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U.S. OPEN

Too tall an order for Andy Roddick

The No. 5 seed, feeling confident after his Wimbledon showing, comes up short against John Isner, a 6-foot-9 former NCAA champion who's battled mononucleosis this summer.

September 06, 2009|Diane Pucin

NEW YORK — When Andy Roddick saved three match points against John Isner, he did it from the bottom of his feet. He rose up, lifted up and pounded out service aces.

But then there was a fourth match point, and the start of that point belonged to the 24-year-old Isner, a 6-foot-9 former NCAA champion who has been sick with mononucleosis this summer and who was starting to cramp.

Isner didn't serve an ace. But he served big and he rushed the net to hit some volleys and stretch his long arms and dare the fifth-seeded Roddick to hit the ball past him. Roddick tried, Roddick couldn't and Isner had himself the biggest upset of the U.S. Open men's tournament, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 (5) Saturday night.

An on-court celebration for Isner was nonexistent, but he didn't need a celebration to validate what had happened.

"It's obviously, hands down, the biggest win of my career," Isner said. "Nothing even compares. To do it at the stage I did it on is pretty spectacular."

In a major upset on the women's side, 17-year-old Melanie Oudin of Marietta, Ga., knocked off three-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Maria Sharapova, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, to reach the fourth round.

Because the day session had run almost two hours past the start of the night session, Isner wasn't given a chance to speak to the crowd and Roddick hurried away too. "I felt bad when I got to the tunnel," Roddick said. "That was suspect. I thought a curtain call would be appropriate for John at that point."

Isner said that was also fine. All that mattered was the win.

And mostly what mattered in the match was serving aces. Roddick actually won more points overall than Isner (162 to 155). But Isner slammed 28 aces. He also followed nearly every serve to the net, and over the course of the three-hour, 51-minute match, Isner had 90 clean winners.

"There's a lot that's out of your hands the way he plays," Roddick said. "I've said it before. You can't really teach 6-9, especially coming down on a serve. You just try to fight it off as much as you can."

It took one hour and 21 minutes for Isner to win the first two sets and 1:36 for Roddick to win the next two. Isner may be the first underdog to have gathered so little support at Ashe Stadium, but the large majority of the crowd was firmly in Roddick's corner. So was momentum going into that final set.

"Any time somebody comes back from two sets, momentum is certainly on your side," Roddick said. "In the fifth set I knew I wanted to finish it before it got to the tiebreaker and kind of became a shootout."

Roddick had statistical reason to fear the tiebreaker. Coming into the match, Isner had won 14 of the 15 tiebreakers he had played.

Even if, as Roddick said, he had come into this tournament with a huge sense of confidence, sometimes there is nothing to be done against a large, tall guy who keeps hitting big serves and rushing the net.

Isner missed both the French Open and Wimbledon because of his illness, and he said he felt fatigue in the fifth set against Roddick.

Next up for the former Georgia Bulldog will another physical challenge.

He will play left-handed Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco, who is seeded 10th and who beat 20th-seeded Tommy Haas, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (8), 6-1, 6-4. Verdasco gained notice at the Australian Open when he lost to fellow Spaniard and eventual champion Rafael Nadal in a five-set match that lasted 5:11, the longest Australian Open match ever.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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