Serena Williams returns to Catherine McNally during the second round...

Serena Williams returns to Catherine McNally during the second round of the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Consider the zombie effect in tennis. The older folks just won’t go away — eye roll— even, it turns out, when they appear to be done for.

U.S. Open men’s defending champion Novak Djokovic and perennial women’s title contender Serena Williams demonstrated this truth Wednesday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

First Djokovic rose up to beat Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero, who was playing in only his second Grand Slam event, despite Djokovic’s troubling shoulder, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-1. Then Williams, after burying her chances under a mound of unforced errors in the early going, dug herself out in time to beat 17-year-old Caty McNally, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.

Notice, then, who continues to be in charge around here. Thirty-eight year-old Roger Federer, still alive in pursuit of a 21st men’s major title. And Rafael Nadal, 33, hanging around in hopes of a 19th. And Djokovic, though a relative pup at 32 but with plenty of mileage on his rubbery body and despite an aching shoulder that needed in-match treatment, still on course for No. 16.

And Williams, weeks short of her 38th birthday, aiming for a record 24th major-tournament trophy. She logically was expected to teach the teenaged McNally a thing or two, but matters hardly developed that decisively.

McNally’s solid groundstrokes and bold mixture of shots had Williams repeatedly dumping the ball into the net. A service break in the 11th game of the first set appeared to be squeezing the life out of Williams. But she came back.

Djokovic, seven games into his match against Londero, was spraying forehands and wincing on backhand swings and called for a trainer to work on his left shoulder. He has won four of the last five Grand Slam events, but at that point Djokovic suddenly looked like a goner.

Not so.

Novak Djokovic serves to Juan Ignacio Londero during the second...

Novak Djokovic serves to Juan Ignacio Londero during the second round of the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

“You get some lucky shots. You get some opportunities,” Djokovic said. “I move on. It’s not the first time I’m facing this sort of challenge.”

It is a full two decades since Williams won her first major at Flushing Meadows. This Open commenced with 15 women’s major-tournament champions entered, and still seven of them remain: Besides Williams, there are Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Naomi Osaka, Jelena Ostapenko, Carolina Wozniacki and Ashleigh Barty, who ousted 73rd-ranked American Lauren Davis in straight sets Wednesday night.

Yet it is Williams who is widely seen as the favorite to add a record 24th Slam title. At 37 years and 48 weeks.

McNally, who hails from the Cincinnati suburbs, happens to be the doubles partner of the youngest player, male or female, in the Open singles draws—15-year-old child prodigy Coco Gauff of sudden Wimbledon fame. McNally and Gauff, from Delray Beach, Florida, just won their first senior-level doubles title at last month’s Open tune-up event in Washington. And likely are scheming to take over the world.

But the sport’s trends don’t favor a swift revolution.

Meanwhile, Djokovic said, “I’ll probably freeze my arm for 48 hours and see what happens.”

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