Thursday, March 5Roddick wins first Slam title
By Greg GarberESPN.com
NEW YORK -- When it finally happened on a balmy Sunday evening, when Andy Roddick won his first Grand Slam title that everybody had seen coming except, perhaps, himself, he bent over and sobbed into his hands.
|'I still don't believe I've won,' Andy Roddick said.|
He was down two sets and a match point in the semifinals, and he found a way -- the fifth time this year he has faced match points and come back to win. In the final, with the French Open champion spoiling to get back into the match, he trailed Juan Carlos Ferrero 2-1 in a second-set tiebreaker. He responded by winning the last six points.
Roddick bludgeoned a weary Ferrero in the U.S. Open final 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3. One year after the final triumph of Pete Sampras here at the National Tennis Center, American tennis has another ascendant young champion.
"I still don't believe that I've won the U.S. Open," Roddick said later. "It's so farfetched for me. I've watched so many, like, Grand Slam finals when people win and their reaction. There was just a million thoughts going through my head.
"But I'm baffled by how calm I felt out there, how easy. I almost didn't feel anything. I was just kind of going through the motions."
Oh, to be nerveless and 21.
Technically, Ferrero will be No. 1 in the world when the ATP rankings become official on Monday, but no one -- not even women's champion Justine Henin-Hardenne -- is playing at a higher level than Roddick right now.
The new world No. 2 reached three Grand Slam semifinals this year, something no other man on tour can say. He has now won 19 straight matches. His collaboration with new coach Brad Gilbert has produced a gaudy record of 37-2. And Gilbert's star has risen to the extent that he commanded his own press conference following Roddick's.
"The guy's got unbelievable talent," Gilbert said. "It's not like my job's a layup, but it was a great opportunity."
The Roddick serve -- the most dangerous weapon in tennis -- was the difference. He issued 23 aces, hardly surprising considering return of serve might be the only weakness in Ferrero's game. Standing as far as 10 feet behind the baseline, Ferrero, who had never played Roddick before, couldn't seem get a fix on it. A number of times, Roddick took advantage of that depth, followed his first serve to net and won with a volley. Over one stretch in the first and second sets, Roddick won 23 consecutive points on his serve, an astonishing number against a Grand Slam champion.
Ferrero was asked if he had ever stood so far behind the baseline. He paused, giving the question some thought.
"No," he said, sounding almost surprised.
Ferrero failed to break his serve even once -- he only had a scant three opportunities -- and Roddick wound up winning 114 of 119 service games in his fortnight in Flushing Meadows. In the end, Roddick's power was too much for the usually technically stylish Ferrero.
"Was not surprise from me," Ferrero said. "If he serves so good, it's not easy to beat him.
"I think I played a bad match. I didn't hit the ball aggressively like yesterday. Maybe because he served so hard all the time and I didn't feel a rhythm in the court."
Ferrero's journey to the final was far more difficult than Roddick's. While Roddick's toughest opponents were Sjeng Schalken and David Nalbandian, seeded No. 12 and No. 13, respectively, Ferrero had to eliminate former U.S. Open champions Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, the No. 1 and No. 6 seeds. Moreover, because Roddick finished his round-of-16 match a day earlier, Ferrero played 12 sets for a total running time of 8 hours and 9 minutes in the three previous days. Roddick played only eight sets and 4 hours and 55 minutes. So while Roddick was racing through his service games, Ferrero had to work much, much harder, which could only add to the pain in his already loggy legs.
From the beginning, Ferrero played in an ill humor. He was fatigued and determined to fight what he believed were pro-American line calls in both semifinal matches. Roddick, meanwhile, was swinging free and easy.
Nalbandian had only broken Roddick's serve once in a five-set match, but in the third game, Ferrero actually found himself with a break point. A clean backhand winner down the line, a 135-mile-an-hour serve and a classic serve-and-volley gave Roddick the game.
He broke Ferrero in the next game with a ludicrous forehand down the line, and he made it stand up in taking the first set.
||To come from two sets down, match point (against Nalbandian). If he's the athlete, the competitor and has the heart that I think he has, that's what you live for, to be in position like that, to turn it around and come back. That's what the game's all about. ”
||— Jimmy Connors, on Andy Roddick
Ferrero settled down in the second set, still working to hold serve but not to the breaking point. In the tiebreaker, Ferrero actually dived across asphalt to execute a volley, only to lose the first point. Still, he scored a 2-1 lead before withering.
Roddick won six straight points, but four of them were forehand errors by Ferrero -- in order, a mis-hit, two long, and one in the net. Roddick closed it out with a whistling forehand cross-court winner.
Ferrero had one run left, however. He earned his second and third break points of the match in the seventh game of the third set. Roddick screamed a 137-mile-an-hour unreturnable serve, then unleashed another that Ferrero framed skyward.
Serving at 3-4, Ferrero threw in his first double-fault of the match and it was effectively over.
Before the match, five-time U.S. Open champion Jimmy Connors offered this assessment of Roddick:
"He's been out on the Tour for a number of years. His experience, certainly, has entered into it. Three years worth of experience is huge at a young age. His abilities and his knowledge for playing big points now, it seems to me to be a lot different. He's not as overanxious at times. He's able to stay in there, to work the point a little bit more.
"To come from two sets down, match point (against Nalbandian). If he's the athlete, the competitor and has the heart that I think he has, that's what you live for, to be in position like that, to turn it around and come back. That's what the game's all about."
Men's tennis, thought to be losing its marquee power with the retirement of Pete Sampras and the aging of Andre Agassi, has been well served by in an infusion of youth. In June, Ferrero won his first Grand Slam title at the French Open. In July, it was Roger Federer breaking through at Wimbledon. And now Roddick, on his best surface.
Their age -- Ferrero is 23, Federer 22 and Roddick 21 -- suggests the prospects for a spirited rivalry are good. There have been eight different winners of the last eight men's Grand Slams. That streak seems certain to end next year.
"Yeah, I don't see eight different winners winning the next eight Slams, for sure," Roddick said. "It's certainly shaping up to be a really good group, with Roger winning and Juan Carlos winning, now him becoming No. 1.
"We're all kind of close. I'm pumped to be a part of it."
When Roddick sat down for his post-match interview, he exhaled long and loud.
"No more 'What's it feel like to be the future of American tennis?' crap!" he said. "No more."
How does it feel to be the present of American tennis?
Roddick beamed. "It feels good. That feels very good."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.