From Russia, with about six hours to spare

NEW YORK -- Russian Vesna Dolonts didn't last long in the U.S. Open, losing to Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-3, on center court Monday night. But sometimes life is all about the journey, and few experienced as tough a trip to Flushing Meadows as Dolonts. Or as rewarding.

Dolonts, ranked No. 91, was playing in only her second U.S. Open, having lost in the first round in 2009, and had been thrilled with the draw at the U.S. Open when she found out she was playing Williams on the tourney's opening night.

"Actually, it was my dream to play her," Dolonts said. "She's such a great player."

But that dream almost didn't come true. Dolonts had to skip the warm-up New Haven Open because of visa problems in Russia. And by last week, those problems hadn't been resolved. She wasn't sure she was even going to make it to Flushing Meadows.

"There was some problem so they put my passport somewhere in the room and forgot it," Dolonts said. "And I couldn't get it back. So just one man, he's very powerful, he called to the embassy and they found my passport, but it was only Friday evening.

"When I got it I was jumping in the embassy: 'I got it!'"

That was until she found out Hurricane Irene was bearing down on New York and her Saturday flight was canceled.

"I was nearly crying when the hurricane came,'' she said. "I was already in the airport with my luggage. I was so ready to go. 'No, hurricane is coming.' And I was like, 'No!'"

Dolonts was able to get one of the last two seats on a Monday flight on the day of her match with Williams. She flew for 10 hours, arriving at LaGuardia Airport at 2 p.m. before her 8 p.m. match. Despite her fatigue, she broke Williams in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead in the first set before Williams rallied for the victory.

Still, Dolonts was satisfied.

"I was surprised with my own game because I was so tired,'' she said. "I was thinking, 'No way, I don't have energy to play.' But you know, you come to the court and you just find it. You start to run, you're fighting for every point."

A straight-sets loss might not have been the storybook ending to her dream. But for Dolonts, 22, the trip was still worth it.

"I got some more confidence," she said.

As a bonus, she crossed that dream of playing Venus Williams off her list. Now it's on to the next one.

"I want to play against both sisters," Dolonts said. "I hope sometime I will play against Serena. That's going to be my second dream."

Maybe next time it won't be such a nightmare for her to get there.

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