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Friday, June 24, 2011
Grass brings out the best in Lopez

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- He was born in Spain, the home of legendary dirtballers, but Feliciano Lopez is more at home on a small patch of British grass.

He's been playing professional tennis for 15 years, and the only two Grand Slam quarterfinals he has ever reached were here at the All England Club, in 2005 and 2008.

Lopez absolutely loves the stage of Centre Court. In 2007, he ended Tim Henman's cherished Wimbledon career in a terrific five-set match. And, in 2011, he sent Andy Roddick home with a massive and surprising 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 6-4 third-round victory.

Surprising because Lopez, in seven previous encounters, had never beaten Roddick, a record that Lopez admitted later irritated him. The matches were close, in general, but Lopez usually managed to tighten up when opportunity presented itself. On this occasion, for some reason, he didn't.

Lopez was nearly flawless in those two tiebreakers. Overall, he hit 57 winners and had only seven unforced errors, a truly rare differential. This was, Lopez said, the highlight of his season -- and possibly of his Grand Slam career.

"Yeah, yeah," said Lopez, who pounded his heart with his fist at the end. "I never beat Andy, so it's so important for me to win today. I beat couple great players in Wimbledon in the last 10 years. But to beat Andy in this court is very special, of course. I would say maybe the best probably."

Feliciano Lopez
A chronic underachiever, Feliciano Lopez has a penchant for grass courts.

In his Grand Slam history, Roddick has twice come back to win after trailing by two sets. Not this time. This was his first straight-sets loss in five years. It was also his second consecutive unlooked-for departure from the All England Club. Last year, Roddick fell in the fourth round to Yen-Hsun Lu in a grinding match that ended 9-7 in the fifth and ran for 4 hours, 36 minutes.

"I mean, this year's a lot easier to deal with than, let's say, last year, where I feel like I gave it away," Roddick said. "I got beat. He came out. He served about as well as someone has. The stuff that's enabled me to beat him seven times -- making passing shots under duress, making him play defense on his forehand -- he did well today.

"I probably played like s--- in third rounds and won before, too. The thing you guys have to understand is there's no script. Some days you're going to play well and lose, and some days you're going to play like crap and win."

Despite the Spanish pedigree that would predict clay success, Lopez is built to play on grass. He has sensational natural talent -- some would argue he always has been a chronic underachiever -- and moves well on the slippery surface. His serve is an impressive weapon; he had 28 aces for the second match in a row, five more than Roddick, who blistered one 143 mph.

For Lopez, this broke a 0-for-11 streak against top-10 players. Judy Murray, Andy's mother, couldn't care less. In her tweets, she calls him "Deliciano."

"I have to like it," handsome Lopez said. "It's kind of funny."

Roddick beat Lopez as recently as a few weeks ago at Queen's Club -- Lopez had 35 aces in that match -- and it's possible they will meet for the third time in a month when the U.S. hosts the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Austin, Texas -- Roddick's home.

Roddick is ranked No. 10 in the world, but, at 28 years old, his Grand Slam window is closing. As the No. 8 seed, he was on track to meet No. 4 seed Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. Now, he will prepare for the Davis Cup and the summer hard-court circuit in an attempt to turn around an "average" season.

"What do you do?" Roddick asked. "You keep moving forward until you decide to stop. At this point, I've not decided to stop, so I'll keep moving forward."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.