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Friday, September 2, 2011
Future looks bright under the lights

By Jane McManus
ESPNNewYork.clom

NEW YORK -- In what could have been called the Battle for Nebraska, Andy Roddick quickly showed 18-year-old Jack Sock that it will take more seasoning to get deeper into the U.S. Open draw. But then again, it's a lesson Roddick learned at the hand of Pete Sampras almost a decade ago.

"To be able to play with him was the best tennis experience of my life," Sock said.

With a modified crew cut, looking a little like an extra in "Back to the Future," Sock lost 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to the No. 21 seed and fellow Nebraska native. And for the 29-year-old Roddick, it might have been like looking across the court at a younger version of himself, albeit with a better backhand.

"I could draw so many parallels to what he was going through," Roddick said. "But also I could draw on my experience a little bit."

Jack Sock
Jack Sock lost a match to Andy Roddick but gained a friend.

As Sock broke Roddick in the third set, the late-night U.S. Open crowd began to cheer for the young wild card, just as they rooted for a 20-year-old Roddick to make it a match against Sampras in a 2002 quarterfinal. Yet Roddick, just as Sock, lost in straight sets as well.

It's not an exact analogy. Roddick played his first night match in Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2001, when he made it to the quarterfinals. Since then, Roddick said he learned he has played 27 total night matches at Ashe.

After the match, Roddick told Sock he expected to see him on this court again, and then invited the teen to Texas during the offseason to train together, just like Andre Agassi did for Roddick.

Roddick said he would pull out of tournaments to go hit with Agassi because he learned so much. Sock is looking forward to having Roddick do the same for him.

"We're pretty good friends," Sock said. "I think being from Nebraska helps, both of us. But I think we probably got closer tonight after the match as friends."

It was a tough day for a slew of young Americans who had made noise in the first week of the U.S. Open. Just before Sock took the court, unseeded Christina McHale lost to No. 25 Maria Kirilenko, 6-2, 6-3.

Yet both Sock and McHale gave American audiences a reason to watch tennis. They are part of a wave that includes wild cards Donald Young and Sloane Stevens -- both still playing in the tournament -- as well as Irina Falconi, who lost earlier Friday.

"I'm excited about the future of American tennis," Roddick said. "It is bright."

Earlier, McHale's run ended against Kirilenko in one hour and 29 minutes. McHale, who was a bit awed by the bright lights of Ashe at night, said she never felt comfortable against a barrage of hard ground stokes and Kirilenko's deft play at the net.

"I was too passive today," said McHale, 19, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. "The other day [against No. 8 Marion Bartoli] I took my chances when I had them."

But there weren't many chances to be had. Kirilenko herself said she didn't make a lot of mistakes, even when she some cramping in her right leg during the second set. McHale knew that something was off, but didn't sense that it had any effect on Kirilenko's game.

Kirilenko played McHale in the doubles draw on Thursday, and the Russian said it helped her scouting considerably to play the American, who doesn't have a lot of matches on tape.

"I had never seen her play," Kirilenko said, "and yesterday doubles, it helped me a lot because I saw how she's serving, how she's returning, how she's playing in general."

Even the hometown advantage and encouragement like "Come on New Jersey!" couldn't turn the momentum to McHale.

"It's new for me, playing on a big stage," McHale said. "I think it will help me though, in the long run."

The 24-year-old Kirilenko could relate to what McHale might have been going through, because it wasn't so long ago that she was the timid newcomer.

"I remember this feeling," Kirilenko said, "how nervous I was, how difficult it was to play. But still was a lot of excitement, you know, to play on such a good level."

One record, short of another: In a marathon 3-hour, 16-minute women's singles match, No. 9 Samantha Stosur finally beat No. 24 Nadia Petrova, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5 in Louis Armstrong. It was the longest match by time, but not by number of games.

Only two women's matches have had all three sets go to tiebreaks since the rule was implemented in 1970. Since introduction of tie-break system in 1970, 2 women's singles matches have reached the 39-game, 3-set maximum; Gigi Fernandez defeated Leila Meskhi 7-6 (1), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (2) in a third-round match in 1991, and Steffi Graf beat Pam Shriver 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4) in a 1985 quarterfinal.