Thursday, September 4, 2008

Day 11: Roddick Roasted, Drive Home Safely

Man, what a raw deal it is to try to play Andy Roddick in The U.S. Open. I mean the guy is a chronic under-achiever in other Majors, but here, at the Open, he comes to life.

Unfortunately for Roddick, it took him 2 full sets to have his first cup of coffee with Novak. Until then, he had been moved around like a pawn on a chess board for the better part of 90 minutes. But Novak let his foot off the peddle and coughed up a break early in the third set. That blip would eventually coast him, as the beer-fed capacity crowd started to impose it's will on the match.

And man were they loud and obnoxious. Quite honestly, it wasn't cool. What was cool was the way that Novak finally found his groove. He was hanging in the wind for a while, being pushed and pulled by the intense human element of the match. People were screaming as he prepared to serve throughout the whole 4th set. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Not a single soul. I can remember thinking that this was the most difficult playing scenario imaginable for the 21 yr-old serb. But I also remembered telling myself that this kid would find it. He's a proud soldier that Djokovic, even if sometimes that pride clouds his vision.

As Roddick had strengthened in proportion to the crowd's rowdiness, this had suddenly become an incredibly tense match. Roddick was playing inspired tennis and his serve, broken 4 times in his first 8 service games, was suddenly untouchable again. His serve blistered, hitting 140 several times, and his errors were minimized at the baseline.

Upon realizing that suddenly it had become anybody's match I found myself wanting to fast-forward to the end,-the suspense was killing me. It was gut-wrenching drama, and it looked like Novak would not find his footing until it was too late. All this as Regis Philbin read a book in the crowd. How do these tennis players avoid going crazy out there?

Novak aka the Joker was down a break in the fourth set, at 4-5, when his sails found the wind again. He struck quickly, almost covertly, and won a pivotal break with a high topspin lob. It was perfectly placed and it was the perfect time to use it. A magnificent shot. It happened just after an untimely double fault at 30-30 in the previous point. Roddick was two points from being dead-even and he coughed up a double. Not good, and this from a man who didn't go to Beijing because he wanted to prepare for this years US Open. Bad idea after all.

Eventually the match worked its way into a 4th-set tiebreaker, and the crowd was even more boisterous, beer-fed, and relentless. It became evident that they would go berserk if Roddick could pull it out. It didn't seem even remotely fair for the red-blooded Serb, but hey, when has it ever been easy to be Serbian? Meanwhile, Djokovic was remaining relatively calm. Predictably, he controlled the tiebreaker, with Roddick trailing but staying within striking distance, and still playing some of his best tennis of the year (I won't take that away from him).

With Roddick serving and the tiebreaker tied at 5-5, Novak again managed to pull out the clutch point, forcing Roddick to net a backhand volley.

Novak was serving for the Match now, and the desperate fans were howling at the top of their lungs, "C'mon Andy, Andy!" They might as well have yelled "noonan," for Novak was now just tossing the ball and serving, not even hearing their cries: Roddicks returned sailed long. Put it in the books.

Man, did this Mr. Djokovic come in here and spoil the party! Not many other players in tennis could win under that kind of pressure. This was a laudable effort. He had to fight through major demons to snatch this victory from the jaws of defeat. Kudos to him.

Oh, yeah, and he'll play Federer in the semis, in case your interested.