The first-round women's doubles match on court 17 was just a few minutes old when Australian commentator Rennae Stubbs made - not for the first time - a bold declaration: ''The best doubles player by a mile on this court is Hingis, still.''
Martina Hingis was partnering Daniela Hantuchova against the top seeds and defending champions, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. The Swiss craftswoman whose inspiration to the underpowered had been acknowledged earlier in the day by another tennis artiste, world No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska, was back in a grand slam - in the Open, rather than old chooks' category - for the first time since 2007.
At almost 33, Hingis still has the same clever hands, touch, anticipation, timing and reflexes, the enduring and innate court sense. The lobs, angles, tactics. She is also most vulnerable, still, on serve - ending the match with consecutive double faults, then burying her head in a towel at courtside. So that, too, is as it was.
Having ended her latest competitive absence at WTA level in Carlsbad, California, a month ago, Hingis announced her doubles-only return for the US hardcourt season last month, and the two H's opened with a win against Germany's Julia Goerges and Croatian Darija Jurak. ''It was awesome,'' Hingis said afterwards. ''It took Daniela a lot of courage and inspiration to kind of dig me out of the grave.''
The pair entered the US Open with a 3-4 record and some chance of upsetting the accomplished Italian pair, only to lose 6-3, 7-5. Hingis returned to the court soon afterwards to partner Mahesh Bhupathi in a two-tiebreak mixed doubles loss against Robert Lindstedt and Yung-Jan Chan, Lindstedt describing Hingis as better able to control the spin on service returns than any woman he had seen.
''Some of the shots I feel like I haven't been away, but there's some things really the game has improved,'' said the the winner of five major singles titles and inhabitant of 209 weeks at No.1, who admits that winning is still what she plays for. ''I didn't have any problem with the speed of the game or anything. Errani is No.5 in the world, and I was still rallying with her and at the net I think I'm pretty good. The only thing that hurt me in the past was the serve. Today it's even more a key factor, especially in doubles.''
Hardcourt is not the easiest comeback surface, she acknowledged, having played eight straight weeks since Wimbledon, including Team Tennis in the US with the Washington Kastles and now five tour events. ''I enjoy it. I feel like I'm playing well. But my body is screaming, What are you doing to me?'' The answer came with the double-faults, apparently. ''My calf was killing me. I couldn't get up on my serve anymore. No, definitely the nerves, not playing at a grand slam for six years doesn't really, you know, help either.''
Hingis retired for the first time in 2003, aged 22, after a losing battle with injuries and the bigger, stronger hitters she could no longer outmanoeuvre. She returned in 2005 but quit again after being hit with a two-year ban for a positive test for a metabolite of cocaine after her third-round loss at Wimbledon in 2007.
''When you're 17 everything seems so easy, but now I'm almost twice the age,'' she said in Carlsbad. ''I wouldn't want to come out and play one or two matches and then lose third round, that's not my type of personality. I feel pretty good. We'll see how it goes this summer. Obviously I wouldn't put myself in this position if I didn't feel like I could compete at this level.''
On Friday's evidence, she clearly still can. But singles? No chance. ''God, give me a break,'' she protested. ''No, I haven't given any more thought to it. I have a hard time covering half the court and trying to be there. Full court is completely different ball-game.''