On the hottest day this week at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, upgraded to ATP 500, world number 6 and defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro took on top seed and world number 5 Andy Roddick in the finals. In a captivating three set battle, Del Potro prevailed 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, becoming the first man since Andre Agassi in 1998-1999 to seize back to back trophies.
Despite Del Potro being in the top ten since June 2008, this was only their second meeting. After Roddick sent a forehand into the net to give Del Potro a break point, with clutch serving, Andy held. Although Del Potro carried his first service game easily, at 1-2, great defense by Roddick contributed to Del Potro’s lob going long which put the score at deuce. Even though Del Potro protected serve, Roddick appeared to be making headways. After three successive aces pulled Andy ahead 3-2, Del Potro netted a forehand to hand Roddick double break point. Then, Juan Martin gift wrapped the game with a double fault. With a 4-2 edge, two decent service games was all Roddick required to secure the first set.
At the start of the second set, Del Potro recovered from 15-30 down to seal his game with a backhand volley winner. After a strong first game, serving at 1-2, Roddick double faulted and with a forehand winner Del Potro had a chance at 0-30. But, Roddick responded with superb serves and forehand winners. However, serving at 3-4, a forehand crosscourt winner and excellent defense by Del Potro provoked two backhand volley errors, so Roddick faced triple break point. Del Potro converted when Roddick’s backhand traveled out of bounds. Yet, serving for the set, Del Potro misjudged a return which dropped in for a winner. Then, with an overhead winner, Roddick had break point. Andy was back in the set when Juan Martin double faulted. But, after equalizing and Del Potro held for 6-5, Roddick committed three backhand miscues to send the match into a third set.
After each guy guarded serve the first two games, Del Potro muffed an easy overhead giving Roddick a break chance. Juan Martin then donated another double fault for Andy’s 2-1 lead. After Roddick consolidated and Del Potro had no trouble on serve, the Argentine made two deep returns which resulted in backhand errors from Roddick and connected on a forehand down the line for triple break point. When Roddick double faulted, the set was squared at 3 all. Hence forth, the two cruised on serve with the exception of Roddick’s small window at 15-30 and 4 all. The set went to a tiebreaker. Del Potro went ahead a mini-break 2-1 when Roddick sliced a backhand long. They stayed on serve and with an ace for 6-3, Del Potro had three match points. After Roddick held serve for 6-5, Del Potro misfired on a forehand after a sensational return by Roddick for 6 all. But, an ace out wide earned Del Potro another match point. On a second serve, Del Potro thumped a forehand crosscourt winner. Once Hawkeye technology confirmed the umpire’s ruling, Del Potro collected his second title of 2009.
Del Potro admitted after the match that both players thought the shot was out. Therefore, it was a relief when the call went in his favor. With the oppressive heat, Del Potro conceded he wanted shorter rallies. As Roddick noted “[Del Potro] was going for broke in the [tiebreaker]’. Del Potro agreed that it was an excellent test for the harsh New York weather. Since he’s been working diligently on fitness, Juan Martin hopes this will fortify his chances of progressing farther than 2008 at the U. S. Open. Complimentary toward his rival, Del Potro recognized that Roddick’s game has reached a new echelon compared to last year.
We asked how Juan Martin feels playing in front of a partisan crowd. Does it bother him people cheering his mistakes? ‘The crowd was respectful.’ It’s ‘normal’ to desire Andy to win, it would be the same if he were to play at home. Moreover, players ‘are used to it . . .what we want most is for the public to enjoy itself’.
Serving for the second set at 5-4, what happened? “That is the moment of the match when [one] feels the pressure. . . If you lose your serve with Roddick, you don’t have a chance to beat him . . . many double faults. . .It was difficult for me, but after that game I broke again and I was back in the match”.
After blowing an easy overhead which causes one to lose serve, how does one recuperate mentally? “It’s quite hard. . .frustrating. But that’s the nature of sports . . . But nothing is ever lost until the last point and that’s the beauty of it… When one is playing in a final that’s very special… So one has to fight until the last point… [One] has to keep saying you’ll have another chance and that’s how it turned out”.
The forecourt game, has it been an emphasis with coach Davin? “We are working on that. [To keep climbing in the rankings,] I need to be better at net and be more offensive.”
Roddick accented despite the lost, there were a lot of ‘positives to take away’. He applauded Del Potro because with the conditions ‘I forced him to play high risk tennis… and he was connecting. . .credit to him for winning the match’.
At his first press conference, Andy stated he had no great expectations with this being his first tournament back after his hiatus. We wanted to know how he graded his performance this week after defeating some quality opponents. What he needed to improve to get back to the stage he was at one month ago or higher. “I’m not far off from where I was towards the end of Wimbledon. I think coming in here after a month off, you want to find out where your form is at , you want to get a bunch of matches in . . . This is the start of the preparation towards the U.S. Open . . . To have a look at winning was fine. . . I definitely feel a lot better about my game now then when I first got here.”
Roddick goes quickly about his business and is always up prior to the umpire saying time. We were curious whether it irks him or throws off his rhythm when someone is slower or goes beyond the allotted time. “No, they are certainly within their rights. . . If there’s 25 seconds between points, they are coming at 24 every time that is certainly their prerogative. [In terms of going over time], that’s really not my concern. That’s the umpire’s job. . . That’s not something I can worry about.”