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A Swede Encounter Turns Sour for Roddick

U.S. Open defending champion loses to Johansson in five sets. Federer beats Agassi.

September 10, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — One floating backhand that dropped lazily beyond the baseline erased 34 blazing aces by Andy Roddick, and now there are no American men left playing at the United States Tennis Center this weekend.

First Andre Agassi went home, defiant in his belief he can beat the top players, but still a 34-year-old who couldn't unhinge the fierce determination and stellar serving of the best player in the world, Switzerland's Roger Federer.

Agassi lost his U.S. Open quarterfinal match that carried over from a rainy night to a windy afternoon, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. Agassi walked quickly off the Arthur Ashe Stadium court as if unwilling to say farewell.

Then Roddick, the defending champion and No. 2-seeded player who seemed out of the match for two sets and who seemed ready to overwhelm Joachim Johansson for the next two sets, suddenly crumbled in the matter of a minute in the final game of the fifth set, losing to the 28th-seeded Swede, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4.

For his reward, Johansson, who had never played in a five-set match or a Grand Slam quarterfinal, will play the brother of his girlfriend, Jaslyn Hewitt. Australian Lleyton Hewitt, winner of the 2001 Open, hasn't lost a set here and needed only 1 hour 38 minutes to eliminate unseeded Tommy Haas, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, and move to the semifinals.

Federer, 23, who is aiming to become the first man since Swede Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three out of the four major championships in a season, will take on 30-year-old Brit Tim Henman. Fifth-seeded Henman made it to his first Open semifinal with his 6-1, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 win over No. 22-seeded Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia.

This is the first time since 1986 -- when Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Miloslav Mecir and Boris Becker were the final four -- that no American man will play in the semifinals.

There was a point in his quarterfinal when Johansson, 22, yelled out in English, "C'mon," which is the trademark word of encouragement Hewitt gives himself.

But Johansson, at 6 feet 6, is seven inches taller than Hewitt and owner of a very different game. For two sets, Johansson kept Roddick off balance with a big serve and bigger forehand. While Roddick had the first break point in the first set, it was also Roddick who double faulted to give Johansson the only service break in that set, which included a rain delay of nearly an hour after only 19 minutes had been played.

And though it was Johansson who found himself down 0-40 in the second game of the second set, it was Roddick who gave up the only service break after being up 40-0 in the third game.

"Don't need to analyze further than break points had, break points converted," Roddick said. "I had a lot, didn't convert them. He had a couple, he converted."

Finally, Roddick righted himself. He didn't lose a point on his serve in the third set, jumped out to a 3-0 lead and cruised. Roddick allowed Johansson only two points on his serve in the fourth set and romped again.

"I got a very bad start in both the third and fourth sets. I think that held me off a little bit," Johansson said.

In the fifth set, Roddick was on the verge of earning the crucial first service break twice. In the third game, Johansson saved a break point with a sneaky crosscourt forehand winner, and then finished the game with a monster serve and forehand winner and an ace. And in the ninth game, Roddick, who had given up nothing to Johansson on his own serve, gained another break point, which he lost when he over-hit an easy forehand.

Then in a blur, Johansson hit a forehand return winner, then Roddick pushed a forehand into the net and served a double fault, only his fifth of the match. Roddick saved one match point with a 137-mph service winner and the second with a clean forehand winner.

But on the third, after Johansson had gotten away with a mishit forehand that barely landed inside the baseline, Roddick knocked the backhand long.

"It was just one game," Roddick said, who scored 152 points to 124 for Johansson. "I was in every service game of his in the fifth, he got into one service game of mine, he converted. I was in a lot of games, feeling comfortable, then all it takes is a little bit of time and things just change."

While Roddick only converted three of 15 break point chances, Johansson won three of his five.

"I played well on those points," he said, "and then I think I played well on the break points he had. Someone told me he won like 150 points and I won like 120. That means I won the right points."

Agassi had to battle both Federer and 40-mph wind gusts that stopped the tennis balls as if they'd hit a brick wall. Or sometimes they'd catch the breeze and fly high and long or take a fast right turn into the stands.

Federer often found himself looking silly, as he'd take a total whiff or send an easy backhand traveling into the stratosphere.

As on-court microphones toppled, the umpire's chair wobbled and Federer's oversized shirt billowed, Agassi and Federer had to change their games.

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