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Jolly Bad Day for Roddick

Loss at Indian Wells drops him to 1-3 against England's Henman, but he keeps sense of humor.

March 20, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

At least Andy Roddick walked away with his sense of humor intact, probably more so than the promoters of the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament, with whom he left a new category of event Friday.

Call it the Afterthought Semifinal.

Roddick, the star attraction on his side of the men's draw, lost his quarterfinal at Indian Wells to England's Tim Henman, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (1), 6-3, and in the process left the tournament with a Saturday afternoon of men's semifinals that will begin at noon with Andre Agassi vs. Roger Federer and follow with Henman vs. Irakli Labadze.

First-time attendees and other casual observers are advised to stay clear of the exits as the Agassi-Federer match winds down. Henman-Labadze doesn't quite have the same ring. In boxing, they call this the undercard.

James Blake, the U.S Davis Cup player from Harvard, missed a chance for his best big-tournament advance by losing to Labadze, a player from Georgia -- the former Soviet Republic, not the Bubba state. The scores were 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-1 in a match that started in bright daylight and carried on into the early evening.

And the reason it carried into the early evening was that Roddick and Henman battled away for 2 hours 32 minutes, producing, as it turns out, their usual type of match and their usual result.

Roddick is No. 3 in the world and Henman is No. 10. So there was reasonable expectation that Roddick -- bigger, stronger, younger -- would prevail and make it a Super Saturday with three of the top male tennis attractions in the world playing. Roddick even had one match point late in the second set, but Henman exploded a first-serve slider into his body and Roddick returned into the net.

Then, quicker than you can say Irakli Labadze three times, Henman had broken Roddick's serve for a 5-3 lead in the third set and had served out the match, looping a crosscourt forehand winner just inside the sideline on match point.

Until then, nobody seemed to have an edge. Henman had broken Roddick's serve in the first two sets to go up, 4-2, and had failed to consolidate either of those breaks. So that pushed them into the fifth and sixth tiebreakers of their four-match series -- only five of the 11 sets they have played against each other haven't been settled in a tiebreaker.

Roddick won the first tiebreaker, 8-6, serving and volleying on the set point almost as if he liked doing that.

"That's my quota for the year," he said afterward, laughing.

He didn't laugh at all during the second-set tiebreaker, which he lost, 7-1, and might have been lucky to get a point at all the way Henman played it.

The victory by Henman -- a solid, veteran player who might be even better if he didn't seem to suffer each year from two months of pre-Wimbledon pressure and two months of post-Wimbledon pressure -- was his third in four tries against Roddick. Henman would be the first to admit that that 3-1 is misleading.

"Two points one way or the other and he'd be 3-1," Henman said.

Roddick, still riding a bit of a wave that began with his U.S. Open victory last September, took the old Boris Becker post-defeat stance. Becker used to say, "Remember, nobody died."

Roddick took a similar stance with quick wit and sarcasm.

Asked why he and Henman seem to play so many tiebreakers, Roddick deadpanned, "Because we each get to 6."

And asked if his loss here meant that he really needed to bring it up a notch next week in the Tennis Masters Series event in Miami, he said, "Ooh, I love the crisis now. That must mean I'm getting good."

The jury remains out on whether Labadze is getting good or some stars were just out of alignment above the tennis scene this week. Nobody, including Labadze, had any idea how he got to the semifinals of this event.

"I don't know how to believe this," he said. "I'm afraid I'm going to wake up and it will be the first round again."

He was asked how he felt in the immediate moments after he beat Blake.

"I didn't feel anything," he said. "I couldn't believe anything. I kept looking at the scoreboard to make sure that really was match point. I tried to talk, but nothing came out."

Asked if he were scouting Henman on TV before he went out to play his match, he said, "I was watching him play, but just because it was turned on in the locker room."

He has beaten Blake all three times they have played.

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