Friday, March 6Roddick reaches his third
Grand Slam semi this year
By Greg GarberESPN.com
NEW YORK -- The pressure, which has slowly and inexorably descended on Andy Roddick as the summer has waned, is becoming oppressive.
|Andy Roddick held serve at love in six of his 14 service games against Sjeng Schalken.|
With Pete Sampras planning his fall around the Los Angeles Lakers' schedule and Andre Agassi preparing for life with Steffi and the kids, Roddick is the next great hope for American men's tennis.
The USTA and, truth be told, the ATP have invested enormous time and energy in promoting Roddick, who turned 21 last week. It is not a wild stretch to say that their success in the coming decade is heavily tied to his.
But, oddly enough, as Roddick has made incremental step after step toward his first Grand Slam singles title, he has seemed oblivious to the weight (and wait) of expectation.
On Friday afternoon, the No. 4 seed blinded No. 12 Sjeng Schalken of The Netherlands 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in a quarterfinal match that was over 85 minutes after it started. In theory, the matches become more difficult as a player moves through the draw. Roddick, after an unsettling four-set match with Ivan Ljubicic in the second round, has cranked out three consecutive straight-sets victories.
"(It) may seem to you guys that I'm just on this unbelievable roll, but I'm still cautious," Roddick said at his post-match press conference. "I definitely don't feel invincible or anything like that -- far from it. I feel like I'm playing well. I feel confident. That's about the extent of it."
Roddick advanced to his third Grand Slam semifinal in four events, and he is the only one of the four participants who can say that.
He will now play No. 13 David Nalbandian, a 7-6 (2), 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 winner over No.22 Younes El Aynaoui. While El Aynaoui and Roddick staged that epic five-set match in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open -- won by Roddick 21-19 in that ultimate frame -- Nalbandian may pose more of an obstacle.
Like Roddick, Nalbandian is 21 years old. The Argentine actually beat Roddick to a Grand Slam final, only to lose at last year's Wimbledon to Lleyton Hewitt. Nalbandian also scored the upset of the tournament on Thursday, defeating No. 2-seeded Roger Federer. But considering he has beaten him in all five of their professional meetings, maybe it wasn't an upset.
Nalbandian took out Mark Philippoussis in the third round, meaning he personally escorted both Wimbledon finalists from the grounds here.
Roddick does not have the polished, more complete game of Nalbandian, who is a wizard of acute angles. His forehand is powerful, but his backhand is, at best, suspect. But as long as Roddick keeps holding serve, he'll be in every match.
Against Schalken, he actually lost a service game in the ninth game of the first set. It was the first time Roddick had been broken in 48 service games here at the Open. Of course, he got it right back in the next game and comfortably served out the set.
Roddick held serve at love in six of his 14 service games.
Schalken, a spidery 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, is a dangerous player. Many people don't remember, but he reached the semifinals here a year ago, losing to Sampras, the eventual champion. He was the 1994 U.S. Open boys junior champion, preceding Nalbandian by four years and Roddick by six.
Schalken just couldn't match strokes with Roddick and went fairly quietly.
"He's on a roll," Schalken said. "I think if he keeps on playing, he will stay on this level. So I would suggest (he should not) take too many holidays at the moment. Just keep on playing."
Roddick has now played an ATP Tour-high 73 matches this year, winning 60 of them. He won 12 matches in a span of 13 days when he took the Tennis Masters Series event in Montreal and Cincinnati. He has won 17 straight matches, another ATP best. After benefiting from an entire day off (Wednesday), he comes into his match with Nalbandian far fresher than the Argentine. He was off the court at 4:34 p.m. on Friday, while Nalbandian finally finished up at 7:27.
"I think every match is different," Nalbandian said. "I think I (will) not feel very tired for tomorrow. I think I gonna be ready."
With the Williams sisters sitting this Open out, there is probably only one thing that can salvage this rain-soaked event: An All-American Roddick-Agassi final. If they win their semifinals matches on Saturday, the hope becomes reality.
"I think the more times you're in a situation, the more comfortable you are with it," Roddick said. "Obviously, in Australia I wasn't feeling great. Wimbledon, I just got outplayed."
Has he visualized the moment when he hoists the silver trophy in front of a full house in Arthur Ashe Stadium?
"Of course you think about it," Roddick said. "You can't really not think about it.
"But at the same time, it's kind of like so close, but you're so far. I'm dealing with tomorrow first."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.