NEW YORK — Wispy Maria Sharapova was one strong gust away from getting knocked over, though not out, at the U.S. Open.
"I'm really glad I had a piece of chocolate cake last night," she joked, "otherwise I would have been blown away. It made me heavier."
Nearly as thin as her racket, the top-seeded Sharapova had more trouble with gales up to 36 mph playing tricks with the balls than she did with any of the shots by Dally Randriantefy in a 6-1, 6-0 rout Wednesday that took all of 49 minutes.
"The first few games I was serving 69 miles per hour," Sharapova said. "It's pretty funny. I think it's even funnier from TV because they can't see the wind. These people probably think we look like beginners. That's the sad part."
A trailing front from remnants of Hurricane Katrina blew through the Open, the sun played peekaboo all day, dark clouds came and went after morning rain, and the lingering heat and humidity continued to test the mettle of players.
Paper and plastic scudded across the courts, umpires' microphones rumbled with the sound of the wind, and the jets that are often diverted away from the National Tennis Center roared constantly overhead to and from nearby LaGuardia Airport. Lobs that looked as if they were perfect sometimes sailed long, sometimes flew back toward the net. It was a day for double-faults, a day for muttered curses.
Not surprisingly, the top players handled the shifting conditions better. A day after former champion Andy Roddick fell in the first round, there were no major upsets.
No. 4 Kim Clijsters, bidding for her first major title, won again in straight sets, as did two-time former champion, No. 8 Serena Williams and No. 10 seed Venus Williams. In men's matches, former champ and No. 3 seed Lleyton Hewitt won in straight sets, and No. 15 Dominik Hrbaty, No. 17 David Ferrer and No. 25 Taylor Dent all advanced.
"It was deathly windy," Williams said, exaggerating a bit after beating Russian Maria Kirilenko 6-1, 6-3. "It didn't choose a direction. It was just swirling at random. I tried to add more spin, take some off the serve, try to get the first serve in. Not go for too much, but still play the right shots, try to move forward and be aggressive.
"It's easy to fumble and easy to self-destruct in those kind of conditions."
Williams is one win away from playing her sister Serena, a 6-2, 6-2 victor over Catalina Castano of Colombia in the night session. The sisters are accustomed to meeting in the finals of Grand Slam events. This time it would be in the fourth round.
"I think that's definitely going to be the most exciting," Serena said "One of us will be going to the quarters."
Decked out in $40,000 diamond earrings and a diamond necklace, Serena said she would be donating $100 for each ace the rest of the year to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In this match, that amounted to only $200.
"If I don't start doing it (more) with the aces, I'm going to have to start doing it with the double-faults," she said.
Sharapova, 18, kidded about gaining weight from a piece of cake but she was serious when asked if she can feel herself growing taller.
"Yeah, I actually do," she said.
She started the year listed as a 6-footer in the WTA Tour guide, had that changed later to 6-1 in her bio on the tour's Web site, and recently owned up to being 6-1 1/2. Vanity is keeping her from changing that to what might be closer to the truth — 6-2 or 6-3.
"No, I'm not going to admit it, even if I am," she said.
She's been listed at 130 pounds all year and said she wouldn't mind adding to that a bit.
"Definitely not fat or cellulite," she said. "I'd prefer muscle."
Clijsters, built lower to the ground and a little more solidly at 5-8 1/2, 150, ran her record for the year to 51-6 as she seeks her seventh title of the season and first Grand Slam championship. She missed the Open last year after wrist surgery.
"Even when I was injured last year, when I started playing again, you get motivated," she said. "It motivates you to work hard because you know that those girls, they're working every day hard to get back, to be strong.
"I knew I had to put in twice the effort if I wanted to come back. It's not just one player. It's the whole group that keeps you motivated and hungry to play tennis."