Friday, September 9, 2011
Nadal foils Roddick's final four hopes
By Greg Garber
NEW YORK -- On the very first point, Andy Roddick -- against his basic nature -- moved to net and struck not one but two volleys, the second a clean winner.
Rafael Nadal took note of Roddick's aggressive (some would argue foolhardy) strategy and proceeded to pass him, with a wicked forehand, almost at will. The hope around the grounds here Friday was that the setting of a U.S. Open quarterfinal match might have the Jimmy Connors effect on Roddick -- perhaps reawaken his mojo of past success and force his way into the final four.
It didn't come close to happening.
Roddick was bludgeoned 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 by Nadal, who is starting to look like the defending champion. The No. 2 seed is the only man not to drop a set in five matches and will meet No. 4 Andy Murray in a Saturday semifinal.
"For sure, the beginning of the match was really, really important," Nadal said. "Andy [Roddick] had a tough match yesterday. He was probably tired. Sorry for him."
Nadal, tellingly, won 20 of the 32 points when Roddick came to net. He converted six of seven break points; Roddick was 0-for-4. But here is the most damning statistic:
Nadal hit 22 forehand winners. Roddick's total was zero.
The assertive Roddick, who repeatedly challenged tournament officials over questionable court conditions for the past several days, was a no-show. The 29-year-old went quietly, apparently nursing a left leg injury. It was almost sad to watch.
Roddick, who has struggled with injuries, particularly a torn oblique muscle, played only seven matches after Wimbledon coming into the U.S. Open. He lost four of them.
"It's tough playing a lot of matches regularly," Roddick said, "but I had zero reserves. I didn't have any time to train this summer. Came out today and was trying to push up on serves, and felt like I was falling over instead of pushing up.
"Felt like nothingness."
And so, Roddick's past achievements remain the best American men have had to offer here in recent years. He was the last winner from the U.S., in 2003, and the last American to reach the semifinals, in 2006. How has the game passed Roddick by? Consider this snapshot from eight years ago: Roddick -- himself the defending champion -- beat 18-year-old Nadal in straight sets, giving him only seven games.
This is third consecutive Grand Slam in which Nadal and Murray have met in the semifinals. Rafa won the first two, in Paris and Wimbledon.
"Always is a pleasure to play against Andy [Murray], one of the players with most talent on the tour," Nadal said. "Will be a big challenge for me. I have to play aggressive and have to play my best tennis to have any chance."
2. Divided attention: Roger Federer loathes the concept of back-to-back men's semifinals and finals here at the U.S. Open. After he thumped Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Friday, he explained why.
Last year, Federer said, he was actually looking ahead to playing Nadal in the next day's final -- while he was still playing Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Federer, for one, is relieved the USTA will play the men's final two matches Saturday and Monday.
"It's better for sure for my match now for Novak, for both of us, for that matter, just to be able go out there and play that match instead of thinking of something else," Federer said. "It is true that I did think of the Rafa final and the prospect, you know, trying to get there without maybe losing too much energy. Maybe that was one of the reasons I was not able to stay tougher in two of the sets I lost, actually.
"Still should have won the match maybe, but it's just a tough prospect. You never have it that we have to play back-to-back best-of-five-set matches, and only here before the final at the U.S. Open. It just somehow doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me."
3. Is this the time for Murray? The best player yet to win a Grand Slam singles title has come tantalizingly close this year.
After beating John Isner on Friday, 7-5, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2), he now has reached the semifinals of all four majors. Twice he's lost there, and once -- in Australia -- he fell to Djokovic in the final. Murray seemed pleased that all of the big four reached the semifinals for the second time this year -- and only the second time since 1985.
"They're pretty firmly the best players in the world right now," Roddick said. "They certainly deserve the numbers next to their names. They're playing great."
Said Murray, "I think it's good for tennis. I think everyone has played great tennis in the Slams this year. That's, I think, probably what people would like to see, would be you to play your best tennis there.
"I think at the French it happened, and it nearly happened also at Wimbledon. Roger lost in the quarters. Rafa got injured at the Aussie Open. It's been very close to happening in almost all four of them, so it's been great consistency. Glad to be part of that."
4. Known quantity: This is the 24th time Federer and Djokovic have met. Federer has won 14 of 23 matches, but Djokovic has taken three of the past four. The exception: Federer's stunning win in the semifinals at Roland Garros back in June, their last encounter.
"It's pretty straightforward," Federer said. "I think we're both going to play aggressive. He's moving well. He's probably taken his game up to a bit of a higher level, but mostly in terms of confidence I think.
"But I think when we do play against each other it's always exciting. We have great rallies against each other. I like playing against him because it's a battle of the baseline."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.