The upsets continued Saturday at this year’s U.S. Open. Both Andy Roddick and Dinara Safina exited stage left ending disappointing brief stays in NYC.
Off his impressive Wimbledon showing pushing Roger Federer the limit, the No.5 seeded Roddick was expected to carry that momentum into the final grand slam and make a run at a second Open. But six years after winning his only major in Flushing, the 27 year-old fizzled out in an epic third round falling to rising American John Isner 7-6 (3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 (5).
It wasn’t that he played poorly as evidenced by the steady 51 winners to just 20 unforced errors. But the 24 year-old lanky 6-9 Isner was just better using a lethal serve to crack 38 aces while also going bigger on his shots, finishing with 90 winners. That also meant 32 more errors but the strategy to shorten points paid off allowing him to build a two-set lead.
“It’s obviously, hands down, the biggest win of my career. Nothing even compares. To do it at the stage I did it on is pretty spectacular,” a thrilled Isner expressed after beating Roddick for the first time in three tries. “But I know I can really do some damage here. So I’m not satisfied just yet.”
Neither player budged in the first set forcing a tiebreaker. But Isner took command early. Hitting with more belief while an unaggressive Roddick missed shots, he cruised 7-3 to capture the opening frame.
With the momentum, Isner continued to be the aggressor getting the better of the rallies. Backed by that huge serve Roddick failed to make a dent in, he went after one of the best servers finally earning the match’s first break early in the second when he drew Andy into the net before rifling a backhand pass down the line to a huge fist pump.
Isner backed up the break holding to capture the second set suddenly putting Roddick’s stay in serious jeopardy. With the fans sensing the upset, the atmosphere intensified. It seemed to help the fifth seed who began to return and hit better. Finally putting some sting on his shots, Roddick finally broke midway through the third when during an extended rally, he hit a running backhand winner up the line, pumping his fist to a delighted crowd.
He served it out forcing more tennis. Though he was dictating more points, Roddick still served second in the fourth and nearly slipped up. Trying to stay in the match, his only double fault setup match point but quickly erased it with clutch serving to get out of trouble. Earlier, he also dug out of Love-40.
Playing more heady, Roddick broke a weary Isner who began spraying shots. He earned the one break needed to level the match when a nice running backhand setup a forehand into an open court. With the big guy cramping, Andy had little trouble serving it out, polishing it with an ace.
With the crowd starting to sound like they had for Melanie Oudin’s huge upset of Maria Sharapova, the two American men headed for a deciding set. The question was would Roddick’s experience pay off against a tiring younger foe? After Isner badly dropped the first two points on his serve, it looked like he might pack it in. But drawing energy from rocket serves and a whipping forehand winner, he took the next four points and pumped himself up.
After holding for 3-2, Isner finally got some treatment for the cramps on a changeover. He also had a special water energy drink that aided him. With Roddick continuing to hold, it became a game of cat and mouse. Who would bend first? Neither cracked with the elder statesman using some more clutch serving to get out of a 15-30 game two points from defeat.
When they reached the breaker, the packed house gave them a standing ovation. It didn’t take a genius to guess that whoever lost their serve first would probably go home. Leading 3-2, Isner got the minibreak he needed when he nailed a backhand pass, pumping his fists at his corner.
Roddick didn’t go away saving two more match points to make it 5-6 forcing Isner to close it out. He didn’t end it with an ace. Instead, Roddick got back a wide serve but the short reply allowed the imposing Isner to approach the net where he’d hurt Andy all day going 42 of 67. A forehand volley sunk low enough that Roddick netted a forehand giving the big man the biggest win of his career.
“Never panicked. If I lose that match, I have nothing to hang my head about. Played well. Maybe a little bit more the pressure’s on him. He’s expected to do so well here,” Isner said after making the Round of 16 for the first time in a slam. Two years ago, in the third round, he got the first set against Federer before losing in four. “Nobody expected me to win.”
“I mean, there’s a lot that’s out of your hands with the way he plays. I said it before: You can’t really teach 6-9, especially coming down on a serve,” a dissappointed Roddick said while also giving plenty of credit to the victor. “You try to fight it off as much as you can. Sometimes you can, and sometimes it’s completely out of your hands.”
His last two slam defeats have seen Roddick drop serve twice. Once in an epic final versus arguably the game’s greatest and once yesterday against an up and comer in a much lower round. Sometimes, it’s the luck of the draw.
Credit a valiant Isner for continuing to fight despite cramps. He believed he could win and got A-Rod in the tiebreak twice. Ultimately, that along with his more aggressive nature was the difference.
“It’s tough. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve come to a tournament with as much confidence—into a Slam—as I did with this tournament,” assessed Roddick. “Leaving earlier than I want to.”
It’s different. I wasn’t anywhere close to winning this tournament yet. “There’s not another chance a month and a half away.”
Isner next faces No.10 seeded Fernando Verdasco for a spot in the quarters. Verdasco rallied from a break down to comeback and oust German vet Tommy Haas 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (8), 1-6, 6-4.
Novak Djokovic is also still around in that section after eliminating American qualifier Jesse Witten 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-4. The No.4 Serb will next face No.15 Czech Radek Stepanek, who defeated German Philipp Kohlschreiber in four sets.
The bittersweet day for Americans continued with James Blake (21) falling in straights to Tommy Robredo (14) 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4. Blake blew a chance to serve for the first set and missed a few chances to break back late in the second. Instead, some money serving allowed Robredo to escape. The vet Spaniard finished Blake’s Open with a 10th ace, concluding a disappointing season for the inconsistent Yonkers native.
Our quarter pick Sam Querrey (22) also lost to French Open finalist Robin Soderling (12) 6-2, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1. Soderling next plays Russian Nikolay Davydenko (8), who prevailed in straight sets over Marco Chiudinelli.
Federer also moved on needing to comeback from a set before disposing former champ Lleyton Hewitt 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. He gets Robredo next with either Soderling/Davydenko waiting in the quarters.
As for Safina, her luck finally ran out against 20 year-old Czech Petra Kvitova. Playing to win, the blonde southpaw pulled out a 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5) upset of the enigmatic top seeded Russian who despite losing will remain No.1. Remarkable.
A much more aggressive Kvitova jumped out to a set lead by cashing in on Safina’s passive play. She also led 2-0 before coming undone in the second. However, the No.1 ranked younger sister of Marat Safin couldn’t maintain the momentum dropping serve to fall behind 0-2 in the deciding set.
But Kvitova struggled with nerves allowing Safina to get the match back on serve. Despite only 12 winners along with 39 unforced errors and nine doubles, the Russian amazingly still had a chance to advance for a third straight match from a set down.
But the high wire act wasn’t to be. Even if Kvitova blew a chance to serve for it up 5-4 before having to fight off three match points just to reach a tiebreaker. Two big first serves along with a money forehand winner allowed her to stay alive.
In the breaker, it was Kvitova who jumped out 4-2. She was rewarded for her desire to win while Safina- who actually complained about being moved to smaller Louis Armstrong due to the length of the Roddick-Isner match- got what she deserved for playing so conservatively. This time, an opponent didn’t hand it over. And when the Czech outhit her in a rally punctuating the match with a forehand winner, victory was hers.
She finished with 35 more winners (47-12) to make the fourth round of a slam for the second time this year, also advancing that far at Roland Garros. Kvitova should have a good chance to make her first quarter if she can get by another 19 year-old in Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, who bested Italian Sara Errani, 6-3, 6-4.
Amazingly, all that’s left of the upper half of the ladies draw are unknowns like Kvitova, Wickmayer along with Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko, who earned a spot in the Round of 16 with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over Anastasia Rodionova. Bondarenko next faces Argentine Gisela Dulko, who ended Yaroslava Shvedova’s run 6-3, 6-4.
One of those four will make their first semifinal in a slam. The name on the other side could be more familiar if Svetlana Kuznetsova (6) continues to play well under the radar. The 24 year-old Russian who has won here and earned her second major over Safina earlier this year, beat Israeli Shahar Peer 7-5, 6-1. She next plays hitting partner Caroline Wozniacki (9), who posted a 6-3, 6-2 win over Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
The Wozniacki-Kuznetsova winner plays either Oudin or Russian Nadia Petrova (13).
On tap for today’s Round of 16 are defending champ Serena Williams (2) taking on Slovak Daniela Hantuchova (22). The winner gets either seventh seeded Russian Vera Zvonareva or No.10 Italian Flavia Pennetta.
Francesca Schiavone (26) battles Li Na (18) with the winner drawing whoever comes through between Venus Williams (3) and 2005 champ Kim Clijsters. Clijsters has done well so far in her comeback. But can she eliminate a Williams in NYC? It should be a high quality match.
Meanwhile, the men will complete Round Three. Highlights include Rafael Nadal (3) taking on fellow countryman Nicolas Almagro (32), seventh seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga facing Julien Benneteau in a French battle and Tomas Berdych (17) facing Fernando Gonzalez (11).
The highlight though could be American comeback story Taylor Dent testing No.2 seeded Andy Murray in the night session. Can the energetic 28 year-old serve-and-volleyer continue his run against one of the game’s best returners? The atmosphere should be electric.