NEW YORK (AP) — Iga Swiatek remembers when she was hardly noticed, so she was excited to see a photo of herself on an advertisement in Times Square.
Once little known, it’s now bright lights, big city for the No. 1 women’s tennis player.
“Just trying to enjoy that because I remember times where it was pretty hard for anybody to see me or hear me,” Swiatek said. “Yeah, it just shows how much progress I have done on court, but also off court that I am in such a spot.”
Think how much bigger she’ll be in New York if she wins the U.S. Open.
The top seed took the first step Tuesday, beating Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-0 in a little more than an hour.
Swiatek knows it won’t be easy to regain the form that led her to 37 straight victories this year. But all it takes is seven to win another Grand Slam title.
Swiatek is just 5-4 since her winning streak that included a second French Open crown. But she looked sharp in rolling through the second set in front of red-dressed Polish fans inside Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“For sure in first set at the beginning, you know, I played a pretty solid game, but I needed to take it up to another level,” Swiatek said. “I did that at the end and in second set, so I’m pretty proud of that.”
Other straight-set winners early on the second day of the tournament were No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 8 Jessica Pegula and No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza. Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina lost 6-4, 6-4 to Clara Burel of France.
Venus Williams dropped the first set of her match to Alison Van Uytvanck on Tuesday, a night after younger sister Serena opened what could be the final tournament of her career with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Danka Kovinic.
The U.S. Tennis Association announced Tuesday that Williams would lead off the night session again Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium, this time against No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit.
Swiatek said she watched only two games of Williams’ victory Monday, with an early start ahead of her. She is trying to become the first player to win seven or more titles in a season since Serena did it in 2014.
Swiatek may be toughest to beat on the red clay of Roland Garros, but she’s already shown she can handle the hard courts, winning titles at Indian Wells and Miami earlier this year.
“She’s still No. 1 in the world and still going to compete really well and going to be tough to beat no matter what,” said Pegula, who lost to Swiatek in the French Open quarterfinals.
Rybakina won the next Grand Slam, but it didn’t do her any good in the rankings because no points were awarded at Wimbledon this year. The men’s and women’s tours took that step after the All England Club barred Russian and Belarussian players from competing because of the war in Ukraine.
Rybakina, who was born in Russia but represents Kazakhstan, said before this tournament she thought that was unfair, adding she didn’t even feel like a Wimbledon champion. The No. 25 seed wasn’t scheduled like one in Flushing Meadows, with her opening match played on an outer court.
No. 22 seed Karolina Pliskova, the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up, needed a third-set tiebreaker to edge Magda Linette, but No. 16 Jelena Ostapenko was ousted by China’s Zheng Qinwen.
Carlos Alcaraz moved into the second round when his opponent was forced to stop because of injury in the third set. The No. 3 seed led Sebastian Baez 7-5, 7-5, 2-0 when the Argentine player motioned he couldn’t continue because of leg pain or cramps.
Alcaraz’s U.S. Open ended last year in a similar manner. He reached the quarterfinals at 18, the youngest man to get that far in New York in the professional era, before stopping in the second set of his loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime because of an upper right leg injury.
No. 7 Cam Norrie and 17th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov won in straight sets on the men’s side, with No. 2 Rafael Nadal set to play Tuesday night.
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