US Open, New York
August 28-September 10, 2006; 128 Draw (32 seeds); Surface – Hard
This is a tournament broadly known as Andre Agassi’s farewell (the American played three matches on cortisone injections), but last appearances in Grand Slams delivered also other distinctive players: hard-serving former runners-up Greg Rusedski & Mark Philippoussis and Australian Open semifinalist Jiri Novak. Guillermo Coria – 11 years younger than Agassi – retired for the third time in his last four tournaments, and his career was actually over at the time as well… Roger Federer collected his third consecutive US Open title; Jimmy Connors came back professionally to the US Open after 14 years, this time in a new role – as a coach of Andy Roddick – whom he couldn’t help regaining the title lost in 2004 though… The 2006 US Open was the first Grand Slam event to feature the Hawk-Eye system.
First round: Howard Fendrich
Tim Henman extended his good run against long-time rival and fellow Briton Greg Rusedski with victory in their first-round match at the US Open. Henman came through 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-3 in 1 hour 55 minutes for his seventh straight win over Rusedski, setting up a clash with top seed Federer. Rusedski went 3:0* up but Henman soon leveled before edging the tie-break. Henman broke twice in the 2nd set and then again at 3-all in the 3rd to wrap up a comfortable victory. “Once I got a set up I felt my game got better and better,” said Henman, who admitted that Rusedski’s hip injury had been a factor. “As he loses a little bit of strength in his hip, he wasn’t coming forward so much. I can exploit that a little bit more.” Their much more younger countryman, Andy Murray moved into the second round of the US Open with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Robert Kendrick on Wednesday. The Briton, who beat Kendrick 6-0, 6-0 in their only previous encounter, looked on course for another easy win when dominating the first set. “I knew it was going to be difficult,” Murray said. “Robert hits the ball pretty hard. He’s got a big serve. He’s pretty flashy, can hit some big winners.” Top seeds Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both won in straight sets Wednesday and did their part to help the U.S. Open get back on schedule as organizers tried to make up for the previous day’s rain when almost a full day’s play was lost. Federer only faced one break point and beat Taiwan’s Yeu-Tzuoo Wang 6-4, 6-1, 6-0 while Nadal won the first eight points and went to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Mark Philippoussis. “I thought I always was in control,” Federer said. “I always got to break first in the set, which always helps. I thought I played well, not too many mistakes.” No. 4 David Nalbandian also won, but had to rally from two sets down for a 4-6, 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Germany’s Michael Berrer in 3 hours 33 minutes. Nadal converted three of four break-point opportunities, while Philippoussis countered with 19 aces. “Philippoussis is a very big server,” Nadal said. “He served unbelievable, especially the first serve. Sometimes three aces in one game, two aces. But I was in the beginning very, very good. I play unbelievable first game. That’s important for the rest, for the confidence.” It was Philippoussis’ 204th and last main-level tournament. Jimmy Connors was back at the U.S. Open, back in the limelight, back in his element. Connors won this Grand Slam title five times as a player, and now he’s trying to win it as a coach, working with Andy Roddick. And, by the looks of things, everyone’s thrilled to have Connors back in the game, after years away from it. Surrounded by four ample bodyguards and a gaggle of reporters, Connors strode with a purpose on his way to an autograph session after watching Roddick win his first-round match Monday. Fans scrambled to catch a glimpse, reach for a handshake or simply yell good wishes. Roddick enlisted Connors last month, after a third-round exit at Wimbledon, and the partnership appears to be paying off, so far. Roddick says his attitude can’t help but be improved with the enthusiastic Connors in his corner, and the 2003 U.S. Open champion began the year’s last major by beating Florent Serra of France 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. “I enjoyed watching it. It’s been a long time since I’ve had those memories,” said Connors, a five-time Open champion who retired in 1993 with a record 109 singles titles. “It’s nice to see that Andy has his passion, his love for the game. He’s in it for one reason and that’s to win.” If Andre Agassi keeps this up, it’s going to be absolutely exhausting. For him, for his opponent, for his fans, for everyone at the U.S. Open. Knowing each time he steps on the court could be his last match as a pro, Agassi clearly does not want to go gently, and he kept overcoming deficits Monday night, pushing his 36-year-old body around Arthur Ashe Stadium for 3 ½ hours. Eventually, Agassi managed to win the first match of his final tournament, coming back to beat Andrei Pavel of Romania 6-7(4), 7-6(8), 7-6(6), 6-2 before an Open-record night session crowd of 23,736. Most were on their feet when Agassi’s eyes welled up with tears as he served out the final point after midnight. “You want it to be everything you hope it is,” Agassi said. “It was perfect.” There were moments, though, when it looked as if Agassi would be bidding adieu for good. After he lost the 1st set, for example. And especially when he fell behind 4:0 in the 3rd set, causing his wife, former star Steffi Graf, to pace a bit. “I thought,” Pavel said, ‘”I have him.'” Yet that’s when Agassi found the energy and shots to reverse things. Coincidence or not, he went on a five-game run shortly after motioning to his coach, Darren Cahill, to bring him more tightly strung rackets. It also was around that time that Pavel – a 32-year-old ranked 77th who hadn’t played a hard-court match since March – was visited by a trainer because of stomach cramps and diarrhea. Agassi provided some picture-perfect moments, glimpses of his glorious past, of the player who’s won 60 singles titles. He smacked 17 aces at up to 125 mph. He took as big a cut as you’ll ever see on some ground-strokes, as though putting whatever energy he might have left into each swing. He used what was often considered his trademark, the hard-hit return, to gain the advantage at times. One example: he turned around a 123 mph serve with a backhand return right at the baseline that Pavel couldn’t handle, giving Agassi a 9:8 edge in the 2nd tiebreaker (Pavel had a set point in that tie-break). “He’s still one of the fittest guys on tour,” Pavel said. “He’s amazing.” Pavel fought hard in the 3rd set tiebreak, saving three set points from 6:3 down before the American finished it with an inside-out forehand service return winner to clinch it 8/6. “It was pretty bleak there in the middle of that third set,” said Agassi. Over and over, Pavel would end points with short drop shots that Agassi wouldn’t even chase. Agassi double-faulted eight times. And as much of a baseline tactician as Agassi always has been, it was Pavel who had the better of many of their lengthy ground-stroke exchanges, winning 14 of 21 points that lasted 10 strokes or longer through the first two sets. James Blake isn’t so sure he likes the idea that Vince Spadea, a former top-20 player, wrote a book about life on the tennis tour. Spadea makes mention of Blake in the book, and the fifth-seeded Blake was asked about it after beating Juan Monaco of Argentina in straight sets at the U.S. Open on Wednesday. “I would never bring other guys into it without either their approval or just letting them know that something from the tour is going to be put in a book,” Blake said. “I feel like in writing that book, he may have made a mistake and may have kind of rubbed a few people the wrong way and not made so many friends in the locker room.” Blake beat Monaco 6-3, 7-5, 7-6(7) – the American came back from a 3:5* deficit in the 2nd set, then led 5:2 in the 3rd with two breaks of serve, but Monaco won four games in a row. In the tie-break Blake converted his third match point. Ryan Sweeting is ranked 495th and got into the Open with a ‘wild card’ from the U.S. Tennis Association. Depending on how things go in New York, he’ll decide whether to turn pro or return to the University of Florida for his sophomore year. Guillermo Coria was hurt in the third game of the match, and quit after five games. “I wish we could have played the whole match out and seen what would have happened,” Sweeting said. Coria, a Top 10 player in years 2003-05 completely lost his form in 2006, struggling to win matches even on his favorite clay-courts, and that retirement against Sweeting virtually finished his career. In the next two season he played just 13 tournaments and called it a career at the age of 26.
Second round: Amalie Benjamin
From the Day-Glo spandex tights to the hot pink vertical bars on his shirt to the white bandanna wrapped atop his head, James Blake paid tribute to Agassi at the U.S. Open on Friday. Blake donned the sort of garish ensemble that Agassi – Mr. Image Is Everything – dared to wear more than a decade ago and, fortunately for Blake, his game looked better than his garb in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia. His getup was appreciated by the crowd. Before the coin toss, fans chanted, “Andre! Andre!” and Blake turned to give them a thumbs-up. “I just wanted to do it once. I know Andre, how he probably doesn’t want a ton of fanfare,” said Blake, who got Agassi’s OK for the outfit. “Andre knows we all do care about him, we all appreciate everything he’s done. I think the statement was made. Now it’s back to business at hand.” Top-seeded Roger Federer beat Tim Henman 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 yesterday, punctuating his victory with a moving, behind-the-back volley between his legs. Federer won in rather routine fashion. Except for that one sensational volley. Caught in between steps, Federer skipped to his right, reached around his back and zinged a shot between his knees. Henman seemed surprised and, with both players already smiling, Federer smacked a winner to close the 4th game in the final set. “Rarely do you try this type of shot in a match,” Federer said. “In practice, it happens all the time. But to come and pull it off on Centre Court, you have to make sure you’re not doing something totally stupid or you don’t look like an idiot.” Andre Agassi and 23,700 or so of his closest friends went through all sorts of highs and lows, as he built a big lead then faced a sudden deficit, as he looked set to extend his career then teetered on the verge of ending it. Through all that, through nearly four hours of thrilling tennis, Agassi – 36 years old and burdened by a bad back – held up better than the kid across the net. And so he plays on. Buoyed by a cortisone injection, along with a raucous, sellout crowd that boosted his spirits when things looked bleak, Agassi kept his final tournament going by beating eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 at the U.S. Open. With Agassi’s first serve suffering from inaccuracy, Baghdatis forced him to hold in the 8th game of the 1st set, with Agassi already up a break. Baghdatis, with power in his strokes, got the game to a second ‘deuce’. But it was then, in a lengthy and impressive point, that Baghdatis slipped on the court, going down hard on his left wrist. He bounced up, barely having touched the ground, quickly enough to get to the net for a winner and an advantage. That was almost it, the injury shorting out his game, accuracy, and balance, helping put Agassi up two quick sets. They thought it was done, then. Everyone did. Agassi couldn’t lose to this upstart player, this 21-year-old who was just a year old when Agassi made his Flushing Meadows debut in 1986. Baghdatis’ strokes went awry – 86 unforced errors (and 83 winners) – and so did his game, until he regained his power for a two-set comeback that forced a deciding set (in the 4th set the Cypriot rallied from a 0:4 deficit!). Baghdatis started the decider with a break, but Agassi broke back with a stunning backhand stop-volley. With the final set tied 4:4 and the game at its first ‘deuce’, Baghdatis fell writhing to the court with cramps in both legs. By rule, he could not receive any medical treatment during the game, so Baghdatis hobbled around, somehow prolonging the game for 16 more points – eight ‘deuces’ and Agassi saved three mini-match points. Agassi seemed to be toying with his young opponent, mercilessly running him from side to side before finally disposing of him after the eighth deuce! Three games later, with his legs back under him and a chance to force a final-set tiebreaker, Baghdatis double-faulted twice in a row. The game, and the match, soon went to the old man. “I’ve lived a dream for 21 years,” Agassi said. “It’s going to be impossible for me to be disappointed with a result when you have that sort of support and feeling out there. This is why I chose here.” Baghdatis stated: “He plays great tennis even if he’s 36. Whatever you say, he’s a legend. He’s more than a legend…” Marat Safin tied Aaron Krickstein’s record of four matches won in the fifth set tie-break as he overcome David Nalbandian 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 7-6(6). Most matches have momentum and Nalbandian should have it now. But he doesn’t. Safin is fragile but dangerous. Nalbandian can’t dominate. He’s a cipher – a little pudgy, a little slow, and truth be told not such a stable character himself, but with the ability to keep the ball on his racket just long enough to sow doubt in Safin’s mind about where it’s going. The crowd now fills sun-bleached Armstrong Stadium. Safin wins the first game of the last set on serve. But Nalbandian wins the next, placing 106 mile per hour serves just so wide that Safin keeps missing them. Safin earns two chances to break at 4:3 (40/15), but Nalbandian outsmarts him, as usual. He serves down the middle. He’s hitting sharper, too. The pace has quickened. The match, which began in the late morning, is now more than 3 hours old and shadows have begun to fall over one end of the stands. The tiebreaker arrives, as if inevitably. Safin double-faults to start it. But he gets a couple of lucky breaks from the net. Nalbandian slams his racquet when a Safin forehand nicks the baseline for 5:1. The crowd is roaring. But Safin goes haywire again. He hits long, double faults, misses down the line. Nalbandian devises a cross-court forehand that catches the sideline. 5-all! The rest is a microcosm of the whole match: Safin smokes a return for match point (6:5). Then he blows an easy forehand (6:6). Then he crushes a service winner (7:6). Match point again. The crowd is laughing. Whatever Safin’s got, it’s contagious. Suddenly, out of the blue, for no good reason, on the verge of elimination, clutching from nerves, Nalbandian attempts a drop shot. Of all things. He tries ‘a Safin’. The ball meekly heads toward the net and falls backward. Match over. Safin looks stunned. Stunned, too, Nalbandian smashes a ball clear over the stadium wall, like a Barry Bonds homer, then retreats to his chair and slumps under a towel. Safin, raising his racket, gestures toward Nalbandian, in praise. He knows. He pulled a Houdini. “It’s like a lottery basically,” he says afterward. Second seed Rafael Nadal came through a tough test at the U.S. Open on Thursday, beating Peru’s Luis Horna 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the third round. The Spaniard, who has never been beyond the third round at Flushing Meadows, coped well with an inspired Horna before clinching victory in 2 hours, 43 minutes. “It was a very tough match,” Nadal said. “Luis was playing very well with his forehand and serve, so I am very happy with this victory.” Nadal looked set for an easy victory when he led by a set and a break, but Horna, ranked 61st, produced some outstanding tennis to break back in the 6th game and again in the 10th to level the match. The French Open champion saved two break points when serving for the 3rd set and then eased through the fourth to set up a clash with big-serving Wesley Moodie of South Africa, who fired just 9 aces defeating 27th seed Gael Monfils 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(4). Nadal was joined in the third round by compatriots Tommy Robredo and Fernando Verdasco. The sixth seed, Robredo rallied for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over Korean Hyung-Taik Lee, while the 22nd-seeded Verdasco posted a 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-1 over Thiago Alves of Brazil. Robredo will face Swiss player Stanislas Wawrinka, who rallied from two sets and match point down to beat Robin Soderling 6-7(4), 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-0, 6-1. Former champion Lleyton Hewitt wasted little time in beating Czech Jan Hernych, as the 15th-seeded Australian posted a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win. He faces Serbian 20th seed Novak Djokovic, who withstood a strong challenge from American Mardy Fish to win 7-6(5), 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3). Qualifier Lukasz Kubot  became the first Pole since 1984 (Wojtek Fibak at Roland Garros) to reach ‘last 32’ of a major winning second consecutive five-setter. After eliminating Kristof Vliegen, Kubot, managed to overcome physical crisis in sets 3 & 4 to defeat Noam Okun 7-6(7), 6-4, 2-6, 2-6, 6-4 in 4 hours 20 minutes, winning 12 points fewer in total. In the 1st set, Polish player erased a *2:5 deficit.
Third round: (AP)
Crouched alone in the silence of the locker room, a pro tennis player no more, a red-eyed Andre Agassi twisted his torso in an attempt to conquer the seemingly mundane task of pulling a white shirt over his head. Never more than at that moment did Agassi seem so vulnerable, looking far older than his 36 years, wrestling not simply with his bad back but also with two overwhelming and conflicting emotions. There was the concrete sense of departure, of knowing his career came to an end Sunday with a 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5 loss in 181 minutes to 112th-ranked Benjamin Becker in the third round at the U.S. Open. And there was the liberating sense of excitement, of knowing he has more time to devote to his wife, Steffi Graf, and their two children; of knowing there are no more flights to catch, no more practice sessions, no more injections to dull the searing pain of an irritated sciatic nerve. That’s why, for Agassi himself and the 20,000 or so fans who honored him with a raucous, four-minute standing ovation in Arthur Ashe Stadium after the match, it truly did not matter all that much what Sunday’s outcome was. This day and this tournament were all about saying goodbye to an eight-time Grand Slam champion who grew up in front of the world, from cocky kid with the shoulder-length hair and denim shorts to the thoughtful guy with the shaved pate and proper tennis whites. “The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I’ve found,” Agassi told the crowd, tears streaming down his cheeks, his voice cracking with emotion. “Over the last 21 years, I’ve found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I have found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed sometimes even in my lowest moments.” Talk about matching bookends: Agassi played the very first of his record 61 Grand Slam tournaments at the U.S. Open in 1986, losing to Jeremy Bates, who was ranked outside the top 100 at the time. Since then, Agassi was 24-0 at the Open against men rated that low – until Sunday. But Agassi couldn’t conjure up any more magic in his 21st consecutive Open, an event he won in 1994 and 1999. His back – and Becker – wouldn’t let him. Over and over, Agassi would pull up short, watching a ball fly by instead of chasing it. He winced after serves, clutched his lower back after stretching to reach for shots. “I wanted to run on the court and pull him off,” said Agassi’s trainer, Gil Reyes, “because it shouldn’t hurt – it shouldn’t hurt that bad.” There were times, as his limp grew more pronounced, when it seemed quite likely that Agassi wouldn’t be able to complete the match; his father, who turned him into a tennis player as a tot, had said he hoped Agassi wouldn’t try to play Sunday and wasn’t in attendance. “If I wanted to quit,” Agassi said, “I would have done that a long time ago. I didn’t come here to quit. I just credit the doctors that I was able to get out there today. It’s been such a day-by-day battle. Sure enough, it was real early where I wasn’t feeling so good,” he said, then smiled and added: “That all doesn’t matter anymore.” Despite the severe pain, Agassi almost pulled to the decider – he had a set point in the 4th set when Becker’s second serve caught the line to give him a service winner (the German fired 27 aces in the end; Agassi served 20). Andy Murray came from two sets to one down to earn a thrilling 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Fernando Gonzalez in the third round of the US Open. The Chilean, combining a degree of guile with his devastating power, looked in complete control as he cruised into a two sets to one lead. But Murray proved he has added match toughness to his undoubted talent. Series of magnificent returns allowed him to break at 4:3. He carried the momentum into the 5th set and at 5:1 had to keep his composure as a storm erupted at the other end of the court. Gonzalez, who had already been warned for breaking his racket in the previous game, was docked a point for smashing a ball out of the stadium and had several long arguments with the umpire as the crowd voiced their support for the Chilean. Murray rallied and accepted the thunderous cheers from the intimate stadium crowd, pounding his chest and pointing to his coach, Brad Gilbert, in thanks. “I want to try my best to make him proud,” Murray said. It was an emotional turnaround for Murray, who called yesterday his “saddest day of tennis” because of Agassi’s retirement. “I was genuinely really upset before I went on to play,” he said. “I find it quite difficult to concentrate because I didn’t realize how much he meant to the whole of tennis and to me growing up until I saw him play his last point.” Two-time defending champion Roger Federer crushed American Vince Spadea 6-3. 6-3, 6-0 in an evening match. Federer will play unseeded Marc Gicquel of France for a place in the quarter-finals. Gicquel came through a tough five-setter against former French Open winner Gaston Gaudio 6-0, 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(3). The Argentine ahd led 3:1 in the deciding tie-break before Gicquel took the last six points. It was the Swiss star’s 17th straight win at Flushing Meadows and moves him another step closer to becoming just the third man in the Open era after John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl to win a hat-trick of US Open titles. Minutes after hugging the newly retired Agassi in the locker room, Andy Roddick took his place in Arthur Ashe Stadium against a dangerous left-hander, Fernando Verdasco of Spain. Restless, but focused, Roddick traded sets with Verdasco, all the while pumping his fist, tugging on his cap, slapping his thigh, yelling in anguish and exultation and jump-skipping to the net. He never wanted to sit long on changeovers. But on the strength of his serve and key errors from the 22-year-old Verdasco in the final set, the ninth-seeded Roddick advanced to the fourth round of the United States Open with a 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2 victory. Only then could he say that he was torn by regret and relief. If Agassi had beaten Ben.Becker, Roddick would have met him next. “Obviously, you want to play against your idols, but then again you don’t want to be the guy who shot Bambi,” Roddick, 24, said. “I would have gone in feeling like a foreigner here in this stadium, I’m sure. I wouldn’t have been angry about it at all.” Safin’s close friend, the 23rd-seeded Dmitry Tursunov, did not fare in his five-set match. Twenty-year-old Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, seeded 12th, ended Tursunov’s bid, 6-7(2), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Richard Gasquet of France, also 20, defeated Marco Chiudinelli, 7-6(2), 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(2). Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 Open champion, defeated the up-and-comer Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Montenegro, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2. Second-seeded Rafael Nadal progressed to the tournament’s fourth round for the first time in his career, subduing the big-serving Wesley Moodie of South Africa, 6-4, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) in 2 hours 49 minutes. Nadal is seeking to reach his third Grand Slam final of the year. He successfully defended his French Open title with a victory over world No. 1 Federer, but fell to Federer in the final of Wimbledon. Against Moodie, Nadal withstood a double set point serving at 4:5 (15/40) in the 2nd set. “This tournament is very special for me,” Nadal said. “I reached the fourth round, which is good, and I am improving on hard courts.” Fifth-seeded James Blake battled Carlos Moya past midnight on Arthur Ashe Stadium before prevailing, 6-4, 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-3. In the tie-break Blake saved a quadruple set point.
Fourth round: Greg Garber
In the crucible of the fifth and ultimate set, where conditioning and confidence rule, James Blake and Tomas Berdych are at opposite ends of the spectrum that defines grace under pressure. Heading into Wednesday’s round-of-16 match at the U.S. Open, they had each gone the distance nine times, but Berdych was 9-0 and Blake was 0-9 – the best and tied for worst five-set records in the Open Era. That is a heavy, heavy number, and maybe it’s why Blake came out swinging with an elevated sense of urgency. Looking at last like his soaring 2005 self, Blake knocked the big-hitting 20-year-old from the Czech Republic off the court, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1. The match required only 97 minutes. It was Berdych, not Blake, who failed in the big moments, double-faulting on set point in the first and second frames. Berdych had 15 break-point opportunities and, incredibly, failed to convert one. Last year, Blake also won his first four matches, then ran into Agassi in the quarterfinals. This time around, he gets Roger Federer, who is not only the best player in the world, but has the additional motivation of attempting a rare three-peat. “If I play my best, then I don’t see any reason why I can’t win,” Blake said with a straight face. “But if he’s playing his best, then I can see a reason why I might not win, but…” Blake’s face broke into a smile. “It’s possible,” he continued. “I mean, he lost to Murray in Cincinnati. He’s lost before. He is human. So I’ve got to go out there and see what I can do.” Top seed Federer rolled to his fourth consecutive straight-sets victory with a 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3 triumph over France’s Marc Gicquel at the US Open this morning. Federer, seeking his third-straight Open title, won the first three games of the match without losing a point, before the 29-year-old Gicquel settled down and fought gamely. The U.S. Open did proceed without Agassi, although a fan cried out, “Do it for Andre!” during Andy Roddick‘s fourth-round match. Roddick obliged, putting together a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Benjamin Becker, the German qualifier who ended Agassi’s career the day before. “If you can’t draw motivation from six months of bad results,” Roddick said, “then you’re not going to draw it from much.” He moves on to a rematch from the 2001 quarterfinals against that year’s champion, Lleyton Hewitt, who got past No. 25 Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted more than 3 ½ hours and ended at 12:53 a.m. Tuesday on Arthur Ashe Stadium. That main court was the scene of Agassi’s last hurrah, a four-set defeat against the unheralded and 112th-ranked Becker on Sunday. “It was tough yesterday for me to enjoy it, because it was tough for me to accept that I deserved to be the last guy that Agassi played,” said Becker, competing in his second major. “It’s been a pretty, pretty amazing trip for me.” He was physically and emotionally drained, but he might not have had much of a chance, anyway, given how well Roddick served. Roddick won 57 of 70 points in his service games, was stretched to ‘deuce’ only once, and ended the 1st set this way: 137 mph ace, 100 mph ace, 145 mph ace, 142 mph service winner. Roddick was a bit anxious about how things would go with Connors, who’s been pretty much out of the game since retiring in the early 1990s. But Roddick uses words like “refreshing” and “invigorating” when discussing Connors’ effect on him. “Maybe it’s been a while since he’s just been one of the boys, playing pool and poker and hanging out,” said Roddick, on track for a semifinal against No. 2 Rafael Nadal, a 6-1, 7-6(3), 6-4 winner over Jiri Novak. “We’d practice, he’d come home, kick his feet up on my couch, have a beer. It was pretty surreal.” continued Roddick about his relation with Connors. Novak’s  last appearance in a Grand Slam event, he played just three main-level tournaments afterwards. German Tommy Haas edged out his practice partner Marat Safin 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(5) on Wednesday to reach the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open for the second time in three years. Haas’ second consecutive fifth set tie-break win in a match he was two points away from defeat! Former champion Safin led 3:1 in the deciding tie-break but 14th seed Haas came back to win the last two points of the match and set up a clash with another Russian Nikolay Davydenko. “I’m really excited that I am back in the quarter-finals once again,” Haas said. “Basically it was just the last two points – it is a flip of a coin when you get a fifth-set tie-break.” Twice Safin led by a set but Haas, who beat Robby Ginepri on a fifth-set tie-break in round three, took advantage of a loose set from the Russian to force the decider. Neither man could earn a break point in the 5th set but Safin missed a simple volley at 3:1 in the tie-break and Haas held his nerve to clinch victory on his first match point. Andy Murray‘s hopes of a first Grand Slam quarter-final ended in disappointment when he was beaten 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 by seventh seed Davydenko. Resuming at two sets to one (Murray led 2:0* having two break points in the 3rd set before losing five straight games) after the fourth-round match was held over from Tuesday because of rain, Murray made 13 unforced errors in the 4th set and Davydenko cruised to victory. The 19-year-old Scot was broken in the 1st game of the fourth set and from then on he was always playing catch-up. Davydenko, who had never before been beyond the third round at the U.S. Open, broke again in the 3rd and 5th games and served out. “When I get nervous, maybe I speak a little too much. Something that hopefully I’ll stop because it’s definitely not good for my tennis,” said Murray, “He started off better than me both days. That’s something I’ll have to learn from. I’m not used to going on at 11 a.m. for matches.”
Even as he was giving Roger Federer fits, James Blake felt the need to shout what so many were thinking: “You’re too good!” The top-seeded Federer dropped a set and had a hard time putting away No. 5 Blake before finishing a 7-6(7), 6-0, 6-7(9), 6-4 victory on Thursday night at the U.S. Open to reach a record-tying 10th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. “There’s just too many things he does well. He doesn’t panic. He plays offense unbelievably well. He plays defense better than anyone I’ve ever played.” summed up Blake. The highest-ranked American did not go quietly, saving a total of three match points and breaking Federer twice when he served for the match, at 5:3 (30-all) in the 3rd set and 5:2 in the 4th, celebrating the latter with a little strut. “I take pride in the way I fought,” Blake said. “It’s a good feeling to know that I’m close to Roger. I guess he’s human.” Right until the very end, Blake kept pushing, holding a break point and staving off two match points in the final game. Blake also saved a match point in the 3rd-set tiebreaker (8:9 – Federer held match point after a 30-stroke exchange ended with Blake dumping a backhand into the net; but Blake extended the match with a backhand winner down the line), and certainly had other chances: he wasted three set points in the opening tiebreaker (6:4, 7:6) and three break points at 1:0 in the 4th set. “The score says it all,” said Federer. “The match could have been easier, it could have been tougher.” Federer, the two-time defending champion, advanced to a semifinal Saturday against No. 7 Nikolay Davydenko, who dropped the first two sets in a half-empty stadium, then came back to beat No. 14 Tommy Haas 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in 3 hours 42 minutes. There is someone who plays more tennis than Federer, although he doesn’t win as much: Davydenko, who’s 54-22 this year. So a five-set test of wills seemed a fitting way for the Russian to work his way into the semifinals. Maybe now he’ll get some more attention. “Who cares about Davydenko?” he imagined fans saying. “He didn’t win a Grand Slam, was not No. 1.” It’s surprising that Davydenko will still be around to play his tour-leading 77th match of the season, given that he failed to get past the third round at the U.S. Open before. He did make a major semifinal at the 2005 French Open. He and Haas both looked fatigued as their match stretched on, and the German might have been feeling the effects of needing to go to fifth-set tiebreakers in each of the previous two rounds. Haas yelled, “Giddyup!” as he emerged from the locker room before the match, but by the end, he was a step slow. Davydenko appeared to have the match wrapped up when he surged *5:2 in the 5th set clear but he failed to serve out at the first opportunity and slipped 15/40 serving at 5:4. But Haas, who had earlier received treatment to his thigh, could not complete a miraculous recovery as the Russian found his first serve to take his place in the last four. “I think I was lucky,” he said afterwards. “But it was tough, I was 5:2 in the final set then break point and 5:4 and I didn’t know what I could do, but I am happy to be in the semi-finals.” Haas said: “My legs started to give out a bit. My body didn’t feel good anymore. I couldn’t do the small steps to stand well to the balls.” Davydenko had in the match break points in six games and won them all. Unseeded Mikhail Youzhny  caused a huge upset in putting out second seed Rafael Nadal in the last eight of the US Open. The 24-year-old Russian, playing in his first-ever Grand Slam quarter-final, beat Nadal 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-1. The crunch point of a bruising match at Flushing Meadows came when Youzhny saved three consecutive set points in the 3rd set at *4:5 before winning it on a tie-break. Youzhny ran away with the 4th set to clinch victory in 3 hours and 16 minutes. Nadal is the third Spanish seed Youzhny has beaten at this year’s US Open after wins over sixth seed Robredo and eleventh seed Ferrer. Despite his defeat, Nadal was happy with the way he had played. “Maybe I played my best match in New York here today,” said the 20-year-old. “I am happy with my tennis, but I was not playing with my best calm in the important moments.” Youzhny will now play Andy Roddick for a place in Sunday’s final. Roddick was in awesome form in Wednesday’s night match, storming past fellow ex-champion Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets. The American blasted his way to a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 win. Fifteenth seed Hewitt tried to stay with Roddick and had a set point in the 2nd set but was ultimately outplayed by a fired-up opponent. “He came out serving so well and didn’t give me too many looks at second serves,” said Hewitt, who saw 17 aces whistle past him. Roddick, who looked very emotional and pumped up after his victory, admitted he was relieved to rediscover his top form. “I’m in a little bit of shock. It’s been a rough six months for me. I haven’t played too well,” said Roddick, who teamed up with Jimmy Connors earlier this summer.
Defending champion Roger Federer crushed Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 yesterday to reach the US Open final. The world No. 1, looking for his third consecutive US Open title, crushed the Russian seventh seed in 1 hour 43 minutes to become the first man in the Open Era to reach six straight Grand Slam finals. “I played a great first set and I thought I played really well today,” Federer said. “Again in the final is a great feeling and it’s great to be in the final of all four majors this year.” The Swiss set the tone by breaking in the 2nd game as he cruised through the 1st set in 22 minutes, keeping Davydenko off balance with a series of short, sliced backhands. Davydenko recovered early breaks in the 2nd and 3rd sets but it was not enough to stop Federer cruising through to a final today. Davydenko had never beaten Federer in seven previous meetings though he pushed him to a fourth-set tie-break in their last match, in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. Yesterday, he was never allowed to find his rhythm as Federer varied the pace and angle of his attacks. “In Australia, I had control from the baseline but today he was hitting too fast,” Davydenko said. “Today was short points and he tried to hit faster. It’s really different tennis. He’s No. 1. That’s why I think he’s winning everything, because he plays completely different.” Having reached his second Grand Slam semifinal, Davydenko said he was satisfied with his efforts: “Okay, I’m happy to be in the semifinals. I am disappointed with my play, but not for losing.” As the shadows lengthened in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday, Andy Roddick put down Mikhail Youzhny, a spirited Russian who is ranked No. 54 in the world, 6-7(5), 6-0, 7-6(3), 6-3, in the U.S. Open semifinals. “Andy has a great serve,” Youzhny observed. “If Andy can serve really well, he has a chance. But I think 70 percent is to Roger, 30 for Andy.” What does Roddick have to do to win? “I never beat Roger,” Youzhny said, laughing. “I don’t know.” Has Roddick found enough variety in his game to hang with the biggest dog? Not based on Saturday’s returns. The consensus around the grounds – even correcting for home-field American bias – was that Roddick would need only three sets to romp into the final, maybe four if the Russian could eke out a tiebreaker. Youzhny was making his first-ever Grand Slam semifinal appearance (compared to Roddick’s seventh) and was bidding to become the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since ATP rankings were created 33 years ago. But in tennis, match-ups are everything. And Youzhny happens to be a terrific returner of serve. This, combined with Roddick’s odd insistence on forcing the issue at net, gave Youhzny the 1st set. At 6:5 in the tiebreaker, Roddick came in behind a not-deep-enough approach shot and Youzhny hit a rocket that Roddick’s backhand volley couldn’t keep in the court. But even as those in the now-nervous crowd at Ashe were revising their calculations, Roddick bageled Youzhny (a verb that, for good reason, appears only in tennis) in a scant 22 minutes to level the match. Roddick served better and Youzhny visibly tightened. The 3rd set was a replay of the first, except that Roddick won the tiebreaker. With the score 3:3, Roddick smoked a 139 mph serve and then won the set with a sensational piece of defense. His lunging, slashing forehand slice trapped Youzhny at the service line, and the indecisive Russian couldn’t pull off an awkward half-volley. A deep backhand down the line led to another Youzhny error and Roddick’s unreturnable serve gave him his first lead. Serving to level the fourth set at 3:4, Youzhny finally cracked. He lost 10 straight points, and when he finally rallied with three winners with Roddick serving for the match, it was too late. Appropriately, the new-and-improved Roddick won his fourth match point standing at the net, with a soft forehand volley. “It means the world to me,” said Roddick. “After the first set I tried to step into my shots a little. I took a page out of a guy named Andre Agassi’s book and stepped inside the baseline.”
Final: Steve Bierley
The records continue to flow off the racket of Roger Federer, who last night defeated Andy Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 to become the first man in history to win the US Open and Wimbledon titles back to back in three successive years. This was also his ninth Grand Slam title, placing him clear in sixth place of the all-time greats. So it was small wonder that Tiger Woods, watching from courtside, smiled so broadly. This was a super champion recognizing a super champion. The two met for the first time before the final began, and Woods’ presence may have put a little extra pressure on Federer. How could he possibly lose in front of golf’s greatest? The Swiss began with a rush, but it was to Roddick’s huge credit that he put the past aside – just one win in 10 previous meetings – and rocked Federer on to his heels. Jimmy Connors, the five-times US Open champion, has been restoring Roddick’s frayed confidence since Wimbledon, attempting to simplify his game and put the accent on his strengths, namely his colossal and withering power. Roddick had promised to put everything on the line, and did. “I want to make a war of it,” he had said on Saturday after winning his semi-final against Youzhny. It was a laudable idea, but the start was exactly what Roddick did not want. Federer held his serve with graceful ease and then broke the American’s, nailing the 2:0 lead with a majestic forehand down the line. Roddick appeared mentally sluggish and heavy-legged, getting drawn into rallies that were far longer than he would have liked. The best match that Roddick had previously played against Federer was the 2004 Wimbledon final when the American, for a set and half, hit the ball and served with devastating power. “It was one of the best matches I’ve played and lost,” he ruefully admitted. The SW19 Centre Court had seen nothing like it before, and neither had the Swiss. Yet in the end Federer’s greater variety held sway, as it did last night. He is a fabulous champion. As against Davydenko in his semi-final, initially Federer began to draw Roddick towards the net, an area of the court that has been the American’s equivalent of somebody with vertigo being on top of the Empire State building. At this time there was nothing in Roddick’s play to suggest he believed he could win. The crowd willed him to respond and finally, at *0:5, he managed a game, one serve of 140 mph almost drilling Federer in two. Shocked, the Swiss dropped his own serve and Roddick skipped back to his chair. It was fool’s gold, and Federer had the 1st set pocketed inside half an hour. But Roddick had seen a glimmer of hope. He needed to stay pumped up, as he had been from the start of the tournament. “You can do it, Andy,” came the guttural yell as Roddick bludgeoned the Federer serve at the start of the 2nd set. The crowd were energized and so was the American, who held for 2:0*. Now it was a war. Roddick was playing at his best, and it was Federer who had to regroup, scratching his chin contemplatively as he stared back down the court. Whereas Federer broke the Roddick serve three times in the opening set, he had barely the sniff of a chance in the second and clearly felt the pressure. He had experienced the force of the New York crowd against him last year when he beat Agassi, and now they were fully in his ears again. The turnaround had been dramatic, and now it was a question of whether Roddick could maintain his high level of energy and hitting power against the best player in the world for long enough to inflict the upset. He could not. At 2:2 in the 3rd Federer was 0/40, brought it back to ‘deuce’, and then presented Roddick with another opportunity to break. He failed, although Federer had to dig to subterranean depths. But it was crucial. Power can be paralyzing, and it took huge serves by Roddick to keep himself in the next game as Federer attempted to jump on the American’s disappointment. Both men realized just how crucial this period of the match might prove. Roddick held, saving five break points for 3-all and patting his heart in relief when one lob fell just wide. So it went, nip and tuck, until Roddick served at 5:6 to take the set into a tie-break. Two forehand errors and a backhand winner drove him to the precipice, and the set was lost when the American, hurtling forward, volleyed into the net. Huge was Federer’s roar. The rest was a formality. Federer was in his pomp. “I think you have to look at the tournament as a whole and I’ve played some great shots all the way,” said Federer. “It’s been absolutely fantastic. I’m glad it all worked out because tonight was very difficult against Andy. I’m really happy to see him back at the top and I’m really happy to play against him.” Roddick said: “It’s been a rough year and the past two weeks make it all worthwhile.” The Swiss was 9-1 in Grand Slam finals after the US Open 2006, it was his 41st title. Stats of the final