Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Shanghai Day 3: A Festival of Chokes

(1)Roger Federer d. (5)Andy Roddick 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4

Match of the Day
Federer came out hitting the ball harder than I’d ever seen him, coming forward to take the net away from Roddick. Roddick came out returning Roger’s serve better than I’d ever seen him.

This match had thriller written all over it from the first points.

In the third game, Roddick earned two break points on Roger’s serve. He missed the first with a forehand wide, but Roger double-faulted on the second, apparently attempting an ace on a second serve. It was called out, Roger challenged the call but the replay showed the serve was a few inches wide and Andy secured the break. Now, Andy needed to calm down to consolidate, but I could see he was pumped, his adrenaline was racing, and he could easily experience a letdown. But Andy held firm to take a 3-1 lead.

Slugfest on.

Coach Roche was in attendance. Hadn’t seen him at a tournament since Wimbledon. Mirka wore a wrinkled brow. Roddick attacked a few second serve returns and earned another break point. Federer saved it with an ace. Roger played three outstanding points to take a 40-15 lead on Andy’s serve, but four big serves in a row including two aces secured Andy the game.

Andy stood inside the baseline to take Roger’s shots earlier. Roger felt the pressure. I felt the pressure through the television screen. It was clear Andy wanted an insurance break, clear Roger wasn’t having any of that as he held to 15. Both held serve again easily and then Roddick stepped up the line and served for the first set. I got tight. Could he do it?


He missed his first serve, but Roger let him off the hook. Roddick earned two set points and missed three first serves in a row. He fought off the break point with an ace. Panic mode began. Both players blinked and missed easy forehands, and Roddick had his third set point. Roddick finished it off with a backhand volley winner, taking the first set from Roger for only the second time in their thirteen meetings.

The king of the come-from-behinds and the mentally toughest player on the tour would have to rally in his second match of the week. The first set featured 15 winners and 7 unforced errors from Andy; 17 winners, 10 unforced errors from Roger. I knew, the crowd knew, and of course the players knew there wasn’t much between them, so Roddick would have to avoid an early second-set letdown as he is wont to do and stay on point.

Andy continued to come to net; Roger continued to pass him, making an occasional foray into the net himself to switch things up as he is wont to do. Both players were hitting their backhands tremendously well, particularly Andy’s backhand volley and Roger’s down the line shot. Roger enjoys camping out in the ad court and controlling play with his forehand from there if he can around his backhand, but his weaker wing has gotten devastatingly precise because of it.

At 2-2, Roger fell behind 0-30, but he swept an ill-advised crosscourt approach from Andy up the line to get to 30-30. A missed backhand pass gave Andy his first breakpoint of the set. Roger saved it with a service winner and subsequently closed out the game.

Andy’s first-serve percentage began to slip slightly; I began to get nervous. But Andy would fire a bomb when he needed to keep his holds relatively comfortable.

I love when these two play. Yes, I’m a die-head Roddick fan and Federer makes his life miserable, but their matches feature exciting tennis. Roger enjoys all the pace and presence of Andy, and though Andy is often not just outplayed by Roger, but also undone by his own disbelief, there’s something about this match up that it simply delicious. When Roddick was going through his slump, Roger was one of the only players to tell the media that they were overreacting a bit and that Roddick would certainly come back. Or so he hoped, as he admitted he didn’t want to be facing such a dangerous player early in the draw. Some claim Roger was posturing; I say he was sincere. Roddick is a dangerous player, and Federer has never taken Andy or his gaping series lead over him for granted.

In the tenth game of the second set, Roger got his first 30-0 lead on Andy’s serve. The crowd began chanting “Roger, Roger” as they clearly wanted to see a decisive third set. But Andy didn’t wither and came back with two huge serves to level the game. A hooking crosscourt forehand passing shot winner off Roger’s frame earned him a set point. Roddick fired back with a service winner up the middle. A laser backhand pass down the line earned Roger another set point. Andy’s bomb just missed, but a forehand winner down the line off the return, only his second of the match, brought it back to deuce. Another missed first serve. A framed return knuckleball that hit the baseline earned Federer his third set point. A bullet forehand approach that Federer couldn’t handle saved it. Let (crowd gasped), first serve. Federer missed the backhand pass. Game point. Roddick finally closed out the game with some instinctive net play and yet another backhand volley that fell short, just out of Roger’s reach.


Federer challenged a backhand slice that was called out. It was out, but Roger recovered with a one-two serve-forehand punch to 15-15. Roddick lost his footing in the next point, and sent a forehand wide, after which he fell to his knees and crawled up the court. The crowd roared with laughter. At least Roddick was still having fun out there. Both players slugged forehands in an extended rally, till Andy capitulated and hit one long. Roger secured the game with a slice serve ace to take a 6-5 lead.

Roddick needed to get the set to a tiebreak. Roger was beginning to return better, but there wasn’t a lot he could do with Andy’s delivery today. Roger upped his game, rolling forehands to vicious angles, but Andy followed suit with more knife approaches and finesse (yes, finesse) at the net and he got himself into a breaker to give him the opportunity to close out the match in straight sets.

I can’t believe I just typed that.

Roger yanked a backhand wide to drop the first point on serve. Andy was still missing too many first serves for my comfort, but was able to win a second serve point. Ace. 3-0, Roddick. Roger wins the next point, a first serve miss of his own allows Roddick a crack at a return. 4-1, Roddick. Andy misses another first serve. Still, he gets a routine forehand to hit, but he misses it wide. Do I smell a choke? 4-2 Roddick, one of two mini-breaks gone. Another missed first serve, but Roger misses the easy backhand pass, a pass he made most of the set. 5-2, Roddick. Andy started to drift behind the baseline and couldn’t put any purchase on his shots. 5-3, Roddick. Ace. 5-4, Roddick. The biggest two serves of Roddick’s year. He misses the first serve, but hits an acute backhand that catches Federer offguard. Me too. Match point. Andy: visibly nervous. Roger: calm as daybreak. Missed serve. Roger says, Thank you very much, and doesn’t let Roddick off the hook again, making him pay with a forehand pass up the line. 6-5, Roddick. Roger: Big serve. 6-6. Missed serve. Andy’s backhand just misses the baseline. Set point, Federer. Andy: Service winner. (Hey Andy, where was that on match point???!!!) 7-7. Terrific serve and volley. Match point. Roger: Flat serve out wide. 8-8. First serve, Andy’s lob sails out. Set point. Andy: Let, first serve. Whew. Serve and volley. Wild swing on the sky-jump overhead. Are you fucking kidding me? You are not Sampras and you hate when anyone compares you to him, so why the need to showboat? Huh? Down set point? In a tiebreak? Three points from defeating your nemesis? In one of the biggest matches of your career?

Huge. Mental. Shatter.

Federer levels the match. He walks to his chair on tiptoe.

The good news (can there be good news after that?): Andy won a set and can begin the decisive set serving first.

The bad news: It ain’t gonna matter cuz the train has left the station. Roger will break Andy early in the third, Andy will start hitting shots with that short, desperate tell-tale sigh, get annoyed by nothing in particular or anything at all, start talking to himself and the crowd, Roger will flow like water and cruise to victory.

I’m taking a walk.

Match Highlights

(3)Ivan Ljubicic d. (7)David Nalbandian 5-7, 7-6(8), 7-5

To quote John Barrett, my all-time favorite commentator, this match was characterized by “a strange mix of brilliance and ineptitude.”

Nalbandian picked up where he left off against Federer two days before and couldn’t keep a ball in the court, falling behind 0-3. His mother, who looked as though she birthed her son right out of her face, looked on with concern. But Ljubicic looked weary from the outset and I didn’t trust him to hold on.

He didn’t.

He surrendered serve in the fifth game and again in the eleventh, and Nalbandian served out the set, saving a break point.

Ljubicic dropped serve again to open the second set, and he ambled about the court looking as though he wanted to go back to bed. He served well, battled as best he could, but primarily played through the motions for the rest of the set.

Well, wouldn’t you know? Just when I thought it was safe to say that the choke of the day had already occurred, David served for the match at 5-4 and played a predictably tight game. At deuce, he attempted a brain-cramp drop shot that landed in the net. A forehand error leveled the set at 5-5, giving Ivan a lifeline and a second wind.

Ivan held serve to love behind pinpoint first serves and forged ahead 6-5. For David, it all started to go wrong. But he fought off a break point and got into a tiebreak. But his 6-12 record in tie breaks for the year didn’t bode well for his chances.

I love tiebreaks. Unless, of course, well…. Nevermind.

Ivan came alive and won a long and thrilling opening point with a blistering forehand up the line. The play continued on serve until the sixth point when David yanked a forehand wide. 4-2, Ljubicic. David recovered and one his next service point with a fine backhand smash. 4-3, Ljubicic. Missed serve. Ivan couldn’t handle David’s deep return and hit a forehand long. 4-4. Ace number 19. 5-4, Ljubicic. Second-serve ace. 5-5. Missed serve. A security guard throws a ball back into the court while David has clear control of the point. The umpire calls a let and the point is replayed. Missed serve. Ivan converts a backhand pass up the line. Set point, Ljbucic. David is livid, as he should be. His mother picks her fingers. Her son recovers brilliantly, hits a great return off a wide serve, and saves the set point with a forehand pass down the line. Ivan would love to have that weak forehand approach shot back. 6-6. Missed serve. David misses easy backhand return into the net. Set point. Missed serve. A long rally ends when Ivan can’t handle a deep backhand and misses it in the net. 7-7. David attempts yet another drop shot from the middle of the court and misses into the net. When will he learn? Set point. On Ivan’s serve. Ace out wide. Or is it? David challenges. Official review reveals the ball smack on the line and Ivan levels the match.

A festival of chokes.

Both held serve without much fanfare for the first several games of the third set and then the ATP live feed went black. I tried several times to reload it, but to no avail.

Ah, there it is. Ivan is down 0-30 serving at 3-4.

Here we go. Well, not quite. The audio is working, but the video is hanging. A virtual radio broadcast.

The video is back and Ivan is serving to stay in the match at 4-5. And the screen goes black again. Even the audio stops this time.

Oh, well, I guess I’ll get back to posting today’s summary. It’s taken me long enough. Sorry for the delay, but I’m still reeling, of course. Another walk is in order. Or a cocktail. It’s past noon in Maine. But I’m rooting for Ivan, for the first time ever, because his win will take some pressure off of Andy. (More on that later, if it happens. Well, well, it did happen, according to the live scoreboard!)

I’ll return to edit this later (or maybe I won’t. I might be too drunk to type) after I watch the rebroadcast. Maybe I’ll even watch the last set of the Andy-Roger match. Maybe I won’t. At least Andy kept it close. Whatever I decide, by then hopefully the technical difficulties on the feed will be worked out. Can’t complain too much, though. It only cost five bucks.

In doubles matches today, top-ranked Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Martin Damm and Leander Paes. 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5). Paul Hanley and Kevin Ullyett topped Israeli pair Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram 6-4, 6-4.

Andy Roddick Roger Federer Ivan Ljubicic David Nalbandian


jop said...

great review, didnt see the match but can tell it was a nailbiter, and probably got a many bloodpressure going throughthe roof

Srdjan said...

ivan the terrible marches on...

Anonymous said...

I could not believe this. 3MP and Roddick could not convert. Oh, brother I need to take another bacardi and coke!

Anonymous said...

Well, at least he got close. So many people let Fed off the hook when they could bury him. Roger tightens up his game, and his opponents tighten up.

Let's hope Andy beats Nalbandian to get another crack.

Anonymous said...

can anyone tell me what the tiebreakers are after the 3 round robin games?

what if blake and nadal are tied at 2 wins and 1 loss??


Anonymous said...

Firjan, in the Blake/Nadal case it'd be h2h. Blake won, so he'd get the #1 seed out of that group.

Just now seeing Fed/Roddick. It's Roger 3-2 Fed in the second. Craig, this is the Roddick you've been waiting for. VERY NICE. On the ESPN boards Fedheads are trying to say Roger wasn't playing well. He's hitting winners from all angles and serving in the high 60%. What are they smoking?

Roddick has confidence and is stroking his forehand. FINALLY. He's serving well, yes. But you have to if that's your game. If Pete didn't serve well he'd go down to Agassi. I think Andy is playing well, not 'out of his mind' meaning this effort could be the norm.

Let's see the young man get into the semis and roll the dice. Whatever happens the Connors/Roddick team is prime for '07.

Anonymous said...

so what if for example blake . nadal, and davydenko are all 2-1?

do you look at the sets won and lost??


Craig Hickman said...

Yes, firjan. If there is a three way tie for either spot, sets won and lost are considered first and then games won and lost. Because Ljubicic defeated Nalbandian, Federer could still go home. If Roddick defeats Nalbandian in straight sets and Ivan defeats Rog in straight sets, Roger is out. There are many more scenarios, too many to type, but all four players in the red group can still advance, including Nalbandian.

Marius said...

I don't see Nadal as Federer's nemesis anymore. Roddick is the one who will be taking it to Fed, I think.

No one else has really stepped up yet.

Craig Hickman said...

marius, I hope you're right.