The largest evening crowd of this U.S. Open packed Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night, but it seemed tennis was secondary to celebrity.
The fans ogled hats, shirts and miniskirts. They admired good looks and bulging muscles. For the most part, they came to watch Andy Roddick and Serena Williams, the sport's reigning glamour king and queen, fashion trendsetters who also happen to play tennis.
Much of Friday's tennis was interesting for what happened on the court. Four seeded men's players suffered upsets in the second round: No. 7 Juan Carlos Ferrero, No. 8 David Nalbandian, No. 12 Sebastien Grosjean and No. 23 Vince Spadea.
Fan favorites Jennifer Capriati and Lleyton Hewitt advanced.
But America put some of its best tennis on display Friday night with Williams and Roddick and, for the most part, the actual tennis went unnoticed. Williams survived a difficult match, managing a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Tatiana Golovin, and Roddick cruised to a 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 win over Rafael Nadal of Spain
"I always consider myself as an entertainer first," said Williams, who warmed up in black boot sleeves for the third consecutive match. "I remember always thinking of myself in the broader picture as opposed to just your normal athlete. I don't think I've ever been you're normal athlete. I've always had something different going on in my life."
Both Roddick and Williams possess an appeal that's undeniably American. They have big serves, big muscles and big personalities. Together, they've penetrated pop culture like no other tennis players in their generation.
Williams has been a guest voice on "The Simpsons"; Roddick has been a guest host on "Saturday Night Live." Williams is one of People magazine's fashion trendsetters; Roddick is one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive."
"It's really tough to play someone that popular," said Scoville Jenkins, Roddick's victim in the first round. "It kind of feels like they're larger than life."
"With the clothes and everything, it can be hard to concentrate," said Lindsay Lee-Waters, who played Williams in the second round. "It's kind of like a circus."
And somewhere, the tennis gets lost.
Too bad, because Williams is one of a handful of players capable of winning here. When she's on, her first serve is untouchable, and her groundstrokes are the most powerful in the women's game. She's already won this tournament twice, in 1999 and 2002.
Roddick won here in 2003, and his blistering first serve is the most explosive shot in tennis. During his first-round match, he hit one serve 152 mph, setting the U.S. Open record by 11 mph. "I've been working on that one," Roddick said. "I like to give the fans something fun, something they can get into."
Fans had little entertainment during Roddick's match, except watching the speedometer. He breezed through the first two sets by hardly breaking a sweat, running Nadal all over the court with pinpoint groundstrokes.
Williams had a tougher time, falling behind 4-1 in the first set against Golovin, a French prodigy who has only begun to show her promise this year.
Williams then broke Golovin's serve in the first game of the second set, pumped her fists and screamed, "Let's go!" Golovin never recovered.
"It was pretty tough out there," Williams said. "I kept making errors. I just couldn't get the balls in. But I got through it. I survived. And I'm just so excited."
The crowd seemed much less energized by Williams's win. It clapped politely when she finished off Golovin, but it never buzzed more than when Williams first walked onto the court in her boots and flashy outfit.
"After a match, I get lots of feedback on what I'm wearing," Williams said. "It's always exciting to wear something a little different. It's not all about tennis."
U.S. Open Notes: With Spadea and Jan-Michael Gambill both losing, only two U.S. men remained in the draw Friday night -- Roddick and Andre Agassi. Taylor Dent and Mardy Fish, both seeded Americans, each lost Thursday, making it a devastating second round for the U.S. Only sixth-seeded Agassi won Thursday, advancing safely to the third round.
"It's definitely disappointing," said Gambill, who lost in straight sets to Sweden's Joachim Johansson, the 28th seed. "There's your own loss, which is the toughest, but then you see the other guys losing, and that's not fun either." . . .
Ferrero, last year's U.S. Open runner-up, became the highest men's seed to exit, losing to Stefan Koubec in five sets. "It's very disappointing," Ferrero said. "I thought I could do big things here. I wanted to get to the finals again, and then do better than last year." . . .
This has been a big U.S. Open for African American women, with a record four reaching the third round. In addition to Williams and her sister Venus, Chanda Rubin and Angela Haynes both won two matches. Haynes lost Friday to Francesca Schiavone.