FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY- It’s not often you get a chance to redeem yourself at a place which shall soon act like a second home. That’s exactly the kind of opportunity 26 year-old Andy Roddick was presented with late in the fourth set of his men’s U.S. Open quarterfinal against Novak Djokovic at Ashe Stadium Thursday night.
He had been handled easily during the first pair of sets both owned by the 21 year-old No.3 ranked Serb who apparently used some post-match Roddick comments regarding his injuries to break the best server in the sport an unheard of four times for a 6-2, 6-3 lead. Prior, he had only been broken three times all tournament.
“That’s not nice, anyhow, to say in front of this crowd that I have 16 injuries and that I’m faking,” a furious Djokovic later acknowledged to Michael Barkan drawing boos once the match was over.
But here was the five years older popular No.8 ranked American refusing to go down easily getting an early break and cruising 6-3 capturing the third set to get back in the match giving the New York bipartisan crowd hopes of a big comeback.
With the former 2003 U.S. Open champion finally in a groove with his serve, he began dictating play taking it to his opponent reversing what had been dished out the first two sets. At three apiece on serve, Roddick took the first three points on Djokovic’s serve setting up triple break point. However, the feisty 2008 Australian Open winner wouldn’t give in right away ratcheting up his serve to fight off all three including the second with a perfectly placed inside out forehand crosscourt near the line.
But before he could find his way out of trouble, a determined Roddick pushed on outhitting him to setup a fourth break point. Certainly, this would be the one which would not only get him that one elusive break he needed but be enough to get him even and take the fourth set. Or so everyone watching thought including USA Network/CBS tennis commentator John McEnroe. When he played a perfect point working a now easily flustered Djokovic side to side before nailing a rocket backhand up the line out of his reach for a winner, Roddick finally had that break and was only a couple of service holds away from giving everyone what they came to see. A fifth and final set.
The perfect way for USA’s 25 years of outstanding Open coverage to bow out for good. When he backed it up with four consecutive aces to go up 5-3, there seemed to be little doubt where such a high stakes match was headed. Following a Djokovic hold, Roddick easily took the first couple of points to go up 30-Love. Two more points from destiny and a pro-Andy crowd rocking like it once had for him when he cameback from a couple of sets and match point down versus David Nalbandian before winning the whole thing. Only instead of the inevitable Hollywood finish we were looking for, those two big points never came.
What followed was shocking. After an errant forehand, Roddick double faulted twice to suddenly give Djokovic three straight and his first break point since the second set. It was the only look the big Serb needed as he got an out wide serve back and then after Roddick approached, Djokovic came up with a perfect topspin backhand lob which was out of reach landing a foot inside the baseline.
“You know what? I honestly don’t feel like they were super-tight doubles,” Roddick said. “I had been playing pretty high-risk, high-reward tennis to get back and I probably wasn’t about to stop.”
Just like that, it was five all. Back on serve. Both players would hold one final time to force the fourth set to a tiebreaker. It would be well played. When it looked like he might be done already trailing by a minibreak, Roddick came up with the goods smacking another backhand winner to get it back on serve 4-5.
Here came the two biggest serves of the night. It was on his racket. Exactly where he preferred it to be. The first serve landed deep in the box and couldn’t be handled by Djokovic clocked at 142. Five-all. One more serve for a chance to setup set point. If he could get this one, just maybe not being able to serve it out moments earlier wouldn’t comeback to haunt him.
Here was the point of the match which Djokovic returned to get into and there was Roddick striking the ball as hard as he could trying his best to get it by his opponent hitting every shot well. Inside out forehands. Backhands better than he’d ever struck for most of his career. But on each one, Djokovic hustled and reached out for getting them back. Finally, he decided to change it up going for a slice backhand drop. Only problem was this one didn’t make it over the net handing the guy on the other side the one big break he needed.
“A bad shot,” Roddick admitted after falling 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
One big Djokovic serve later, his forehand reply sailed five feet long allowing last year’s runner-up to escape and emphatically point to his chest pounding it almost in anger over the Davis Cup atmosphere and definitely over those comments referencing his health which were really said tongue in cheek by one of the good sports in the game despite what’s at the end of the day a still disappointing career with only one grand slam. The one in which he hugged that trophy after blasting Juan Carlos Ferrero off the court following that comeback versus Nalbandian, who a round earlier that year knocked out Roger Federer. The same guy who hasn’t lost since here in Flushing Meadows.
“It was completely meant in jest,” a disappointed Roddick lamented following one of his toughest defeats when you really felt he had a chance to go all the way much like that special run.
“I should know better. But listen, I joke all the time. I don’t think anyone in their right mind takes me serious.”
To show what kind of character guy he is, he still sought out Djokovic in private clearing up the confusion.
“He made a joke and it was a misunderstanding, so I don’t blame it on him,” Djokovic later indicated an hour later after that postmatch circus which drew the ire. “Maybe I exaggerated and reacted bad in that moment. I apologize.”
What he won’t have to apologize for was summoning up what he needed to finish off a game Roddick who looked poised to do what Tommy Robredo did a round earlier taking it the distance. With already having worked awfully hard to win in four sets over future Croat star Marin Cilic and then overcoming the elements to outlast Robredo, no way Djokovic wanted any part of another extra set. Perhaps he got some help from an unlikely source but he wasn’t saying afterwards.
Instead, he’ll advance to a rematch of last year’s final in which he blew leads in the first two sets tossing away set points before losing in straights to four-time defending champion Federer. He can take solace knowing he exacted revenge ousting the 12-time grand slam winner down under in this same round also in straights even if the Swiss Maestro wasn’t 100 percent battling mono. What tennis player is totally healthy by the end of a challenging two week major?
With the women’s semis scheduled for later today, Djokovic knows he could get another break due to the weather forecast which calls for rain all day tomorrow on Super Saturday. The Open organizers have already started making arrangements with networks to shift the women’s final to Sunday and the men’s to Monday.
That certainly couldn’t hurt his chances. Especially with a very focused Federer waiting looking to pay him back and prove he still has what it takes to win for a fifth straight time and take the final major of what’s been labeled a disappointing season. This despite runner-up in Roland Garros again, losing his Wimbledon crown in epic fashion and a now record 18 straight semifinal appearances in slams.
As for Roddick, he referenced Djokovic’s sarcasm which as recently as last year included dead on impersonations which those same New Yorkers which jeered him loved.
“I figure if you’re going to joke and imitate other people and do the whole deal, then you should take it. Listen, if someone makes fun of me I’m most likely going to laugh,” Roddick pointed out. “I’m sorry he took it that way. … I don’t think I was over the line. It wasn’t my intention, and, you know, I’m sorry he felt that way. Maybe I did him a favor tonight.”
Probably. And in the process, hurt himself though in the end, it was the vaunted serve and that huge point late in the breaker which send him packing.
It might not be the end result he wanted with having sought busy Davis Cup captain and CBS/ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe’s advice along with coming in with the hottest fiancee anyone’s ever seen in breathtaking SI swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker. So, it’s not all bad for Roddick.
Far from it. But we bet he wished he had those couple of serves over.