Saturday, March 15Roddick rolls past Malisse
By Greg GarberESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Two things we know about this sorry, sodden 2003 U.S. Open:
|Andy Roddick served his way to a straight sets win.|
1) Germany's Rainer Schuettler is the only appropriate choice for men's champion, and 2) the winner will forever be known as the, uh, raining champion.
On a serious note, Andy Roddick is looking more and more like someone ready to win his first Grand Slam title.
Early Wednesday evening, toward the end of a third consecutive day of rain, the USTA cleared the decks. They sent everyone home except four players: Roddick and Xavier Malisse and the two other players in their section of the draw, Rainer Schuettler and Sjeng Schalken.
Only a few hardcore fans watched Schuettler and Schalken battle in Louis Armstrong Stadium, while Roddick and Malisse went at it before a larger but still-modest crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
When it was all over 22 minutes past midnight there were only a few rowdy diehards and one player left standing. That would be Roddick, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
It was only the fourth match completed in three days. All of them have been on Arthur Ashe -- and three of them involved highly seeded Americans (Roddick, Andre Agassi and Jennifer Capriati).
The other match Wednesday night never got past the first set. Schalken led Schuettler 5-1 and it was 15-all with Schuettler serving the seventh game when rain sent them into the locker room. They returned an hour later, but the court was never dried to their satisfaction and after an awkward 30 minutes of waiting, finally departed for good.
"It was tough conditions -- the balls were huge, like watermelons -- it was tough to get them to go anywhere," Roddick said afterward. "He started playing better ... I kind of lost concentration, started flying a few forehands."
And now, like Agassi, he gets a day off while the other six men's round-of-16 matches struggle toward completion.
"It's good," Roddick conceded, "But I'm ready to get into the second week. I want to get this thing going."
Roddick, who just turned 21, is only the No. 4 seed here behind, in order, Agassi, Roger Federer and Juan Carlos Ferrero, but he is the favorite in many minds. He sprinted into the round of 16, winning nine of 10 sets and looked good doing it. Now, he's a tidy 12-for-13.
Going into the match, anything was possible.
Malisse, a 23-year-old Belgian, is a curious customer. In the locker room he has been known as X-Man, now -- possibly concerned about movie trademark infringements -- it has been shortened to X. He is gifted but erratic. Riding a hot serve and a big forehand, Malisse reached the semifinals last year at Wimbledon before he lost to David Nalbandian. And yet, he is ranked No. 67 among ATP players.
In 19 tournaments this year, Malisse -- whose most impressive tennis achievement might have been dating Jennifer Capriati -- has lost his first match nine times. Some of his oppressors have been less than Hall-of-Fame quality: Cecil Mamiit, Hyung-Taik Lee and Cyril Saulnier.
One of those first-match exits came courtesy of Roddick, early last month in Montreal. Roddick won 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 in the first round. Two weeks earlier, Roddick took out Malisse 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals at Indianapolis. In six fruitless matches against Roddick, Malisse has managed to win only two sets.
Roddick, considering he is the youngest competitor left in the men's field, came out surprisingly focused. He broke Malisse in the fourth game and ran away with the first set. He nearly had a break in the first game of the second set, but Malisse dodged two break points and it was 2-all when rain returned.
After more than an hour of waiting, the two players returned to the court. Roddick broke Malisse in the seventh game before another brief delay. Roddick captured the second set with ease, riding his big serve. Along the way, he displayed an evolving net game that featured several heart-stopping volleys.
Roddick had a break point with Malisse serving at 3-4, but an errant forehand at 30-40 and a too-forceful backhand preceded a winning volley by Malisse. During the changeover, Malisse called for the ATP trainer to tend to the blisters on his right foot.
The five-minute timeout seemed to help Malisse. With Roddick serving at 3-4, Malisse pushed him to the brink with three break points, but Roddick escaped each time to get back on serve.
Then, with Roddick serving at 4-5, Malisse held two set points. Roddick took back the first with a well-constructed point that ended with a backhand volley winner. He saved the second when Malisse returned a second serve into the net. A long forehand allowed Roddick to level the set and, eventually, a tiebreaker.
Roddick trailed 3-5, but Malisse dumped a backhand into the net and Roddick served his way to a 6-5 lead. Malisse, serving, looked to be in good position to tie it at seven, but couldn't handle Roddick's laser from behind the baseline and bunted a backhand volley into the net.
Game, set, match -- and rest -- to Roddick.
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.