Venus Williams struggled with her serve. She kept tugging at her dress. Every bit as big a nuisance was her opponent, Shahar Peer.
On a Sunday afternoon in which No. 2 Kim Clijsters cruised to her victory at the U.S. Open, third-seeded Williams never looked quite comfortable in hers. She defeated 16th-seeded Shahar Peer 7-6 (3), 6-3 on the second straight windy day in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Williams got only 48 percent of her first serves in. She faced six break points and lost three. She squandered five chances to wrap up the first set in a 22-point 12th game. As for the dress - a red "daytime" version of the black, sequined number she wore two nights previously - well, she spent much of the match tugging at it to keep it at barely high-thigh level.
After the Williams match, No. 1 Rafael Nadal took the court and experienced no such trouble. He faced only one break point - and saved it, in the final game - in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory against Frenchman Gilles Simon. Nadal has gone 46-for-46 in service games through his first three U.S. Open matches.
In the fourth round, Nadal will play No. 23 Feliciano Lopez, who won when Sergiy Stakovshy retired with a toe injury. No. 10 Gil Ferrer and No. 8 Fernando Verdasco also advanced - meaning all four players left in Nadal's section of the draw are Spaniards.
Williams' next match is a quarterfinal against No. 6 Francesca Schiavone, who had few problems in a 6-3, 6-0 win against 20th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
No. 20 Sam Querrey pulled off a mild third-round upset, defeating No. 14 Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. And No. 19 Mardy Fish of Tampa plays his fourth-round match today against No. 3 Novak Djokovic. This time, of 15 Americans that entered the tournament, there are two who are still around for the fourth round - Querrey and Fish - after No. 18 John Isner, also a Tampa resident, lost to No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-4, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5), 6-4 despite hitting 33 aces Sunday night.
Fourth-seeded Andy Murray, expected by many to make a deep run at this year's U.S. Open, instead made his second straight earlier-than-expected exit from Flushing Meadows - losing to No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in the third round.
Back on the women's side, Clijsters put a quick end to Ana Ivanovic's nice run at Flushing Meadows, winning her 18th straight U.S. Open match with a 6-2, 6-1 wipeout of the former world No. 1.