NEW YORK -- The career arc of any elite athlete is unpredictable. There isn't a foolproof formula to accurately predict how a fledgling talent will fare in three, five or even 10 years.
Until 2003, Roger Federer's tennis existence was, let's say, tenuous. A former Wimbledon junior champion, he was blessed with exquisite talent but underwhelming results. His forehand flowed through the court with grace and violence, and he moved with unmistakable ease. But his Slam results belied the beauty of his game. In 14 appearances, Federer had lost in the opening round five times and failed to make a single quarterfinal. He was that guy. You know, the one who had no idea how to channel his art.
But then something extraordinary happened and he rose to kingly status at all-time rates. He won title after title … after title. Federer's Rolodex of records included 16 Grand Slam titles in eight years, while passing Pete Sampras as the all-time leader in major wins. When Federer wasn't collecting trophies, it was back-page news. His grip on the game was so strong, in fact, it looked like it would never end -- except for this: It did.
Slowly and painfully, it's become somewhat of a back-to-the-future journey for Federer this year. At Wimbledon, for the first time in 36 majors, he failed to make the quarterfinals when he fell to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round, a result that marked the beginning of a pretty squirrelly summer. Perhaps it was an excuse to test out his new 98-inch-square frame, but Federer curiously played two ground-level tournaments after London, on clay no less, and lost to players ranked out of the top 100 in both.
But Federer, like most top-notch athletes, isn't consumed by any of these past plights. He's back here at the US Open and in front of his adoring fans. On Tuesday afternoon, a day after his opener was rained out, Federer drifted past Grega Zemlja 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 in a hasty 1 hour, 33 minutes.
"I decided also to play aggressive," Federer said. "By doing that, didn't have many rallies. It was more of a serving contest."
Federer finished his opener with 12 aces and hit more than twice as many winners as unforced errors (35-16). But it's early yet, and not until Federer wins a few more routine matches will he likely feel the worst is behind. For the first time in more than 10 years Federer has fallen out of the top five, and that means something to the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
"No. 7 I don't think is a huge drop from No. 4, but people are going to say what they like," Federer said before the tournament. "Important is that I concentrate on my game and, you know, that the passion is there, that I work the right way, that I'm prepared, and then that I feel like I can win a tournament.
"Then the ranking actually itself is secondary. But I have looked at the rankings my whole life. I used to be incredibly excited, you know, on Monday seeing how many spots my ranking went up or down."
Of course, looming in Federer's quarter of the draw is his biggest obstacle, the man from Mallorca who has trampled the field this summer. Rafael Nadal is 16-0 on hard courts in 2013, which includes back-to-back titles at Masters 1000 tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati. The two would meet in the quarterfinals.
"I think it's an exciting draw really, the section with Rafa being nearby," Federer said. "Plus we have never played here. I really hope, you know, from my side that I can make it. …
"But clearly when I come here I don't just look at trying to make quarters, you know. I'm clearly here trying to win the tournament."
After his win Tuesday, Federer appeared relaxed, unfazed by all the recent theater. He was asked about his diet and even weighed in on all the recent roof rhetoric: "I'm very happy for tennis in general. For you guys, for the fans, for the players who are going to be able to enjoy all of that," he said. And then, of course, Federer was (wink, wink) grilled with a few James Blake retirement queries, a set of questions cleverly designed to get him to talk about his own future.
But Federer wouldn't take the bait. It's about only the US Open and right now.
"Clearly when you win everything, it's fun," Federer stoically said. "That doesn't necessarily mean you love the game more. You just like winning, being on the front page, lifting trophies, doing comfortable press conferences. It's nice."
Nice, especially after one of those rare wins lately.
U.S. teenager stuns Stosur
This is why we love the US Open: You never really know what's going to happen. When an under-the-radar teenager is going to come whistling out of nowhere and score a stunning upset.
Later, after Stosur saved three match points, Duval found the gumption to collect the fourth and, with a massive forehand cross-court winner, won 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
"This is the best I've played in my career so I'm really excited," she said afterward in an on-court interview.
Her voice was so young-sounding, it was almost hard to believe -- until you listened to the meaning of her composed words.
How did she do it in a 2-hour, 39-minute match?
"I just tried to stay in the moment," she said, voice breaking up. "I don't know … I'm really excited."
It was Duval's first win over a top-20 opponent and one of the great teenage wins here in recent years. Stosur had 56 unforced errors.
There have already been some freakish upsets here, but this was the biggest so far. The No. 11 seed and former champion is gone on the second day.
The match was 3-all in the second set when Stosur -- who historically is a nervy player in big moments -- cracked. At 15-40, she sent a horrific sliced backhand into the net to give Duval a 4-3 lead with a serve.
Duval collected only her third WTA-level victory of the year -- and her career. She is currently ranked No. 296 among WTA players. Last year she reached the semifinals of the junior tournament here.
Stosur has not lost before the quarterfinals in her past three US Open appearances.
Nick Bollettieri, Billie Jean King and former pro Kathy Rinaldi have all had a hand in Duval's development.
The return of The Donald
Six years ago, Donald Young was the 17-year-old junior champion at Wimbledon. And his future seemed limitless.
This year, he's not even in the ATP World Tour media guide.
Young, who qualified his way into the main draw, then scalded Martin Klizan, a formidable Slovakian player, 6-1, 6-0, 6-1 in a scant 80 minutes. The 24-year-old guy from Chicago who has never won an ATP-level title, who had won only two ATP-level matches this year, threw down the biggest, baddest victory in two days of play here.
"It's never happened," Young said, when asked if he had ever won a best-of-five match and dropped only two games. "It was exciting. I was in the right place at the right time."
Young, who was once ranked as high as No. 38, now finds himself as the 16th-ranked American man, at No. 157. He said he would let the rest of the tournament determine the rest of his season. If he can win another match or two and raise his ranking close to No. 100, he'll go play the Asian fall swing. If not, it's Challengers in the United States.
"I want to be in the conversation," he said, sounding like he meant it. "Right now, I have to work my way through."
The Jerzy boy goes down
Remember Jerzy Janowicz, the revelation of Wimbledon?
The score was 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 and the hard-serving Janowicz had all of three aces. In the fifth game of the third set, he actually served one underhanded.
Turns out there was a reason: a lower back injury.
In a small news conference afterward, Janowicz said he sustained the injury Saturday in practice and underwent acupuncture treatment more than once. He had "strong" pain-killing injections before the match.
He called his serve, "my push, I wouldn't call it a serve," he said.
The pain, he said, felt "like a knife in my back."
Jack Sock, a 20-year-old from Lincoln, Neb., advanced to the second round when Germany's Philipp Petzschner retired in the third set of their match. The score was 7-6 (2), 3-6, 5-2. "It was good," Sock said later. "It was a great feeling to be back playing here in New York at the Open. Always look forward to coming back. Was fortunate enough to get the win. Bad luck for him, but obviously happy to move on and advance in the draw." … Christina McHale was a 6-4, 6-3 winner over Julia Goerges and Sachia Vickery handled Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-4, 6-4. … No. 7 Petra Kvitova defeated Misaki Doi 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, an unremarkable result for the 2011 Wimbledon champion. Except that more than half of her matches have gone the distance this year. Indeed, 30 of her 59 matches have now gone three sets -- a high for WTA players and a remarkably large number for a top-10 player. … No. 4 seed Sara Errani defeated Olivia Rogowska 6-0, 6-0 in 51 minutes. Rogowska won all of 23 points. The diminutive Italian must have seen ESPN.com's Experts' Picks for this US Open. Seven of 11 prognosticators had her as the first of the top eight seeds to depart the tournament. … No. 25 seed Grigor Dimitrov lost in five sets to Joao Sousa, so, presumably, we won't be seeing his girlfriend, Maria Sharapova, much over the fortnight. She pulled out before the tournament, citing a sore right shoulder. … No. 10 seed Milos Raonic beat Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-3. … No. 6 seed Caroline Wozniacki defeated Ying-Ying Duan 6-2, 7-5. … Bojana Jovanovski beat 2011 US Open quarterfinalist Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-4. …American Varvara Lepchenko lost 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5) to Alexandra Dulgheru.
Greg Garber contributed to this report