NEW YORK — Her 2011 U.S. Open done and tennis future in doubt because of an immune system disease, Venus Williams rode away from Arthur Ashe Stadium in the back seat of a car a little before 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Inside, one young American, Christina McHale, was preparing to speak at a news conference about reaching the third round with a surprise victory over a past Grand Slam finalist. Another, Irina Falconi, was on court, starting a match that would end with her waving a giant U.S. flag to celebrate her own upset.
As those events unfolded — the most stunning, of course, being seven-time major champion Williams' withdrawal shortly before her second-round match because of an illness she hadn't previously disclosed — it was possible to see a symbolic shift for U.S. women's tennis.
Williams revealed she recently was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, which doctors say is usually not life-threatening. The most common complaints are dry eyes and dry mouth; in rare cases, it can cause joint pain.
"I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon," said Williams, who has played only 11 matches in the last 11 months.
Lately, as the 31-year-old Williams and 29-year-old sister Serena have dealt with health problems and played less frequently, people have wondered when another American woman would make an impact in the sport. For one day, at least, McHale and Falconi did just that.
McHale, a 19-year-old from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., delivered a 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory over eighth-seeded Marion Bartoli of France, the runner-up to Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2007. Falconi, 21, followed that up by beating 14th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.
McHale and Falconi both advanced to the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
On Wednesday night, 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick beat 96th-ranked Michael Russell 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in all-American first-round match.
His victory was to be followed by the day's last match: 2006 U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova against Anastasia Yakimova.
Among Wednesday's other winners were U.S. men John Isner, Jack Sock, Robbie Ginepri and Alex Bogomolov Jr., along with 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who didn't try to defend his title last year because of a wrist injury. No. 4 Andy Murray and No. 12 Gilles Simon advanced, while No. 10 Nicolas Almagro became the highest-seeded man to lose.
Women's winners included No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, the runner-up at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2010, and No. 9 Sam Stosur, who reached last year's French Open final.