Sunday, September 7, 2003

For Roddick fans, glass is half full

American takes thriller, but Agassi falls to new No. 1 Ferrero

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Andy Roddick was on the brink Saturday. He'd exploded already at the referee, snapped at his U.S. Open semifinal opponent, David Nalbandian, and now, down two sets, was facing match point in the third-set tiebreak.

Roddick erased it with a 138 mph service winner, won the tiebreak and cruised into his first Grand Slam final to the delight of the New York crowd and, no doubt, CBS executives.

"I'm pumped. I came here so many times when I was younger, and I can't believe I'm actually in a U.S. Open final," said Roddick, the 2000 junior Open champion, after his 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 6-3 win. "It would be great to go one step further."

Facing Roddick in today's final will be the new No. 1 in men's tennis: Juan Carlos Ferrero, who took Andre Agassi's top ranking and any hopes for an all-American men's final with a 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory.

Remarkably, the French Open champ outslugged Agassi from the baseline, all the while zipping around with the speed that earned the nickname "Mosquito."

"To be at No. 1, it's a special day for me," Ferrero said. "I am playing good. I have a lot of confidence. I can do every shot."

Roddick's win was his 18th straight, pushing him to 36-2 since teaming with coach Brad Gilbert, Agassi's former mentor, after a first-round exit at the French Open.

"It's maturity. By playing, you learn. I feel confident right now, so I didn't feel there was a need to panic," Roddick said, referring to his two-set deficit. "To come through that gave me new life. I was almost down and out anyway. I just decided to go for it."

The fans did what they could to spur on both Agassi and Roddick, occasionally cheering faults by their opponents.

That seemingly took a toll on Nalbandian, who also complained about wrist and stomach injuries Saturday.

He finally lost his patience in the fifth set, when Roddick broke to go up 5-3. Roddick hit an inside-out forehand winner to earn two break points and converted the first when Nalbandian's backhand flew wide. Nalbandian disagreed with the call, pointing at the spot where it landed and arguing with the umpire to no avail.

"Every time it was close," Nalbandian said, "everything was for" Roddick.

Roddick observed the scene while perched on a courtside sign, then served out the match at love, with one last ace to get to 40-0, where Nalbandian hit a forehand wide.

It was a reversal from earlier in the match. Roddick lost the first set despite compiling 14 aces, and after sending a return long to lose the second set, he tossed aside his racket as he plopped down in his courtside chair. About the most fight Roddick displayed early came while he was sitting during the initial changeover of the third set, getting a callus on his right foot sprayed and wrapped. Upset at the length of the delay, Nalbandian - who had his left wrist heavily taped earlier - went out on court to wait. That prompted Roddick to snap: "Don't worry. I'm playing."

Later in that set, Roddick yelled at chair umpire Andreas Egli for not overruling a call on a double-fault. But he saved the true tirade for the next changeover.

"The calls have been bad all day. Terrible. I have not said one word all day," Roddick said, his voice rising. "Step up!"

Agassi went more quietly, as Ferrero refused to be pushed around the court like a marionette, breaking in the very first game.

At this point in his career, every loss at a major prompts questions about Agassi's retirement. They're more poignant these days now that rival Pete Sampras quit.

"I just have to go back to work," Agassi said. "Something would have to change drastically for me not to be back."

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