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Federer Has Early Checkout

Wimbledon champion shows little fight in fourth-round loss to Nalbandian, whom he has never beaten. Hewitt is among winners.

September 05, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Roger Federer was over before he was really out.

He didn't go down with a massive fight in the final game of his fourth-round loss to David Nalbandian of Argentina at the U.S. Open on Thursday. After he netted a forehand volley on the first point, he looked as though he had packed his mental bags.

Federer did not look like the reigning Wimbledon champion; he had the hue of someone who was about to lose to his opponent for the fifth consecutive time. He was broken at love and in that final game, didn't even make a move to chase down a Nalbandian drop shot. (In fairness, it was a cleverly executed weapon.)

And so, what was theoretically the biggest upset in the men's tournament -- the 13th-seeded Nalbandian defeated No. 2 Federer of Switzerland, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3, in 2 hours 50 minutes -- in a sense was not an upset at all. Federer has never gone past the fourth round in New York, and has never beaten Nalbandian.

"I've had disappointing losses in my career, so this doesn't change if I have one more or one less," said Federer, who had fought back from an 0-5 second-set deficit to force the tiebreaker before losing it.

He was equally dismissive of his 62 unforced errors. "You know, the stats I don't care," Federer said.

Clearly, the presence of Nalbandian greatly unnerves Federer on the court. "Maybe he dreams a little bit," Nalbandian said.

The dream has become something of a nightmare for Federer, who has lost to Nalbandian three times this year and in all five of their meetings as professionals.

But perhaps the bigger upset was the tournament's rare victory over inclement weather, the rains and drizzle plaguing this event the last few days. Officials played a hurried game of catch-up, scrambling to get matches going once the weather cleared late in the afternoon after a fitful day of start-stop tennis.

This all unfolded without the use of the third show court, the Grandstand, which was deemed unplayable because of water on it.

"I warmed up this morning, there was water coming out," said Lleyton Hewitt of Australia. "It was like playing on ice.... Anyone would risk injury out there on that."

After the mist cleared, the quarterfinals were set: Top-seeded Andre Agassi vs. No. 5 Guillermo Coria of Argentina, No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain vs. No. 6 Hewitt, No. 12 Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands vs. No. 4 Andy Roddick, and Nalbandian vs. Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco.

The only two who'd already reached the quarterfinals before Thursday and didn't have to bother with the mad dash were the two Americans, Agassi and Roddick. Ferrero eliminated the other American in the draw, Todd Martin. It was a typical U.S. Open match for Martin -- a five-setter in which he served lots of aces (23). Ferrero withstood the Martin comeback, winning, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, in 3 hours 24 minutes.

One thing Martin did not do was announce his retirement. The 2003 Open already has had two farewells, for Pete Sampras on opening night and for Michael Chang on Thursday night.

"I think enough retirement ceremonies have occurred this fortnight, so you're not going to get anything like that out of me tonight," Martin said.

In the other fourth-round matches, No. 5 Coria defeated Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden, 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2; El Aynaoui beat No. 7 Carlos Moya of Spain, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-4; Hewitt defeated No. 11 Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, and Schalken beat No. 8 Rainer Schuettler of Germany, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

*

Taylor Dent of Huntington Beach was criticized by TV commentators for pulling out of his fourth-round match against Agassi after the third set because of an injured hamstring. As it turned out, Dent and his coach, Brad Stine, had the right instinct. Tests revealed Dent has a slight tear in the hamstring, a tour trainer said.

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