Wawrinka Wins A War Over Querrey

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Dancing behind the baseline like a man ready to burst out of the blocks, Stanislas Wawrinka could see the finish line as clearly as the service line in front of him. Wawrinka and Sam Querrey engaged in a four hour, 28-minute duel on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court this afternoon. In the end, Wawrinka withstood Querrey’s mammoth forehand and the pressure of the moment with some sustained forward thinking and fast feet.

Chipping and charging on his second match point, Wawrinka knifed a sharp backhand volley winner to complete a 7-6(9), 6-7(5), 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory over the 20th-seeded Querrey and advance to his first career major quarterfinal in a win that eradicates American hopes and ensures there will be a European US Open men’s champion.

There is now no US in the US Open men’s singles as Wawrinka took down the last American man standing. It marks the second straight year there will be no American man in the quarterfinals. It happened for the first time in Open Era history last year.

Switzerland, a nation about the size of Massachusetts and New Jersey combined, has two men in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in Open Era history. Wawrinka joins five-time US Open champion Roger Federer in giving Switzerland two of the last eight men in the field.

While Querrey gave a valiant effort in a magnificent marathon match, Wawrinka pounced when Querrey blinked.

“For sure it is an amazing match to finish here against Querrey, who is a great player,” Wawrinka said. “It’s crazy. I was just trying to fight for every point. I’m very very happy to be in the quarterfinals.”

Querrey, who has never come back from a two set to one deficit to win a Grand Slam match, played with patience and power in converting his seventh set point to level the match at two sets apiece.

Blasting a bullet serve into the body that Wawrinka could only fend off with his frame, Querrey collected his seventh set point then smacked his 17th ace wide to level the match after three hours, 36 minutes of play.

Wawrinka has the weathered, leathery face of a fighter and the burly upper body and strong shoulders of a bouncer, enabling him to turn his torso into his one-handed backhand that is one of the most brilliant shots in the sport. For all his physical gifts, the knock on Wawrinka in the past was his tendency to go soft at crunch time.

Working with new coach Peter Lundgren, who guided Roger Federer and Marat Safin to Grand Slam titles and was trading confident fist-bumps with his friend in the player box at match point moment today, Wawrinka has become a much more confident and aggressive player seeking to step into his shots and impose pressure on opponents by getting to the front court.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Down Goes Roddick

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.

No Oudin Run In 2010

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Melanie Oudin turned her back to the court, faced the blue back wall and stared at her Wilson racquet as if searching the strings for solutions to the problems posed by Alona Bondarenko. Oudin mastered the art of the comeback during her rousing run to the 2009 US Open quarterfinals, but the resignation on her face in the final game today revealed a woman well aware Cinderella stories only come once in a career.

This time, the ferocious forehand was weighted with worry, the “courage” emblazoned on her shoes contrasted with the concern on her face and the crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium waited for a moment that never came.

The 29th-seeded Bondarenko ran off 10 consecutive points to send Oudin out of the US Open second round, 6-2, 7-5.

Oudin conceded she felt a bit overwhelmed by the occasion.

“I think the nerves got the best of me today a little bit, especially in the first set,” Oudin said.  “Second set I started playing a lot better, making the points a little bit longer. But, yeah, the first set definitely like the crowd was like really, really loud.  It was just like a lot. The second I got out there, I guess it kind of overwhelmed me a little bit, so.”

On match point, Oudin pushed a running backhand down the line wide, looked down with vacant eyes then walked to the net to shake hands as the crowd, which was nearly mute during the final two games, offered appreciative applause.

The 18-year-old Oudin, who made “believe” her personal mantra in etching the word on her adidas in playing with resolve and resilience at the ’09 Open, snapped a four-match losing streak in her first-round win over 143rd-ranked qualifier Olga Savchuk. But she has not beaten a top-30 ranked opponent since scoring three consecutive comeback wins over Russians Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova at the Open last year and could not hold off the 33rd-ranked Bondarenko today.

A nervous Oudin could not find her first serve at 5-all in the second set. She slapped her forehand into the net, netted a backhand down the line and missed another forehand before lofting a running lob long to drop serve at love.

Oudin won just eight of 25 points played on her second serve. Unable to break Bondarenko down in baseline rallies, Oudin began to play closer to the lines.

“I mean, it’s tough coming back, especially after like the US Open I had last year, coming back and expecting to do that well again,” Oudin said. “And, yes, the expectations for me I think from like the fans were extremely high.  You could tell by the crowd.  Even the second I walked out there, people like expected me to win again like last year.”

Tennis is all about adjustments and opponents have learned that Oudin thrives off pace, particularly to her forehand. She has worked with coach Brian de Villiers to move forward in the court on her terms, but at 5-feet-6 Oudin does not have a lot of sting on her serve and her reach can be exposed when opponents draw her into net with short slices.

Oudin is at her best when she’s running around her backhand and hammering her favored forehand, but Bondarenko refused to let Oudin find her comfort zone in the final stages of the match.

The match showed Oudin’s game is still very much a work in progress and she views every match as another credit course on the learning curve that is the pro circuit.

Five minutes after her post-match press conference concluded, a relieved Oudin was on the receiving end of a hug from her younger brother as they walked down the hallway inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I guess I’m a little tiny bit relieved now,” Ouudin said. “I can kind of start over, I guess like start over from all the expectations from like last year.  And now I can just go out and hopefully do really well the rest of the year and keep working hard.”

Her US Open dream may be over for this year, but Oudin is still part of the tournament, playing mixed doubles with Ryan Harrison.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Celebrity Tennis Premieres Tomorrow

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 28, 2010 – Tennis Channel, the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle, will premier original series Celebrity Tennis, Monday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 pm ET.  The half-hour show is hosted by film, television actor and commentator of The World Poker Tour, Vince Van Patten, who takes viewers inside the lives of celebrities who are passionate about watching and playing tennis.

Van Patten grew up in New York playing tennis near the US Open’s then-Forest Hills home and took up acting when his showbiz family moved to California.  He became a professional tennis player in 1979 and spent eight years on the pro circuit.  In Celebrity Tennis Van Patten unearths the ways his guests are influenced by tennis and how the sport is a regular part of their lives, and offers a demonstration of their on-court strengths.

“The worlds of tennis and celebrity have long been intertwined,” said Laura Hockridge, vice president, original programming, Tennis Channel.  “Professional stadiums are filled with newsmakers of every type, from entertainers and politicians to business people and other sports’ athletes.  Pro tennis players today are just as likely to appear on red carpets or magazine covers.  Vince Van Patten is a perfect host for Tennis Channel’s Celebrity Tennis, having navigated both of these environments throughout his life.”

The premier edition of Celebrity Tennis profiles television’s top advice guru, “Dr. Phil” McGraw, on a red clay court at Church Estate Vineyards in Malibu, Calif., where he declares his backhand to be his best shot.  A serious tennis player who uses the game as his own form of therapy, McGraw hits the court six-to-eight times a week, and admits to Van Patten that he builds his daily schedule around getting in an afternoon match.  McGraw also offers viewers a glimpse inside his overstuffed tennis bag, which he says he always has on hand, as well as a look into his vast closet full of treasured tennis T-shirts.

“It is good to be back in the game I love and a relief to be away from the high stakes poker games for awhile,” said Van Patten.

The second episode of Celebrity Tennis (Feb. 8) visits all-American supermodel Christie Brinkley in East Hampton, N.Y., at a charity benefit for the Ross School, where she is joined by actor Alec Baldwin, tennis legend Andre Agassi and famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.

Brinkley, who coincidentally grew up in California on Rod Laver Lane (a street named for one of the sport’s all-time champions), hits with Van Patten on the court at her house, built to the same specifications as center court at the US Open.  Brinkley also demonstrates her air-guitar skills on a tennis racquet, plays tennis with neighborhood kids and divulges funny anecdotes about her many trips to the US Open.

Poker champion Gus Hansen is the focus of episode three (Feb. 15), which takes viewers to Las Vegas’ Stirling Club.  Hansen explains that, although he played in junior tennis tournaments as a youngster, he realized he did not have the goods to go all the way.  Having made close to $10 million as a career gambler, however, he tells Van Patten that he stopped putting his money down on tennis after losing seven figures on a bet that Rafael Nadal would win the 2009 French Open.  (Though at the time of the bet Nadal had never lost a French Open match, the perennial clay-court champion ultimately lost to Robin Soderling in an upset for the ages.)

Television and music superstar Brandy is profiled in the fourth episode of Celebrity Tennis (Feb. 22).  In addition to revealing herself as the hardest working tennis student in show business, Brandy notes that her introduction to the sport came at the hands of none other than her best friend, American superstar Serena Williams.  Van Patten goes for a workout with Brandy and her demanding tennis fitness routine as they get in court time in Calabasas, Calif.

Additional episodes of Celebrity Tennis will follow these initial editions.

Tennis Channel (www.tennischannel.com) is the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle.  A hybrid of comprehensive sports, health, fitness, pop culture, entertainment, lifestyle and travel programming, the network is home to every aspect of the wide-ranging, worldwide tennis community.  It also has the most concentrated single-sport coverage in television, with telecast rights to the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros (French Open), Australian Open, Olympus US Open Series, ATP Masters Series, top-tier Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championship competitions, Davis Cup and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, and Hyundai Hopman Cup.  Tennis Channel is carried by nine of the top 10 MSOs, Verizon FiOS TV, and has a national footprint via DIRECTV and DISH Network.

Federer Makes Another Open Final

Is there anything Roger Federer can’t do with a racket? They don’t call the men’s grand slam record holder The Maestro for nothing.

In advancing to another U.S. Open final where he’ll meet sixth seeded Juan Martin Del Potro for a chance to match Bill Tilden’s six consecutive titles, the world’s top player pulled out all the stops in an ultra competitive straight sets 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5 win over a game fourth seeded Serb Novak Djokovic at Ashe this evening.

Sure. Djokovic pushed him by playing a very good match. Unfortunately, his best wasn’t enough to even get a set as Federer eliminated him a third consecutive year.

If all the talk centered around Serena Williams’ meltdown last night, at least it should be much more positive following Federer’s latest bag of tricks helping him get through in three against the former 2007 runner-up who he defeated.

Not much separated the two but Federer was just better on the bigger points coming back from a break to take a first set tiebreaker, clinching it with an easy putaway at the net.

In the opening set, the two players exchanged breaks in the sixth and seventh games with Djokovic unable to cement it playing a poor game in which his forehand let down frustrating the 22 year-old Serbian. He also would miss a routine backhand to go mini-break down at 2-4 which allowed a shaky Federer off the hook.

“Um, well I thought conditions were tough. It was sunny in the beginning from the one end. Hopefully the same thing tomorrow, you know, sunny,” the 15-time slam winner indicated.

“Then it got really gusty, and I think we both struggled early on with our rhythm. I think towards the end of the sets, you know, I got in some good returns, and that allowed me then to actually go after my shots a bit more.”

The second set was better with each combatant going stroke for stroke as they protected their serves. Djokovic did well from the baseline drawing some errors. But Federer hung in there with his serve finally up to speed. At the outset, the 28 year-old from Switzerland couldn’t make a first serve but that changes as the match went on with him near 60 percent while winning 78 percent (49 of 63). Djokovic also did well serving and winning at 68 percent on firsts.

Serving first, Federer kept the pressure on Nole by holding turning it into a similar match as his quarter win over Robin Soderling. The five-time reigning champ fared well at net winning 17 of 20 points in the middle frame. For the match, he converted 81 percent (29 of 36) to Djokovic’s 45 (9 of 20).

When there was any slight opening, each stepped up to hold with Federer holding for 6-5. Facing the prospect of another breaker, the opportunistic champion finally applied enough pressure on Djokovic’s serve to break for the second set. After he valiantly saved two break points, Nole couldn’t avoid the third thanks to some clutch shots from Federer.

First, a forehand winner got it back to Deuce. Then, with Djokovic looking to have the key point won at net, somehow he ran down a volley stabbing a low slice backhand which a stunned Djokovic netted. With the crowd urging on the underdog, there was little they could do when during a rally, Federer found the angle cracking his signature forehand down the line for a two set lead letting out an emphatic scream.

In grand slam history, Federer had never blown a two set lead. To his credit, Djokovic didn’t give up fighting hard in an entertaining third set that saw some splendid rallies including a 23 stroke one that the taller Serb ended with a forehand smack on the line which he successfully won on a challenge. If he didn’t win on the scoreboard, he certainly had much better success going six for seven on challenges with the end result of that rally resulting in grins on both players.

There also was an amazing point where Djokovic played great defense at the net continuing to get back half a dozen volleys before Federer closed with a forehand pass which the charismatic Serb bowed in the opposite direction to get out of the way.

“I’m kind of player who likes the emotions and very temperamental on the court. You didn’t see a lot of racquet throwing, but it could have been a lot    a lot    today, especially because I knew that I was so close of winning all three sets, and then just a couple of points decided, you know,” Djokovic remarked.

“But if you ask me if I had fun today and enjoy it, yes, I did, absolutely.”

Indeed, a player who lost the fans last year following mistimed remarks after a quarter win over Andy Roddick won them back with how he conducted himself. Though he probably wished ‘tennis partner’ John McEnroe was back out on the court instead of Federer.

“I had the feeling that I was close all three sets, and it’s just that when I get close, when I am able to get to the breakpoints or I’m up a break, I just start making some unforced errors,” lamented Djokovic.

“And I don’t want to mention the word luck, but I didn’t have it today. That’s why I’m a little bit disappointed.”

Each player fought hard in another tight set with both saving break points including a pair Djokovic saved that would’ve given Federer 5-3 and a chance to serve for it.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t push it to a tiebreak with the Sampras-like Federer finally getting him again in the 12th game breaking him at love.

It was how he got to match point that was most impressive. Already up Love-30, Federer hustled down a Djokovic lob volley and pulled off the shot of the tournament going to a between the legs winner which sailed by a shocked Djokovic who could only smile for triple match point to a thunderous ovation.

The shot even amazed the winner who when asked about it by CBS’ Mary Joe Fernandez, referred to it as “the greatest shot I’ve ever hit,” to chuckles.

“He just gets on the court and he wants to play his best and win more. That’s what makes him even more dangerous. That’s why he plays even better,” Djokovic said while alluding to the record and Federer’s recent marriage to Mirka and the twins as settling him down.

“Look, I mean, I think I’ve always been pretty relaxed on the court, just because, you know, I don’t get too crazy anymore about great shots, bad shots, because I know I have so many more points and games and matches to play in my life,” Federer replied while also acknowledging that Mirka’s pregnancy and the twins healthy made it easier.

Fittingly, he won with another nice shot punctuating it with a return forehand winner and a raise of the arms before Djokovic congratulated him as they shared a laugh about what had occurred.

“I mean, that shot that he hit, you saw the reaction of the crowd. I mean, what can I explain,” Djokovic added.

But it was funny, on these shots, you know, you just say, Well done; too good. What can you do?”

“You know, that’s not the goal here. You have to play smart,” Federer said.

“That’s why I still feel the pressure, but it just doesn’t show. I definitely enjoy tennis so much that I think that’s what gives me that sense of calm really, I think.”

With a career grand slam and the record in his hip pocket, Federer now can take aim at matching Tilden when he takes on his sixth different opponent in Del Potro tomorrow afternoon at 4 PM on CBS.

“It will be absolutely amazing. It’s something I wasn’t able to do in Wimbledon, even though I was so close. So I hope things go well for me. I’m feeling great. I really hope I can do it.”

Sweet Caroline Smiles To The Semis

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Although America’s Sweetheart is out, “Sweet Caroline” is still plaing music at the Open. And with Melanie Oudin going home, Caroline Wozniacki becomes the story in Flushing.

The attractive 19 year-old from Denmark, has slowly been improving and now has reached her first Semifinals at a Grand Slam. She is just soaking in every minute as she emerges into the tennis spotlight.

“It’s an amazing feeling, especially when you’re playing at night,” she said. “Playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium, 23,000 people watching you going on the court, I mean, you cannot really describe the atmosphere. It’s just magical. It’s amazing.”

What was amazing was how this cool Scandinavian came in with a game plan against the sentimental favorite Oudin. Instead of playing her game, she stayed back and let the 17 year-old’s inexperience come out. The result was a 6-2, 6-2 win and a trip to meet Yanina Wickmayer in the Semifinals.

“Yeah, today definitely I was like, I have to get as many balls back as possible and try to make her run,” she said. “Keep her on her backhand, but also, you know, make her run on her forehand. That was my goal, and I think it was a good way to play the match today.”

Even with Oudin on the court, it’s are to root against this attractive 19 year-old because of her sunny disposition. Her million dollar smile lights up the room as she graciously speaks about her opponents.

And that includes her Semifinal partner Wickmayer. Both player each other in juniors and Wozniaski says they are friends. Although she won’t let anything else out of the bag.

“I’ve tried not to watch too much tennis while I was here,” she said. “I mean, I watched Melanie’s matches because they were shown a lot. She’s a young player coming up, so I wanted to see her play. But I haven’t seen Yanina playing too much this tournament, but I know her really well from the juniors and we’ve played each other growing up.

“So, I mean right now I’m just so happy I’m in the Semifinals. I’m just going to enjoy a day off tomorrow, and I’ll talk to my dad who is also my coach about the strategy. But right now, I don’t really have any.”

One thing she will be doing is trying to stay positive and not let anything get to her. Against Oudin, Wozniacki just tried to stay positive through the whole match, which allowed her the easy victory.

“Today especially today it was important for me just to keep positive, try to just fight for every point,” she said. Because I knew if I show her too much emotions she will pick it up straightaway. I’ve seen that before in her matches. I mean, the crowd helped her through, as well. So today was just important, just to keep positive, keep fighting for every point.”

Off the court, Wozniacki just tries to keep it cool. Right now she doesn’t have a boyfriend, yet has a sense of humor about it. Earlier today Wickmayer joked to the Belgian press that there were 2000 boyfriends out there for her.

Not so in Denmark apparently.

“I haven’t read the newspapers in Denmark, but I’m sure they can find a boyfriend for me,” she said. “I don’t have any real boyfriends right now, and usually I keep to one.”

Don’t worry though with her style, looks and personality, Sweet Caroline should have no problem finding the right man.

Nole Through to Semis

It was a battle but in the end, Novak Djokovic got through to the semis in four sets by eliminating 10th seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (2), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 over on Ashe Stadium this afternoon.

Known by the nickname Nole, the No.4 seeded Serb struggled at times with his forehand spraying more than half his 41 unforced errors. But when push came to shove, the 2007 U.S. Open runner-up was up to the challenge against the dangerous lefty Verdasco- advancing to a third consecutive semi in Flushing where he could meet five-time reigning champ Roger Federer.

“Well, it feels great. I mean, I haven’t done that in the past three Grand Slams this year, so mentally was very important for me to overcome today’s challenge and to be able to win quarterfinals and to get to the semifinals first time in the Grand Slams in 2009,” said a very pleased Djokovic.

“So now that I’ve done it I feel kind of a relief, and I hope I just can continue playing well and challenge eventually Federer if he gets to the semifinal.”

At the outset, both players started slowly with each making uncharacteristic miscues in a weary set which kept the crowd fairly quiet. There were no breaks of serve but Djokovic nearly cracked late when he played a loose game giving Verdasco two break chances. However, the 22 year-old former 2008 Australian champion withstood it to hold.

Predictably, it went to a tiebreaker where Djokovic came to life forcing errors from Verdasco to cruise 7-2 for a set lead.

“Yeah, I don’t think we had a great first set. First set quality of the match wasn’t its best. I’ve made a lot of unforced errors, he’s made a lot of unforced errors, and I was lucky to get through in the tiebreak,” the winner admitted.

Before he could get too comfortable, it was his older 25 year-old opponent who quickly turned it around by picking up the pace in an easy second set that started with a break for 2-1 thanks to consecutive winners from the backhand and forehand.

Suddenly, Djokovic’s game went off as his forehand continued to fail while Verdasco was producing great tennis using his big forehand to open up the court and crack many of his 46 winners. Hitting a cleaner ball, he was able to dictate play even taking advantage by finishing a few points at net.

With the 2009 Australian Open semifinalist on his game, Djokovic struggled mightily having his serve broken three times in the uncompetitive 34-minute set which leveled the match.

“He stepped it in. He played very aggressive, and he deserved that second set,” Nole assessed.

With it hanging in the balance, it setup a seesaw third set which had a bit of everything. A now warmed up Verdasco continued to go for more forcing Djokovic into extended rallies that made for some more entertaining tennis. Pushed even more, the higher seed upped the ante going shot for shot from one side of the court to the other as each played great defense.

Due to how competitive the points were, the players each traded service breaks in the middle of the set. With Djokovic pressing for another break, a feisty Verdasco battled back from Love-30 down, reeling off the next four points thanks to his forehand where he ripped a couple of clean winners down the line holding for 4-3. Obviously frustrated, Nole stared at his box during the changeover muttering to himself.

“The dangerous thing about Verdasco is to let him take over the control of the match, because he’s physically very strong and he’s able to do a lot of things, especially from his forehand side, as we could see today. He improved a lot his backhand, so he stays much closer to the line,” explained Djokovic of why it was so tricky.

Instead of letting the moment get to him, he remained focused turning up a serve which allowed the Serb to save 10 of 14 break points including a few in the pivotal third. Djokovic got plenty of first serves in doing well by winning 71 percent of the points (66 of 93), also mixing in a few timely aces which he doubled up Verdasco in 10-5.

Ultimately, Verdasco tightened up with the 11th game proving costly. Close to holding for 6-5, he missed an easy forehand volley pushing it way out. A pair of double faults and another error donated the crucial game to Djokovic, who pumped his fists letting out a yell to his corner.

He then closed it out to pull within a set of a possible semifinal rematch with Federer pending his quarterfinal versus Robin Soderling later tonight which follows the highly anticipated women’s quarter between American teen sensation Melanie Oudin and ninth seeded Dane Caroline Wozniacki.

With momentum, Djokovic continued to play steadier and headier tennis letting his wilting opponent self destruct. Nursing an abdominal strain which he was treated for in the fourth set, Verdasco began trying to end points earlier. But with Nole continuing to play solid D and get balls back drawing wild misses from the flustered Spaniard.

In particular, Fernando’s forehand went off which explained 17 more miscues (58) than the more consistent Djokovic. He also struggled with his serve often missing the first while tossing eight doubles which allowed the No.4 player to gain even more confidence.

“He likes when the ball is coming a bit slower to him so he can, you know, do more things with it. That’s why I tried to mix up the pace, you know, play some high balls and then fast balls to his forehand and try to just get him out of that comfort zone that he got in in the second set. I managed to do that,” Djokovic added.

He finally finished off his ailing opponent breaking twice for a 5-1 cushion. Following a Verdasco hold, Djokovic served it out at love finishing him off at the net as the two exhanged hands.

“I managed to come back, and that’s what it matters. You know, I just tried to focus myself in the third set and work on some things. I returned more balls in on his serves, and I think serving well was as well one of the key elements in today’s win.”

Federer makes history, outlasts Roddick in epic

There’s a new grand slam king and his name is Roger Federer. The magnificent 27 year-old Swiss Maestro gave a performance for the ages, serving up 50 aces and topping the century mark in winners (107)- outlasting American Andy Roddick, who played brilliantly but somehow fell just short in another five set Wimbledon final classic.

That’s what it took to become the all-time winningest men’s singles grand slam champion, capturing his record 15th major with previous record holder Pete Sampras looking on.

A year following arguably the greatest match ever in which the five-time champ lost to Rafael Nadal with the final score 9-7 in the final set, it was another one for the ages as Federer and Roddick went toe to toe for nearly four and a half hours before the gutsy 26 year-old No.6 seed cracked first, falling 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14.

Yes. The final set really was 16-14! It featured 30 total games and lasted longer (95 minutes) than Serena Williams’ straight set women’s championship win for her third crown over big sis Venus Williams a day before. Indeed, it was one of those matches where unfortunately, someone had to lose leaving fans heartbroken for Roddick, who really deserved better.

There’s no question that Andy’s overall game has improved leaps and bounds this season under new coach Larry Stefanki, who has finally gotten the talented American to buy into a new strategy. As he proved in a great semifinal win over London local favorite Andy Murray, Roddick continued to play the kind of all court game which made the heavy favorite Federer vulnerable. The game’s best server not only backed it up with vigor keeping one of the better returners off balance despite a 2-18 career head to head record but also mixed up his game slugging it out while also picking his spots, finishing points with rapid success at the net like never seen.

The new Andy also showed off his much improved backhand, steaming plenty down the line with winners even on the run reminding of Nadal. Before this year, you couldn’t even put the two in the same sentence. That’s the kind of true dedication this A-Rod’s put into his fitness, showing that just maybe the second part of his career can be more successful.

Perhaps that gave him added confidence along with some recent close matches where he pushed Roger this season with a couple going three sets. One down in Miami he should’ve won. Of course, you could easily argue the same today as Roddick put American men’s tennis back on the map with a virtuoso performance- the likes of which we have never seen before from the 2003 U.S. Open winner.

He’d always been a dangerous out due to his ridiculous serve and huge forehand. However, today Roddick put it all together demonstrating early on that it could be different this time, even if everyone had Federer running away with his record 15th grand slam and sixth trophy at the All England Club.

Indeed he didn’t flinch in a tightly contested opening set that looked headed to a tiebreak. But after showing plenty of guts escaping four breaking points with huge serving and hitting to hold for 6-5, a focused Roddick cashed in on a shaky game from Federer- converting his only break point by banging a deep backhand which drew a wide reply. A stunning conclusion that gave him the lead. Something he had in their first Wimbledon final in 2004 before blowing a set, break lead in which Roger was able to use a rain delay to recover for a four set repeat.

Much like that match, the two players played a game of chicken as each strongly held serve during an even closer second set which would require a breaker. Early on, it again was Federer who felt the pressure with all-time greats Sampras, Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg all looking on from Centre Court. He misfired a forehand way long handing Roddick an early minibreak which the popular American was only too pleased to take eventually building a 6-2 lead, winning another point from the baseline with that improved backhand earning another miscue.

Suddenly, the crowd sensed what was happening. Would the champion fall behind two sets like last year? Instead, he provided the kind of resiliency one has come to expect, remarkably fighting off four set points before winning the next two, making it six unanswered to take the second.

How did such a houdini act occur? First, Federer pulled off a very tough baseline backhand half volley winner crosscourt to get one mini back for 3-6. Then, he banged two big serves suddenly pulling within 5-6. Perhaps Roddick thought about the moment because he was in great position at the net to claim the set but steered a high backhand volley way wide to level it. All he had to do was put it back in the open court. Instead, momentum swung with Federer then using a strong backhand pass to draw an error before getting a Roddick long backhand to draw even.

Would Andy be able to recover from such a bitter disappointment? He answered quickly by showing nerves of steel holding serve again to start the third. You could tell how badly he wanted that first Wimbledon. If he was going to lose, it would be on his terms. With one of the greatest servers looking on in Sampras, there was Roddick putting on a serving display that would make the seven-time Wimbledon and 14-time slam legend proud as he sat with shades on next to lovely wife Bridgette Wilson.

By now, it became apparent he wasn’t going away hardly allowing Federer a crack. In all their slam matches, Roddick had never been able to hold off his nemesis like this. It was truly something to behold. Despite not finding a way to break- something he grew accustomed to in the epic defeat to Nadal- Roger remained focused going serve for serve to force another breaker.

The quality of the points were terrific with each trying to gain an edge by finding new angles. There was Roddick making stab half volley winners and coming up with ridiculous winners like the curling crosscourt forehands he’d used so efectively against Murray. Predictably, there also was the precision of Federer, who banged his forehand from everywhere. If the Swiss Maestro was to make history, it was needed.

The third breaker this time saw Federer assume early control going up 5-1 but Roddick didn’t budge getting back in it with an inside out forehand winner crosscourt for one mini making it 3-6. After two big serves, suddenly it was just like the second set with it on Roger’s racket. Could he do what Roddick couldn’t? The answer was provided immediately with him kicking one out wide that Andy scrambled to get back but Feds disposed of a short reply with a forehand winner letting out his traditional, “Come on!”

Suddenly, the end seemed in sight. Roddick never cracked continuing to play the same aggressive game that had gotten him closer to beating Federer in a slam final than ever before. He continued to pound his serve making it tough. Finally, Andy found an opening breaking for 3-1 with another brilliant point that got an error, giving a huge emotional pump of the fist.

Federer didn’t go down easily in the next game getting to 15-30 but Roddick served his way out of trouble. Every time he needed one, he delivered. Towards the fourth set’s conclusion, he accidentally slipped on a worn baseline nearly turning something. It was clear that he was hobbled which Federer took advantage of for a quick hold. Looking to break back at 3-5, Federer got the first couple of points including a forehand up the line for Love-30. With the crowd urging Roddick on, he again responded with clutch serving eventually coming back to hold, forcing a fifth set against Federer for the first time in their 21st meeting.

And so, the crowd would get another treat as for the third consecutive year, here was another epic men’s final going the distance. A place where three-time Wimbledon champ Boris Becker had once uttered a memorable quote about it being a test of wills.

That would be put to a true test in what became the longest fifth set in championship history. In the second game, Roddick fought off a break point to hold for one all. That was it for a while as both players ratcheted up the level with remarkable serving, great shotmaking and few errors. It was truly the kind of sporting event any observer could appreciate.

The way Andy was serving, it looked like it would be a tall order for Federer- an above average server in his own right to pull this off. Somehow, he kept dialing up aces going out wide in the ad court time and time again while effectively mixing up the tee on the Deuce side. Never before had the great champion had so many aces, winding up with nearly half the 50 in the fifth. It was 21 or 22.

Roddick did well himself finishing with 27. While that seemed equally shocking because he’s the best server, it’s also due to Federer who gets a lot of balls back even if some didn’t come close. Here was the American hoping it was finally his day with the only two breaks of the match but wondering what he had to do to win. Federer had to be thinking similarly against an opponent he’d handled.

Up 5-4, 6-5, 7-6 and 8-7 in the deciding set, Federer couldn’t put away Roddick who kept coming up with the goods in sudden death. Would the moment finally get to him like last year? After Roddick held for eight apiece, here came his chance nailing a forehand winner for 15-40 setting up double break point. It may as well have been championship point with the kind of zone he was in. But before the blink of an eye, there was Roger delivering a service winner and then kicking one out and striking a daring trademark volley forehand winner inside the baseline. One foul up and it would’ve been enough to lose. Instead, he saved them and dug out of trouble to hold for 9-8.

The battle of wills continued into double digits with many observers wondering how long it would go. You had two players playing at a ridiculously high level with remarkable winner/error ratios (Roddick-74/33, Federer-107/38). It bordered on absurd.

You got the feeling when he struck ace 50 that Feds could still lose. In fact, never before in tennis history had a player won a match with that many aces. Roddick also had experience escaping a similar contest down under six years ago against Younes El Aynaoui, prevailing 21-19 in the fifth with both saving seven match points before the American won. It remains the longest fifth set in grand slam history.

This was unchartered territory for Federer. Would he show any more leaks? That became a resounding no as he dialed up his play nailing more aces and cracking more winners to continue holding, applying the pressure on Roddick.

Finally in the 30th game, Andy cracked. Playing two loose points by misfiring badly, he was two points from losing. Urged on by plenty of supporters despite the momentous occasion, he quickly replied with two consecutive points squaring at 30-all. Just when it looked like he might escape, an errant forehand suddenly setup championship point.

With the crowd moaning, it was finally over when Roddick missed a backhand long sending an extremely overjoyed Federer to jump up and down screaming while pumping his fists. He then ran to the net congratulating a heartbroken Roddick, who somehow didn’t tear up sitting in his chair head down.

It was a memorable scene. One which NBC commentator John McEnroe identified with after losing a similar classic to Borg. Of course, Federer related during a great trophy presentation noting last year’s gutwrenching loss to which Roddick sarcastically replied:

But you won five already.

“Roger is a true champion and he deserves all he gets,” he added while showing class during a trying time with stunning swimsuit model/wife Brooklyn Decker looking on still cheering her man.

I hope to come back one day and get my name up on that winners’ board.

So do we because you deserved better. Keep your head up Andy. After he’d left the court minus talking to McEnroe (could hardly blame him), there were four tennis legends together discussing Federer’s place with an excited Mac getting their thoughts. Federer even took a picture with Sampras, Laver and Borg with his newest trophy. One for the ages.

In my book, Roger is the greatest of all time. He has his critics and people point to Rafael Nadal beating him, but for me he’s the greatest. He is a legend and an icon,” Sampras praised.

He is a great champion and a good guy. He’s very humble, which I like.

Strong words from a man who was dethroned by a much younger Federer in 2001. Too bad it was their only match on grass as it went five. Who’s better? I guess that debate shall rage on. As for becoming the new record holder, Federer was philosophical.

“I didn’t hold the trophy last year. But it feels great after such a crazy match which could have gone on for a few more hours. My head is still spinning.

Getting 15 Grand Slam titles is not something you dream about when you are a little boy, but I’ve had a great career.

It’s been quite a month winning the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back just like Bjorn Borg did.

I don’t play to break records but it’s great to have them.

About what we’ve come to expect from such a classy champion. So, will Roddick ever win another major? He seemed to think so praising his opponent during the ceremony also adding:

“Andy (Roddick) played an unbelievable tournament. He’s a great guy but there has to be a winner sometimes.”

What wasn’t uttered is that there has to be a loser. Though few could argue that on this special day, there was no loser.

Only winners.

Federer and Roddick to do it once more

A familiar face will be standing in Roger Federer’s way if he plans to make tennis history in Sunday’s Wimbledon final- his seventh straight.

American Andy Roddick made his first final at the All England Club since losing for a second straight year back in 2005 to Federer. After the five-time Wimbledon champ disposed of German Tommy Haas in a close three sets, the 26 year-old Roddick showed great form in besting England’s new hope Andy Murray- winning a tight four setter 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5).

Tremendous match by Andy in a Davis Cup atmosphere with most of Centre Court pulling for the 22 year-old Scot to finally erase the demons. Unfortunately, they’ll have to wait another year for him to try to become the first Great Brit to win there since Fred Perry (1936).

That was due to Roddick, who played arguably the finest match of his career outslugging Murray from the baseline while also being the aggressor winning 64 percent from the net (48 of 75) including a gutsy volley winner that saved a set point in the third breaker. It turned out to be the difference along with his powerful, accurate serve with him making 75 percent of first serves and winning 77 percent. Murray didn’t serve poorly by any means but only made 52 percent first serves even though he won a higher percentage (83).

The difference was a more focused Roddick was better on the bigger points. What was most impressive is that he came up with the kind of hitting from both sides of the racket we haven’t seen with him remaining steady hitting through the backhand while producing some sizzling crosscourt forehands to take control of points.

All the more stunning was that Murray outaced Roddick 25-21 and even finished with 12 more winners (Murray-76, Roddick-64) in what was one of the cleanest matches you’ll see. There weren’t many mistakes as Roddick had 24 unforced errors while Murray committed 20. This was just pure tennis with both guys competing at a very high level.

That Roddick stayed with the plan attacking the net with vigor when he had the opportunity proved to be the difference. He really picked his spots well and stuck his volleys. Sure. Murray passed him a bunch with some mesmerizing shots that make you believe he’ll be winning slams soon enough. Maybe even at this year’s U.S. Open. But the constant pressure from Andy made it tough on the best returner in the game.

That along with the huge serving kept the his 22 year-old younger foe from taking firm control. Each man broke twice with both able to trade 6-4 scores the first two sets. In the third’s opening game, Roddick dugout of love-40 frustrating Murray, who was broken a few games later. But with Andy serving for the set, he tightened and Murray broke back getting it to a tiebreaker. But the 2009 leader didn’t break saving set point with a mishit volley winner and then claiming the set on a well played point to pull within one of his third Wimbledon final.

The fourth set was even more dramatic with neither big man cracking as each held serve with more pressure on Roddick staying in the set twice to force another breaker. Early in it, he got a minibreak when Murray misfired drawing groans from the crowd. But the feisty Scot fought back coming up with a huge backhand crosscourt winner to save one match point. But just when it seemed he’d get it back even, a hustling Roddick got a wicked first serve back eventually getting in the point.

When the opportunity arose, he took it hitting a big forehand cross approach which a scattering Murray hit short into the net, giving the emotional American a date with destiny.

To be honest, the last couple of years, I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to play for another Grand Slam title,” Roddick said holding back tears while model wife Brooklyn Decker cheered on her man. “Now I get to. It’s just a dream.

“If he serves like that, he’s got a chance against anyone,” Murray acknowledged after seeing his head-to-head record versus Roddick slip to 6-3.

Now, he’ll be the last one standing in the way of history with Federer looking to eclipse former American great Pete Sampras by capturing a record 15th grand slam. A year after Rafael Nadal broke his heart, can he do it against a close rival who he’s lost just two matches to in 20 times?

“I’ve had plenty of time to study his game, to understand his game,” Federer said. “He’s always played me also quite differently every single time.”

“Obviously you can’t really say enough to kind of signify what Roger’s career has been to this point,” Roddick said while appropriately adding:

“I’d love to delay it for another Grand Slam.”

It will be Federer’s 20th career Grand Slam final. Will it be lucky this Fourth of July weekend?

I’m very proud of all the records I’ve achieved, because I never thought I would be that successful as a kid. You know, I would have been happy winning a couple tournaments and maybe collecting Wimbledon,” the 27-year-old Federer said.

“It’s quite staggering.”