Martina Hingis added to lineup for WTT Finals Weekend in Charleston, S.C.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (August 29, 2012) — Martina Hingis, the 2012 WTT Female MVP, has been added to the lineup of tennis stars for the WTT Finals Weekend presented by GEICO, Sept. 14-16, at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, S.C.

Hingis, a five-time Grand Slam singles champion, confirmed to League officials today that she will be in Charleston to lead her New York Sportimes team for the WTT Finals Weekend.  Hingis, who finished first in WTT women’s singles during the regular season, is expected to face off against Venus Williams in women’s singles during the Eastern Conference championship showdown on Sept. 15 between long-time rivals, the New York Sportimes and Williams’ undefeated Washington Kastles.  Hingis will be joined by Hall of Famer John McEnroe, Jesse Witten, Robert Kendrick, and Ashley Harkleroad for the Sportimes.  Chuck Adams is the coach of the Sportimes.

This will be a rematch of the July 21 contest that featured Williams defeating Hingis to rally the Kastles from six games back in the final set to give Washington a Supertiebreaker win over the Sportimes and keep their win streak intact.

The Western Conference title will be decided on Sept. 14 when the six-time champion Sacramento Capitals battle the Orange County Breakers.  The Breakers will be without the services of WTT veteran Lindsay Davenport who is out of the WTT Finals Weekend with a torn ligament in her left wrist.  Davenport, who is sporting a cast for the next several weeks, tripped at home and injured her wrist.  She will be replaced in the Breakers lineup by her teammate and former collegiate standout Jana Juricova.  Juricova, who played nine matches for Orange County during the regular season, won the 2011 NCAA singles championship while playing for UC-Berkeley and was also named ITA National Player of the Year in 2011.  Trevor Kronemann is the Breakers coach.

The lineup for the Kastles will be Williams, who last month won the Olympic gold medal in doubles with her sister Serena Williams, along with 2012 WTT Male MVP Bobby Reynolds, Leander Paes, Anastasia Rodionova and Arina Rodionova.  Paes is considered one of the sports’ greatest doubles champions, with 50 titles and having completed the career doubles Grand Slam earlier this year with a victory at the Australian Open.

The Kastles are looking to win their second consecutive WTT title and continue their 30-match win streak.  After capturing the 2011 title in Charleston with a 16-0 record, the Kastles won all 14 of their 2012 regular season matches.  The Kastles have not lost a WTT match since July 22, 2010, which gives them the second longest U.S. pro sports team win streak in history with 30 consecutive wins.  The longest U.S. pro sports team win streak is 33 games, held by the NBA’s 1971-72 Lakers.   2012 WTT Coach of the Year Murphy Jensen is at the helm of the Kastles.

The best of the West face off on Friday, Sept. 14, at 6:30 p.m. EDT, when the Orange County Breakers take on the Sacramento Capitals in the Western Conference Championship.   The Breakers are the top seed in the West and their lineup is WTT Male Rookie of the Year John-Patrick Smith, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Jana Juricova and Travis Parrott.  Groenefeld and Parrott are both mixed doubles Grand Slam champions.  Groenefeld teamed with Sacramento’s Mark Knowles to win the 2009 Wimbledon mixed doubles title, while Parrott and Carly Gullickson of the Boston Lobsters won the 2009 US Open mixed championship.

South African Kevin Anderson, currently ranked No. 34 in the world in singles, leads the Sacramento squad that also includes former doubles world No. 1 Mark Knowles, and young Americans Yasmin Schnack and Asia Muhammad.  Wayne Bryan, father of Olympic gold medalists Bob and Mike Bryan, is the longtime coach of the Sacramento Capitals.

The Conference Champions advance to the WTT Finals on Sunday, Sept. 16, at 3:30 p.m. EDT with the winner taking home the King Trophy, named after WTT co-founder Billie Jean King.

Ticket specials for the WTT Finals Weekend are available through the Family Circle Tennis Center box office.  Fans who purchase Terrace Level tickets for Friday and Saturday through the FCTC Box Office will receive a free ticket for Sunday’s Championship Final.  A full weekend Terrace Level pass is $77.00.  Full weekend Box Seat passes are available for $160.50.  Single session tickets are $38.50 for Terrace Level and $53.50 for Box Seats.  All fees are included in ticket prices.  For tickets, travel packages or more information, please contact the Box Office at 1-800-677-2293 or visit www.familycirclecup.com.

For more information on the WTT Finals Weekend presented by GEICO, visit www.WTT.com/Finals.

WTT Finals Weekend presented by GEICO – Schedule

Western Conference Championship –#2 Sacramento Capitals vs. #1 ORANGE COUNTY BREAKERS - Friday, September 14 – 6:30 PM EDT

Eastern Conference Championship –  #2 New York Sportimes vs. #1 WASHINGTON KASTLES - Saturday, September 15 – 6:30 PM EDT

WTT Finals – #2 Western Conference Champion vs. #1 EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION - Sunday, September 16 – 3:30 PM EDT

Team Rosters(subject to change):

NEW YORK SPORTIMES

Ashley Harkleroad (USA)

Martina Hingis (SUI)

Robert Kendrick (USA)

John McEnroe (USA)

Jesse Witten (USA)

Coach: Chuck Adams

WASHINGTON KASTLES

Leander Paes (IND)

Anastasia Rodionova (AUS)

Arina Rodionova (AUS)

Bobby Reynolds (USA)

Venus Williams (USA)

Coach: Murphy Jensen

ORANGE COUNTY BREAKERS

Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER)

Jana Juricova (SVK)

Travis Parrott (USA)

John-Patrick Smith (AUS)

Coach: Trevor Kronemann

SACRAMENTO CAPITALS

Kevin Anderson (RSA)

Mark Knowles (BAH)

Asia Muhammad (USA)

Yasmin Schnack (USA)

Coach: Wayne Bryan

About WTT Pro League presented by GEICO: 

The World Team Tennis (WTT) Pro League presented by GEICO showcases the best in professional team tennis with the innovative coed team format co-founded by Billie Jean King in the 1970s.  The WTT Pro League has featured virtually every major champion of the Open era over the League’s past 37 seasons.  The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is a minority owner and promotional partner of World TeamTennis.   WTT and the USTA are teaming up on number of initiatives, including development of the youth market through junior team tennis programs.  For more information on the WTT Pro League, visit www.WTT.com.

Djokovic Wins Dogfight With Federer To Get To Finals

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Arthur Ashe Stadium was rocking in rumbling roars in anticipation of the first Roger vs. Rafa US Open final as Roger Federer stood one point away from the creating the most electrifying encounter in recent US Open history. Firing his forehand with ambition, Novak Djokovic stood up to the five-time champion and more than 20,000 screaming fans in pulling the plug on the Big Apple buzz with audacious shotmaking.

In a dramatic duel that saw tension escalate with each brilliant baseline exchange, Djokovic fought off two match points with successive scorching forehand winners in the 11th game of the final set then withstood a break point in the 12th game to subdue five-time champion Federer, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 and advance to his first US Open final.

When Federer’s final forehand sailed wide, Djokovic stood wide-eyed on the court as if frozen in utter disbelief of completing his comeback and snapping Federer’s streak of six straight US Open finals. Thrusting his arms in triumph, Djokovic crossed himself, pressed his palms together as if in prayer then knelt down and kissed the court.

“It’s really hard to describe the feeling I have right now; 10 minutes ago I was a point from losing this match and now I managed to come back,” said Djokovic. “It’s one of those matches you will always remember in your career. I’m just so happy to be in the final.”

It is Djokovic’s second US Open final in the past four years, but he won’t have much time to celebrate. The 2007 runner-up will face World No. 1 Nadal in Sunday’s 4 p.m. final.

The top-seeded Spaniard stormed into his first Flushing Meadows final, overwhelming 12th-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in a two hour, 13-minute semifinal that started the day of play on Ashe Stadium.

Continuing his quest to complete the career Grand Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in succession, Nadal may well be reveling in the fact he made quick work of Youzhny while Djokovic, who has been dogged by breathing issues, survived a physically-demanding five-setter with Federer.

“Having three sets match and two hours, or a little bit more, of the match always is great, no?  I gonna be in perfect conditions tomorrow, so that’s very positive,” Nadal said.  “We will see what happen.”

Given the fact Nadal has not surrendered a set so far, has only dropped serve twice in this tournament, owns a 14-7 career edge over Djokovic and Djokovic is coming off a a grueling semifinal with little turnaround time you might think the final could be as closely contested as an arm-wrestling match between the Incredible Hulk and Olivier Rochus.

The final is not a foregone conclusion though. Djokovic has won seven of 10 hard-court meetings with Nadal, including three in a row without dropping a set. Nadal’s last hard-court win over Djokovic was a 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 triumph in the semifinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

It might sound borderline blasphemous to even suggest it, but could Djokovic, whose two-handed backhand is a more effective hard-court shot than Federer’s one-handed backhand, actually be better equipped to challenge Nadal on the US Open Deco Turf than 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer?

“When he’s playing well, probably (he) is the player who can play at high level for moments, no?  Because he can have winners from every part of the court.  He serve, when he’s serving well, help him a lot, because he can have very good serves,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “He’s a very difficult opponent for me, especially I had a lot of loses against him in this kind of surface.  I have victories, too, but I have loses.”

Djokovic’s recent US Open have been littered with a littany of loss all at the hands of Federer.

Down 15-30, Federer pulled out the slice forehand for the first time all day and moved forward behind that shot, slicing a sharp-angled backhand crosscourt to draw even. A scrambling Djokovic dug out a difficult running forehand to elicit the error and it was deuce. Two points later, Federer fired his 10th ace to take a 2-1 lead in the fifth set.

Deadlocked at deuce at 3-all, Djokovic was in control of the point and hit a backhand that landed on the line. The shot was incorrectly called out, chair umpire Enric Moline overruled, the point was replayed and Federer hit a service winner. On the second deuce, Federer fied a backhand down the line to open the court followed by an inside-out forehand winner for ad.  Djokovic was beyond ball boy territory, nine feet off the court when he made a spectaculaar get. Federer netted an open-court forehand to face another deuce.

After a fourth deuce, Federer held when Djokovic netted a return for 4-3.

In the eighth game, Federer was racing off the doubles alley aiming for an open area down the line. If he connected on the shot it would have been a sure winner and given Federer double-break point, but he flattened a backhand into the net near the Mercedes symbol and Djokovic dug out a difficult hold for 4-all.

More than two hours into the match, Djokovic, a man whose past questionable conditioning, breathing issues and willingness to tap out in major matches has haunted him, showed resilience in his spirt and spring in his step.

Storming the net, Djokovic deflected a series of reflex volleys then leaped to snap off an overhead winner for break point. He broke for 2-1 and quickly consolidated for 3-1.

A distracted Federer sprayed a backhand long as Djokovic earned double break point at 15-40. Federer fought off the first two break points, but did not move his feet and laced a backhand into the net to hand Djokovic a third break point. Cutting quickly to his right, Djokovic drilled a forehand pass down the line that ricocheted off Federer’s Wilson racquet and he trotted to the side line raising a clenched fist toward his parents, who leaped out of their seats in support, holding a 4-1 fourth-set lead.

Despite serving just 48% in the fourth set, Djokovic permitted only five points on serve to seize the set in 31 minutes.

The fight for the final would go the distance.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Rafa Rides Right To The Finals

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The ball sped off the strings so fast for a moment it appeared the force of the swing could send a vibration dampener spinning around the string bed like a particularly lively super ball bounding around a roulette wheel. Rafael Nadal watched his final serve land safely and exploded into the air like a man propelled from his own personal launching pad. He landed in his first career US Open final after wrapping up a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Mikhail Youzhny in today’s semifinal.

The semifinal had served as a stop sign for Nadal in each of the past two years — he fell to Andy Murray in a rain-interrupted 2008 semifinal and was blown off the court by big-hitting Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in last September’s semis — but the top-seeded Spaniard played with authoritative ambition in surging to his 20th consecutive Grand Slam victory today.

“For me, it is a dream I am going to play the final here in the biggest center court of the world,” Nadal said. “I try my best so after a lot of work so I am very happy for that.”

Playing progressively stronger with each passing round, Nadal has kicked his game into a higher gear like a sprinter downshifting into speedier strides with the tape in sight as he is now one win removed from becoming the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam.

Continuing his quest to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in succession, Nadal has not surrendered a set in six tournament victories and now the world watches and waits for a potential electrifying encounter in tomorrow’s final.

If five-time champion Roger Federer defeats Novak Djokovic for the fourth consecutive time at the Open in today’s second semifinal then the archrivals will face off in their first Flushing Meadows final. It would be their 18th meeting in a championship match, second to Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe, who met in 20 finals.

Nadal and Federer have split the spoils at the Grand Slam table in combining to claim 21 of the last 24 major championships.

It would be a historic match-up marking the first time in history two men squared off in all four Grand Slam tournament finals. A Federer-Nadal final would be their eighth Grand Slam title match, setting the record for most major meetings (they currently share the record of seven major final face-offs with Bill Tilden and William Johnston, who met in seven straight US Championships from 1919-1925.).

Seeking to become the first Russian man to reach a major final since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open and the second Russian finalist in Flushing Meadow after Safin, who stunned Pete Sampras to capture the title a decade ago, Youzhny need to play big and bold, but instead looked tired and timid for long stretches of the match.

Youzhny punctuated a few of his errant shots by tapping his adidas with the rim of racquet as if trying to shake some sense into his shot selection through flogging his feet.

“Maybe he was a little bit more tired than me; he played a longer match during the week,” Nadal said.

Depleted by his 3-6, 7-6(7-), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over 25th-seeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka that spanned exactly four hours, a spent Youzhny looked like a man fully aware he had little left in his inner reservoir. The clarity Youzhny showed in his shot selection against Wawrinka was missing at times today. Nadal’s fast feet and ability to track down balls that elude most mortals caused Youzhny to think before he struck at times and he conceded that the mind-body connection was a bit out of sync.

“I cannot say I’m really tired, but yeah, (I) was not fast enough today,” Youzhny said. “My decision was not really fast. I mean, I (was) moving well, but my head was one step back of my hand and my legs. So that’s why I was thinking too long where I have to play. That’s why some mistakes and that’s why made the score like this one.”

Nadal has a habit of infiltrating opponent’s heads with his anticipation, unerring consistency and court coverage that seems to squeeze the court to the size of a parking space.

“He’s consistent. He play really high level all year,” Youzhny said of Nadal. “Not everybody can play like this. Some players play really well maybe three tournaments and four, five tournaments play not so well. Even top players. But Federer and Nadal I think (are) more consistent players. His level is a little bit higher than all other players.”

Read more of Rich Pagliaro at TennisNow.com.

Clijsters Goes for an Open Dynasty

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The distance between the two old rivals shrunk to the size of the sweatband Kim Clijsters used to swipe the sweat off her forehead. The reigning US Open champion had watched her third-set lead evaporate and could hear Venus Williams’ fast footsteps approaching net with the set deadlocked at 4-all. That’s when Clijsters created closure by playing over Williams’ head.

Lofting a looping topspin lob into the wind, Clijsters watched the ball sail over Williams’ outstretched Wilson racquet and land a few feet inside the baseline, earning her the crucial break and a 5-4 lead.

Exploring every stroke in her shot spectrum, Clijsters served out a tense 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 conquest of Williams in a rollercoaster of a wildly windy match to advance to her fourth US Open final in her last four Flushing Meadows appearances.

“I thought as long as I keep trying, I have to make one,” Clijsters said of the lob. “It’s instinct. You decide to do that and it works. It was an important point and I’m happy to get through. You can put a little bit more behind it because I was against the wind.”

It was Clijsters’ 20th consecutive US Open victory, tying her with Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Venus for the second-longest US Open winning streak in the Open Era.

“It obviously means a lot to be in the final and to give myself a chance to defend my my title from last year. It’s a great opportunity,” Clijsters said. “I think today was probably one of the best matches that I’ve played throughout the tournament. I was able to raise my level, and that’s probably what I’m most please about is obviously I was able to win a close match like this, but that I was able to kind of rise to the occasion when I had to.”

It was the 13th meeting between Venus and Clijsters, who has won five in a row to take a 7-6 lead in the head-to-head series. Tennis’ top working mom denied Williams’ quest to return to the US Open final for the first time since 2002. Williams entered the Open without playing a single match during the US Open Series yet came within a few points of navigating her way to the final.

“I definitely feel like I’ll be back next year. This is what I do, and I feel like I played great tennis even with minimal preparation,” Venus said. “Obviously I would have liked to win this match and be playing tomorrow.  I may have lost the match, but that’s just this match.  There will be others.”

Serena Williams, looking champion chic in Venus’ support box, sat this Open out and in Serena’s absence Clijsters is the best hard-court player in the world, in part because she’s the most balanced offensively and defensively. Then there’s the fact she’s always been at her best on North American hard-courts. When she stormed to her first career Grand Slam title at the 2005 US Open, Clijsters simply wore out Williams in rallying for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 quarterfinal victory, and posted a 36-1 record on American hard courts that year.

“I always feel good here so I know that if I play good tennis and if I can give myself an opportunity to get into that second week and play those big matches, I mean this is where I’ve played some of the best tennis that I’ve ever played,” Clijsters said. “So if I can give myself those opportunities to play these kind of matches and not get surprised by opponents in the beginning of the tournament, then anything is possible.”

The second-seeded Clijsters will carry a 5-2 career record into tomorrow night’s final against Vera Zvonareva. But Zvonareva has the game to pose problems for the two-time champion as evidenced by the fact she’s won their last two meetings. Zvonareva surprised Clijsters, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in June then grounded a slightly hobbled Clijsters, who suffered a leg strain, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in last month’s Montreal quarterfinals.

A Wimbledon finalist in singles and doubles, Zvonareva doesn’t have one overwhelming weapon, but she can hit any shot from any position on the court and showcased her net skills in today’s first semifinal.

“She’s a very, very tough opponent. Obviously, I’ve lost my last two matches with her,” Clijsters said. “She’s a player who doesn’t give you much. It’s not that she has a game that’s very unpredictable, but what she does, she does extremely well. It’s gonna be a lot different match than it was today. She has a really good backhand and she’s been serving a lot better in the last few months.”

The seventh-seeded Russian surrendered serve just once in scoring a stirring 6-4, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki to advance to her second consecutive Grand Slam final.

Zvonareva snapped Wozniacki’s 13-match winning streak by playing with purpose and passion in persistently pushing the 2009 US Open finalist into defensive positions on the court.

“Any match with Kim will come down to the tough challenge,” Zvonareva said. “She’s a great mover on the court.  She has a lot of experience.  She won here last year. You know, it’s going to be tough. We played a couple of matches for the past couple of months, but those matches are in the past.”

Williams missed the entire US Open Series while recovering from a knee injury. Her court appearances were confined to World TeamTennis, a few clinics and a book signing appearance at the Los Angeles tournament. Though she was short on match play, Williams wields an abundance of experience, a whipping 120 mph first serve and wisely acted on the fact she could not grind with Clijsters today. Her best shot was moving forward and pressuring the reigning champion.

Pressure, the tormenting winds and Clijsters’ unrelenting pursuit of every ball created a cocktail of torture for Williams in the tiebreaker as she hit two of her seven double faults in the break then badly bungled an easy overhead to fall behind 1-5. Banging a backhand into the net, Williams handled Clijsters five set points and she closed the set in 62 minutes.

“Obviously in the tie break I wasn’t able to play as well as I wanted,” Williams said. “I had too many errors, and she played some good tennis”

Clijsters saved a break point in her opening service game of the final set. She broke for a 2-1 lead when Williams buried a backhand into the net.

Serving at 4-3,Clijsters unravaled in committing two double faults. She had a clear look at the open court but slapped a swinging forehand volley four feet long to hand back the break and it was 4-all.

Father Richard Williams was gnawing nervously on a toothpick as his daughter tried to consolidate the break only to see Venus victmized when Clijsters rode the current of the blustery breeze with two  running rainbow lobs that lit up the murky sky. Stabbing a stretch backhand lob in the corner, Clijsters hammered a forehand winner down the line and when Venus double faulted beyond the box, Clijsters had double break point.

Staying true to her game plan, Williams did the right thing and attacked net behind a vicious forehand, but did not do enough with the forehand volley and paused momentarily to watch that shot land. That’s when Clijsters, hitting against the wind, went airborne with the lob that broke Williams’ serve and shattered her hopes in the process.

“I felt like I was trying to be aggressive in that game, and I came in you know, three out of five points.  Unfortunately it didn’t work for me,” Williams said. “She was playing against the wind, so it just blows the ball back in.  There’s not so much I could do on those points.  It was kind of a little bit of bad luck for me. You know, she just played to win.”

A Clijsters’ win in tomorrow’s 7 p.m. final would make her the first woman to successfully defend the Open since Venus did it in 2001.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

The Djoker Goes To The Semis

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Novak Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the US Open semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.

The highly anticipated battle of the Djoker vs. Slider Man was about as absorbing as a two-page, color-less comic book.

Wearing the distinctive dragon design on the back of his Sergio Tacchini shirt, Djokovic, aka The Djoker, turned Slider Man Monfils into his own personal punch line after coming back from a break down in the first set to dispense a thorough thrashing of the flamboyant Frenchman who showed no fight after the first set.

The third-seeded Serbian powered into his fourth straight US Open semifinal where he will face either five-time champion Roger Federer or No. 5 seed Robin Soderling for a spot in Sunday’s final.

Federer has served as a personal road block for Djokovic in ending the 2008 Australian Open champion’s Flushing Meadows runs in each of the past three years, including a victory in the 2007 final and his famous between-the-legs passing shot winner that haunted Djokovic in the 2009 semifinals.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, but the Serbian showman will enjoy more rest than any other semifinalist. The question is: can Djokovic show the necessary mental strength and tactical acumen necessary to finally clear the Swiss hurdle in New York? Or is Djokovic destined for another final four failure?

A positive sign for Djokovic is the composed demeanor he’s shown both on court and in his post-match press conferences. This appears to be a more focused and determined Djokovic, but both Federer and Nadal have a habit of causing that familiar haunted expression in the normally smiling Serbian.

If Djokovic is to master another major he must step up and beat Federer in the latter stages of a major. He believes time is on his side.

“I have two days (to rest) so I will try to use them as best as I can to recover physically and get ready mentally for this next challenge,” said Djokovic, who has been all business in this tournament.

Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets

Meanwhile, Monfils reinforced his reputation as an ultra-talented, but extremely flaky Frenchman, who is apparently unable or unwilling or unable to accept that bobbing and weaving just won’t get it down against top four players.

Squandering the break lead in the opening set, Monfils played tentative, frightened tennis for the final two sets. Ducking and running rather than engaging Djokovic in committed baseline exchanges.

How bad did it get for Monfils?

His coach, Roger Rasheed, essentially called out Monfils as a passionless pusher who looked resigned to suffering his fifth consecutive loss to Djokovic.

“I’ve been disappointed to be perfectly honest,” Rasheed told ESPN’s Darren Cahill after an absymal second-set effort from his charge. “You gotta have some authority on the game and the person that gets after it is gonna get the job done in these conditions.”

Roddick Moves Right Along

(August 30, 2010) He has supplanted the spiky hairstyle that once burst from beneath the backward baseball cap like an unruly chia pet escaping from its base with a more conservative style and while he can still rock the radar gun at will, Andy Roddick is more of a measured purpose pitcher on serve now. The 2003 US Open champion may be getting older but he still knows how to throw a birthday bash on court.

Roddick celebrated his 28th birthday and 11th consecutive US Open in style today, rolling to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 thrashing of 30-year-old Stephane Robert on Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

It’s been seven years since Roddick dispatched David Nalbandian and Juan Carlos Ferrero in succession to capture his lone major title in Flushing Meadows. He joins Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt as the lone former champions in the field.

Roddick says he doesn’t dwell on age but each passing birthday is a reminder he’s closer to the finish line.

“I don’t really think about it, because it makes no difference what I think about it.  It’s like you go out there and give the best of what you got on that day,” Roddick said. “You wake up in the morning and you put what you can into that single day.  Obviously I know I’m probably closer to finished than I am to the start.  But I don’t know.  It’s a number.  I’m barely older than I was yesterday.”

The two-time US Open finalist played some of the best tennis of his career in reaching successive Masters 1000 finals in Indian Wells and Miami last spring. He asserted an aggressive game plan in defeating Rafael Nadal in the semis before downsizing the big-hitting Tomas Berdych in the Sony Ericsson Open final.

Though Roddick has won two titles this year and leads the ATP Tour in hard-court wins with a 34-7 record, he hasn’t elbowed his way into contender conversations that revolve primarily around five-time champion Roger Federer, Nadal and 2008 finalist Andy Murray and Roddick seems to enjoy flying under the radar a bit.

Roddick says he feels he’s recovered from the mild case of mononucleosis that prompted him to withdraw from the Rogers Cup in Toronto and is coming off a semifinal effort in Cincinnati where he served for a spot in the final before losing his serve and his grip on the match in succumbing to good friend Mardy Fish.

“It’s going the right way.  To be honest, once you decide to play, I think you throw all the excuses and everything else out the window,” Roddick said. “If I decide to play, then it’s up to me to give 100 percent of what I have.  So it’s not something I really want to discuss too much from this point forward.  It’s something that’s there.  You know, I’m not going to analyze it every day. It’s not perfect, but it’s fine.  You know, it’s going the right way.”

Roddick and wife Brooklyn Decker own an apartment in the Grammercy Park area and the man who consistently delivers candor in his post-match press conferences has an affinity for  the direct approach of New Yorkers.

Asked if he feels like a New Yorker, Roddick replied: “I certainly pay enough taxes for it.”

“I mean, it is nice having a place here and having a kind of quasi home,” Roddick added. “I always feel comfortable here in New York even when I didn’t have a place.  I stayed at the same hotel and everything for years and years and years and years, so I don’t mind New York. People tell you what they think, and I’ve always kind of appreciated that.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Federer Still Shows Class In Defeat

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Not much bad can be said about Roger Federer. Even in defeat, he was as gracious as ever and that’s even after the tough five-set loss in the US Open Finals in the Juan Martin Del Potro, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

“I thought it was a tough match from the start,” Federer said. I think even the first set was, you know, pretty close. I think both getting used to the conditions. It was kind of tough starting around the 4:00 time because the shadows moving in and stuff.

“I got off to a pretty good start, and had things under control as well in the second set. I think that one cost me the match eventually. But I had many chances before that to make the difference. So it was tough luck today, but I you thought Juan Martin played great. I thought he hung in there and gave himself chances, and in the end was the better man.”

Federer just had a bad day. His serve was off and he had an uncharacteristic 62 unforced errors in the match as well as 11 double faults. Del Potro admitted his first set was nothing but nerves, and he caught himself in the second, which means the Maestro was having even a harder day than the score indicated.

“I thought I had him under control for the first two sets,” Federer said. “I should never have lost so many chances. It was just a pity. I think if I win the second set, I’m in a great position to come through. Unfortunately, I didn’t win that and that was it.”

Although he composed himself after the match was over, you have to believe Federer was frustrated. In the third after holding to make the score 5-4, he was caught by the television cameras cursing at the chair umpire about the allowance of Del Potro’s challenge. The five-time champion makes no bones about his disdain for the “Hawk-Eye” system used in replays. And this time was no different.

“You know, what I think about Hawk-Eye,” he said. “Shouldn’t be there in the first place. So then second question shouldn’t happen. It is what it is.”

As is Federer who is the same classy player win or lose. And this loss will mean nothing for his legacy. Federer is still the best ever, even with the 2009 record of 2-2 in Grand Slam finals.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “Unbelievable run. Being in all major finals and winning two of those, I’m losing the other two in five sets. Sure, I would have loved to win those two as well. Being so close, I think was two points from the match today. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

“But year has been amazing already and it’s not over yet. Got married and had kids, don’t know how much more I want.”

Murray Ready For Open Run

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Believe it or not, the US Open is a lot easier then Wimbledon for Andy Murray. I New York, the second seeded player can be more relaxed, compared to the scrutiny he gets in London.

“Yeah, it’s normal,” said Murray, who hopes to finally win a Grand Slam this year after losing to Roger Federer in straight sets in the 2008 Finals. “It’s not like you sort of get followed around. People are not sort of following you back to the hotel whereas back home, you know, you can get people waiting outside your house or following you to dinner if you want to go out. It’s not like that here. So it makes it easier to relax away from the court.”

It’s on the turf at Arthur Ashe where Murray looks to make his mark. Last season he was the surprise of the tournament, rising up from sixth seed to challenge Frederer for the title. Yet, much like many opponents, the now five time champion swatted away his 22 year-old opponent.

“If you watch Roger playing against anyone, if leave the ball in the middle of the court against him, you give him enough second serves to attack,” Murray said. “He comes forward against anyone.”

Now the page has turned and Murray is looking for the elusive slam, which he said “is the one thing he wants to do in tennis.” Although he was the hometown favorite during Wimbledon, the tennis star lost to Andy Roddick in the semifinals in four sets.

But just two months later, Murray has a chance to make his mark in New York, and even though he was the clear favorite in London, he knows the Flushing crowd will support him.

“Obviously at Wimbledon, the support that I has has been great over the past few years, but I have also had great support here,” he said. “I’ve played some of my best matches here and last year had a very good run.”

If Murray plays Federer again it will be in the final. Although he fared well against the best player in the world, he most recently lost to the Swiss native during the Cincinnati Master semifinals last week.

“I started off a bit sluggish and hit balls in the middle of the court,” he said. “I’ve given him too many opportunities in the first set.”

That’s too weeks away and Murray will have to go through the tough last summer tournament first. He faces Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the first round.

Hopefully no one follows him around.