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Roddick an All-American Ace in Hole

Down match point, he hits service winner and then rallies to beat Nalbandian, giving the U.S. Open (and CBS) a U.S. finalist after Agassi's loss to Ferrero.

September 07, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Take a deep breath and consider what was facing CBS and the U.S. Tennis Assn.: They were one point away from a final between Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain and David Nalbandian of Argentina at the U.S. Open.

So after paying his debt of public service Saturday -- by hitting a 138-mph service winner on Nalbandian's match point in the third set -- 21-year-old Andy Roddick will try to perform his next magic act, winning his first Grand Slam singles title today.

Instead of the aging legend of American tennis, Andre Agassi, against the star in the on-deck circle, Roddick, it was nearly the new No. 1, Ferrero, vs. Nalbandian, a preview for the Davis Cup semifinal later this month between Spain and Argentina, but that's about it.

Even the fans were concerned about the potential impact of a Ferrero-Nalbandian final.

"I'm worried about tennis. I'm not worried about CBS," said Roddick.

He and the tiny band of Argentine fans high in the upper reaches of Arthur Ashe Stadium may have been among the only ones.

Roddick, who has an 18-match winning streak, has been so adept at coming back from match point down -- five times in 2003 -- his heroics are becoming fascinating. He saved the match point in the third-set tiebreaker and lost only four more games, defeating No. 13 Nalbandian, 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 6-3, in 3 hours 31 minutes. He served 38 aces and seven double faults.

His victory followed Agassi's subdued exit. The third-seeded Ferrero defeated No. 1 Agassi, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, in 2 hours 36 minutes. Not only did Ferrero take Agassi out of the Open, he also snatched away his No. 1 ranking. The 23-year-old Ferrero is the second Spaniard since the rankings started in 1973 to hold the No. 1 ATP entry-system ranking, joining Carlos Moya.

"I couldn't play this kind of tennis in 2000, 2001 and 2002. I couldn't play so well here," said Ferrero. "To be at No. 1, it's a special day for me."

Ferrero was the showman, chasing down an Agassi topspin lob and hitting a shot between his legs, and finishing off the point with a passing shot.

With his window of opportunity appearing to be closing, the 33-year-old Agassi was not about to make any snap decisions about his future as a player. He didn't lament the loss of No. 1; rather, he spoke about his slow start and inability to win many free points off his serve.

"I don't make any decisions from an emotional standpoint," he said. "I put myself in position to give myself a look at the basket. I guess there's some positives there.

"I've just got to go back to work. Something would have to drastically change for me not to be back."

So much for the convenient story line of torch-passing from Agassi to Roddick.

If it hadn't been for Nalbandian tightening up in the third-set tiebreaker, squandering a 4-2 lead, and dropping the final three sets, there would not have been an American in either singles final at the Open for the first time since 1988.

"To come through that gave me a little bit of new life," Roddick said. "I think at that point I was almost down and out anyway, so I really didn't have much pressure on me.... Digging deep hasn't been my problem before. If this would have happened a year ago, I probably would have freaked out if I was down, gotten upset."

He did have one comical exchange with chair umpire Andreas Egli, inserting a request for water in the middle of it. Roddick also snapped at Nalbandian, who appeared to be irritated when it took time for the trainer to treat Roddick's blisters on a changeover.

Nalbandian lost his cool when a fan yelled out during a point in the third-set tiebreaker, at 7-7, and he netted a forehand. Earlier he had the match point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker. But Roddick was serving and erased it with the huge service winner. There were a couple of particularly late calls in the fifth set, both of them going against the Argentine. But there is no video replay rule in tennis.

Nalbandian noted the obvious, saying: "Every time when it's close, everything is for them."

*

TODAY'S FINAL

What: U.S. Open men's singles championship

Who: Andy Roddick (4) vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain

TV: Channel 2, 1 p.m.

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