Thursday, January 23, 2003

Roddick claims instant classic


Needs almost 5 hours to reach semis

The Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia - A sweat-soaked Andy Roddick handed his racket to a ball boy to play the next point, then staggered to the corner of the court and plopped himself down, gasping air.

More than 80 games and 41/2 hours into his quarterfinal against Younes El Aynaoui, Roddick figured the lighthearted gesture might ease the tension in what already was the longest Australian Open match in more than 30 years.

Or at least buy him some time to catch his breath.

Groaning from the strain of chasing shots, Roddick and El Aynaoui traded serves and strokes past midnight, neither willing to give in.

In the end, Roddick had just enough to edge El Aynaoui 21-19 in the fifth set Wednesday and reach his first Grand Slam semifinal.

"Strategy was out the door; it was just pure fighting," the ninth-seeded Roddick said.

"My respect for him just grew and grew throughout this match, and I'm sure it's vice versa. I don't even remember ever talking to Younes before this match. But we could see each other 10 years down the line and know we did share something pretty special."

Roddick's 4-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 triumph lasted 4 hours, 59 minutes. The fifth set was the longest in the Open era (which started in 1968), taking 2:23 alone - or 21 minutes longer than Andre Agassi's quarterfinal victory over Sebastien Grosjean lasted in its entirety.

"I know I wasn't far from winning that match," said El Aynaoui, who upset No.1 Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round.

"I'm a bit disappointed, but I had a great tournament."

And the 18th-seeded Moroccan's stay ended with a superb match. He had more winners than Roddick, 107-102. But that edge was erased by unforced errors: El Aynaoui had 55, Roddick 31 - amazingly low totals given the match's length.

Both players served exceedingly well, combining for 52 aces and getting broken just three times each.

The best showmanship came at 19-all in the final set. Roddick relinquished his racket, encouraging a ball boy to try to return El Aynaoui's serve. Going along with the joke, El Aynaoui gave his racket to another ball boy, and the kids hit a few shots back and forth.

"I think that was a really cool moment," Roddick said. "Whatever crazy number we were at, still kept some humor about the game."

El Aynaoui didn't think it was gamesmanship - but he was broken right after. Two games later, it was all over.

When the match ended, Roddick dropped to his knees and bowed. The players met at the met, hugged and held their linked hands aloft.




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