FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Andy Roddick stepped on the line then tumbled out of the US Open second round tonight. Janko Tipsarevic out served, out fought and out hustled Roddick, scoring a stirring 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory that sent Roddick to his earliest Flushing Meadows exit since he lost to Gilles Muller in the opening round five years ago.
The tattoos that adorn his arms combined with with the sports spectacles on his face make Tipsarevic look a little bit like a biker moonlighting as a philosophy professor. The explosive Serbian stood up to the ninth-seeded American and a pro-Roddick crowd cracking 66 winners against just 30 unforced errors.
“I thought I hit the ball pretty well,” Roddick said. “I thought he played very high-risk and executed for four sets. I kept telling myself this has to have an expiration date on it. Unfortunately, I needed another set for that.”
In the fourth-set tie breaker, Roddick sent a backhand beyond the baseline and Tipsarevic followed with a backhand volley winner for 4-2. Attacking net again, Tipsarevic forced Roddick to come up with a pass, but his backhand found the net and it was 5-2.
On the longest point of the set, a 19-shot physical exchange, Tipsarevic sent a backhand long as Roddick creeped closer at 4-5. But Tipsarevic launched his 5-foot-11 inch frame into a stinging serve down the middle and Roddick flailed a forehand return into net giving the Serbian, whose black beard seemed to grow longer during the three hour, 18 minute encounter, a match point.
Tipsarevic again attacked, anticipated Roddick’s reply and blocked a backhand volley winner down the line to wrap up his second win over Roddick in a major. He beat the former World No. 1 in the second round of the 2008 Wimbledon.
At net, Roddick congratulated Tipsarevic with both praise and a playful death threat.
“He said ‘Well done, man. You played great,’ ” Tipsarevic recalled. “And he said ‘If you lose early, I’m going to kill you.’ He said ‘You beat me at Wimbledon and now if you lose early, I’m going to freaking kill you.’ ”
Roddick says he’s recovered from the case of mononucleosis that plagued him earlier this summer yet the malaise continues to cripple his game.
The 2003 US Open champion played some of the best tennis of his career in reaching successive Masters finals in Indian Wells and Miami where he dispatched Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych back-to-back to capture the Sony Ericsson Open.
He returned to New York to contest his 11th consecutive US Open leading the ATP Tour in hard-court wins but looked reluctant to unload on his forehand and didn’t consistently delve into the corners of the box on his second serve. It was as if Roddick was waiting for Tipsarevic to tumble out of the zone, but that moment never arrived.
While Roddick rightly gave Tipsarevic the credit he deserves for producing some spectacular winners on down the line drives, the truth is Roddick simply did not take enough risk and play with enough aggression and ambition when it mattered most.
A cranky Roddick erupted in anger when hit with a foot fault call while serving at 2-5 in the third set. The lineswoman correctly called the foot fault but incorrectly claimed Roddick’s right rear foot dragged on the baseline when it fact replay showed his left lead foot slid across the line.
An irate Roddick continuously harangued the lineswoman throughout the rest of the game, and was fired up enough to hold for 3-5. Roddick’s problems began before that call as Tipsarevic took advantage of Roddick’s timid tendency to hit straight down the middle.
A half-step slow to a slice backhand, Roddick shoveled that shot long and fell into a 0-30 hole. Roddick slapped a stiff-armed backhand beyond the baseline to face triple break point then bounced his blue Babolat frame off his court in disgust falling into a triple break point hole. Roddick saved the first break point but on the second he was stranded at net and stuck his racquet out like a man waving a cane in vain at a passing train as Tipsarevic blew a backhand pass by him down the line to break for 4-2.
With the exception of a few plaintive “come on Andy” exhortations, the crowd was as deflated as Roddick when Tipsarevic fired his 10th ace past a lunging Roddick to hold for 5-2.
The foot fault call came in the ensuing game inciting an incredulous Roddick to ask chair umpire Enrique Molina “Have you ever seen my right foot step over the line?” Molina shook his head.
“That is unbelievable! My right foot?” said Roddick, who wandered around the back of the court posing variations of that question to Molina, the lineswoman, coach Larry Stefanki and even in th direction of Tournament Referee Brian Earley, who was camped out in the corner of the court.
“Tell me one time my right foot has ever gone ahead of my left foot in my entire career,” Roddick said, seemingly unaware that in fact it was his left foot that touched the baseline. “If it’s my left foot don’t say it’s my right foot,” Roddick said.
Tipsarevic, who had lost only two points on serve in the third set, fell to 30-all when serving for the set. Roddick had a shot to break back, but Tipsarevic hit a forehand volley winner to earn set point. Roddick attacked net but did not do enough with a volley, Tipsarevic ran it down and rifled a pass to seize the set.
The fired-up Serbian celebrated with a Lleyton Hewitt-esque viche, pointing his finger tips toward his eyes and fist -pumping to his box.
Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.