proceedings on center court following her unexpected run to the quarter-finals last year.
Oudin has struggled to reach those dizzy heights this year, winning just one match at the year’s three other grand slams, but the familiarity of the U.S. Open hardcourts brought out her best as she dumped Ukrainian qualifier Olga Savchuk 6-3 6-0.
“It’s a real honor to get to start the U.S. Open off on Ashe, first match,” Oudin said. “I thought it was pretty cool. I didn’t expect that.”
Editing by Frank Pingue