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A Mixed Day for Americans

Williams wins, Roddick and Shaughnessy survive, but Blake falls on stifling, smoky day at Australian Open. Hewitt also ousted.

January 20, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian Open turned into some packed, clammy, smoke-filled bar with no air conditioning. Smoke flying through the air, smoke on the water, you get the picture.

In other words, it was much like the air quality in Los Angeles on a really bad day. The smoke drifted over from brush fires not far away, fogging the air. That, and the 95-degree heat and high humidity, forced the suspension of some matches today when the extreme heat policy was implemented.

Though the theme of the day was hot, hot heat, things were not that bad, according to top-seeded Serena Williams, who played in the worst patch of the day.

"It was hot, but it could be worse," said Williams, who defeated Eleni Daniiliou of Greece, 6-4, 6-1, in 67 minutes in the fourth round.

"I live in Florida where you walk out, you lose 20 pounds because of the humidity and heat. It's very foggy. I looked out my window this morning, I didn't realize it was smoke. I think it was a bit strange. It was actually a stronger smell at my hotel than at the site."

It eased eventually and matches on the outside courts resumed. Weather has a way of changing within minutes around here, and the same could be said for American tennis fortunes, turning from bad to decent to good within an hour.

German Rainer Schuettler dispatched James Blake, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, in the fourth round and for 2 1/2 sets it looked as though Blake's Davis Cup teammate, 20-year-old Andy Roddick, might be close behind. Russian Mikhail Youzhny took the first two sets and was up a service break in the third before the momentum shifted.

The ninth-seeded Roddick staged one of the most impressive comebacks of his short career, defeating the 20-year-old Russian Davis Cup hero, 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2, in 3 hours 14 minutes. It was the first time he has reached the quarterfinals in this event. Previously, the only other Slam where he reached the final eight was the U.S. Open, which he has done twice.

"It was exhilarating to play," he said. "It was fun. Midway through the third, I was thinking if there was a flight out tonight or tomorrow. I was a little frustrated but I didn't let it get the best of me. Even when I was down, I felt I still had a chance."

Roddick said he was not bothered by the difficult conditions: "It's not as bad as South Florida. I grew up in places like Texas and Florida where it's pretty toasty."

Roddick was asked if he could have pulled off this kind of rally as recently as a year ago. "I doubt it, I don't think so," he said. "Between the ears I might have gotten too frustrated and it might have overwhelmed me."

At the 2001 U.S. Open, he played in a marathon marquee match against eventual winner Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, losing in the fifth set, which featured a controversial overrule in the last game.

Another highly anticipated quarterfinal against Hewitt won't happen here. Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco upset the top-seeded Hewitt, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4 in 3 hours 30 minutes.

El Aynaoui never lost his serve in the fourth-round match, hitting 33 aces and double faulting five times. The decisive break came in the seventh game of the fourth set when Hewitt double-faulted on break point.

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Roddick had 22 aces and double faulted only twice. He finished emphatically, holding at love, hitting two aces in the final game and moving on when Youzhny hit a forehand return long.

The fifth-set drama lasted only three games as Roddick broke serve in the third. It was clear Youzhny was in for a terrific fight when he was forced to save three break points in the opening game of the fifth. Roddick seemed destined to break though, and he took the lead in the third game.

Though Youzhny fought off yet another break point in that game, saving it with a volley, Roddick achieved the decisive break on his next break point when Youzhny hit a forehand wide.

It was only the first time Roddick has defeated the Russian in three matches. Youzhny, though young and ranked lower than Roddick, is no slouch.

He became a national hero in Russian when he defeated Paul-Henri Mathieu in the deciding match of Russia's 3-2 victory over France in the Davis Cup final last year.

Roddick's win provided a big boost on what had been a disappointing day for the American men. Blake had early service breaks in the first three sets against Schuettler but let the leads get away in two of the first three.

"This one hurt quite a bit, but when I talked to my coach, and we've talked about it quite a few times, the more it hurts I guess that means the better I'm doing," Blake said. "Doesn't hurt as bad to lose in the first round of a challenger when not too many people care.

"When you're playing for something that's important, a spot in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, it hurts quite a bit."

Blake said he felt the smoke in the first couple of games but got used to it once he got into the match.

"I didn't notice it," Blake said. "Maybe he [Schuettler] was a little more used to it from Germany. When I was over there, I noticed a few too many people smoking everywhere I went."

There was one other American-Russian fourth-round match, on the women's side. Meghann Shaughnessy defeated Elena Bovina of Russia, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, in 2 hours 19 minutes, and reached the final eight of a Grand Slam for the first time. The victory validated all of her hard training in the off-season.

"It's hard to single out one thing," Shaughnessy said. "I've been working really hard, had a great off-season and trained really hard and smart. Things are coming together. I'm maturing physically and mentally and starting to feel very confident about the way I play."

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