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Roddick Leads U.S. Blitz into Quarterfinals

He defeats Grosjean in three sets and joins Ginepri, Vahaly, Spadea and Blake as one of five American men to advance at Indian Wells.

March 14, 2003|Lisa Dillman and Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writers

On one of the best days for American men's tennis in years, Andy Roddick kept his big-boom era going with an electric 7-6 (5), 2-6, 7-6 (1) victory late Thursday night in the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells.

Roddick's thriller over French veteran Sebastien Grosjean achieved the following, in order of importance:

* His booming serve, often jumping into the 130s and even 140s, killed no linesmen while it kept a very good Grosjean ducking and dodging like a guy picking up golf balls on a driving range.

* He had the largest crowd of the tournament to date cheering and on its feet frequently;

* And his late night dramatics, dominating a third-set tiebreaker that began exactly at 11 p.m., put five American men in the quarterfinals of the sixth-most prestigious tennis event in the world.

The last time there were four or more Americans in the quarterfinals of a Tennis Masters Series event was 1996 in Miami.

And those other Americans to advance Thursday? Introducing the daydream believers ...

If someone had approached Robby Ginepri as recently as a few weeks ago and told him he would beat seventh-seeded Marat Safin of Russia and lose only one game, well, let's let him handle that scenario.

"Yeah, right," Ginepri said. "I wouldn't really believe them."

And how about Brian Vahaly showing up at Indian Wells with a sub-.500 record, virtually sneaking in the back door of qualifying.

"It's hard not to find this week comical to me," Vahaly said.

The last laugh came from Vahaly, who shook his head and chuckled after his 6-2, 7-5 victory over Tommy Robredo of Spain.

Ginepri took out the flu-weakened Safin, 6-0, 6-1, to join his fellow qualifier in the quarterfinals. Safin declared that he had to play "until the end, no matter what ... lose like a man."

A resurgent Vince Spadea made it three qualifiers a few hours later, beating Olivier Rochus of Belgium, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, continuing the Americans-in-the-quarterfinals theme. James Blake joined the three American qualifiers in the quarterfinals, recording his first victory against No. 5 Carlos Moya of Spain in four matches, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

And now for an update of the non-Americans still around.

Yes, there were still some.

Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt of Australia survived his second three-setter in three matches, beating Guillermo Coria of Argentina, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-3, in an entertaining contest lasting 2 hours 35 minutes. Hewitt had nine aces and 40 winners, but, as yet, there is no statistic kept for shouting, "Come-on!"

Also advancing was Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil, who defeated Agustin Calleri of Argentina, 6-4, 7-6 (5). Reaching the quarterfinals is Kuerten's best result at Indian Wells since making the semifinals here in 1999.

Australian Open finalist and No. 15 Rainer Schuettler of Germany, who has yet to drop a set, defeated Max Mirnyi of Belarus, 6-3, 6-4.

Vahaly was as entertaining in the interview room as he was successful on the court, talking about when he was ranked No. 1,500 in the world, and when playing for $80 made him "nervous, choke, lose matches."

"My friends out on tour, my doubles partner from college, used to compare money with Wendy's Frosties," he said. "If we get this, we can buy 20 Frosties. It's completely embarrassing, but that's where you are."

Finally, financial comfort came after he was sponsored by a car dealer from Waco, Texas. Vahaly was the dealer's first tennis project.

"He's funded a bass fisherman," said Vahaly, a University of Virginia grad.

The guy could probably help Vahaly with a car search, since the 23-year-old lives at home and doesn't own a car.

Vahaly was asked if he might buy one if he won.

"Oh, heck, yeah," he said. "I'll buy two. I'll buy you one.

"I don't know. I majored in finance. All my professors e-mailed me, lecturing me last night about saving money. Ultimately, I'm sure I'll be as conservative and boring as I always am."

For him, Indian Wells is becoming Groundhog Day. Thursday felt a lot like Wednesday. Only on Wednesday, his big win was against No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.

"It happened so quickly. I hadn't even gotten over yesterday's match," said Vahaly, who plays Spadea today. "I had written numerous e-mails, returned around 40-45 phone calls, and all of a sudden, this happens again and here I am in the same spot I was 24 hours ago. It's like the best day keeps happening over and over."

*

Today's Men's Quarterfinals

On Stadium Court at the Pacific Life Open, Indian Wells Tennis Garden:

10 a.m.: Brian Vahaly vs. Vince Spadea.

1:30 p.m.: No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, Australia, vs. Robby Ginepri.

Followed by: No. 6 Andy Roddick vs. No. 15 Rainer Schuettler, Germany.

6:30 p.m.: James Blake vs. Gustavo Kuerten, Brazil.

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