Venus Williams brought the glitter. Rafael Nadal brought the grit.
On a Friday night that felt like bonus tennis at the U.S. Open, Williams and Nadal performed like players on a mission — maybe trying to outhustle a hurricane that never showed, or maybe, in Williams' case, trying to finish in time to catch the end of cocktail hour.
Wearing a black sequined dress she designed as a tribute to New York, the third-seeded Williams outclassed qualifier Mandy Minella of Luxembourg 6-2, 6-1.
Also dressed in black from head to toe, the top-seeded Nadal handled the hustle and shotmaking of Denis Istomin with a 6-2, 7-6 (5), 7-5 victory highlighted by Rafa's rally from 5-1 down in the second-set tiebreaker.
Then off into the night they went — closing out the schedule on a day that was billed as a washout in the making but finished without a hitch, save a 25-minute rain delay in the afternoon that resulted from the small, and only, band from Hurricane Earl to sneak into the city.
A fortunate turn in the weather for Nadal, who caught the unfortunate end of the tournament's backloaded schedule. This was only his second-round match, and to win his first U.S. Open title, he'll now have to win six times in 10 days. A rainout Friday would have eliminated one of those days of rest.
"That's the U.S. Open and they do what they think is better, I think, for everybody," Nadal said. "I accept the rules. If I have to play second round on Friday, I play second round on Friday. No discussion of that."
Nadal had to dig deep at the end of the second set, after Istomin skidded — and left a 10-foot-mark — then did the splits to get to a drop shot and hit a cross-court backhand winner that will go down as one of the best shots of the tournament. With the crowd going crazy, Nadal also clapped to show his respect ... then went about winning the next six points to take the set.
"He played a great point," Nadal said. "I think I stayed very well mentally in that moment. I was playing with big calm and big concentration."
Between sets, Istomin needed a break to get his thigh worked on by the trainer. Nadal waited patiently, then went out saved five break points in the third set to close out the match. He won all seven break points he faced on a night when his serve topped out at 134 mph.
"For the moment, it's working really well," Nadal said.
For Williams, there was no such drama — only a methodical victory that spoke to the fact that she's rounding into shape despite coming into the U.S. Open without much training time, on the mend from a sprained left kneecap.
"It's something you think about," Williams said. "But my whole thing was to try to bank on my experience, which so far is working."
With her injured sister, Serena, looking on from the stands — about the only thing in doubt during this match was who had the better dress. Serena's was red and Venus' was black with silver sequins — a creation of her own design.
"It's about a celebration of me playing my best, obviously at home, and kind of doing what I love and being able to wear something fun while I do it," she said.
Earlier, the day's best match involved 18-year-old American Ryan Harrison, who couldn't convert on any of his three match points in a fifth-set tiebreaker and lost 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) to Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine.
The young man, ranked 220 in the world, kept his perspective.
"I'm trying to hopefully get to the top 10, so I feel like one match doesn't make or break that," Harrison said. "It's the experience of playing these type of matches that is really going to help me to get there."
Two of the top Americans left in the draw won. No. 18 John Isner defeated Marco Chiudinelli and No. 20 Sam Querrey beat Marcel Granollers, then complained that none of the four U.S. men who've moved on to the third round have appeared on the show court in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"Hopefully, we can have four in the round of 16," Querrey said. "I think we've got a great shot to do that. Hopefully they'll put some of us on center court. Not a huge fan of the scheduling this week."
James Blake goes first, set to play No. 3 Novak Djokovic in Ashe Stadium on Saturday.
Winners in Ashe on Friday included No. 4 Andy Murray, 12th-seeded woman Elena Dementieva and No. 2 Kim Clijsters, whose next match is against Ana Ivanovic.
Ivanovic, the world No. 1 after winning the French Open in 2008, fell as low as No. 65 after nearly two years of injuries and inconsistent play. Now, she's at No. 40 with a chance to move up more if she beats friend Clijsters, the defending champion.
"When I was struggling, she was messaging me. She was very supportive," Ivanovic said. "That's really rare and really nice to see. In those times, you know who your friends are."