Tennis

Roddick, Dent look strong after first round

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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NEW YORK

Hot day, burning sun, straight-set wins.

Andy Roddick and Taylor Dent could not have been happier about the way they got their assault on the U.S. Open under way Monday at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center, which, predictably, was swarming with tennis fans from every corner of America, not to mention the world.

Of course, Roddick and Dent come into this final Grand Slam of the year with different ambitions. Roddick, the champion in 2003 and runner-up in 2006 when he lost to Roger Federer, is wondering if his state of health can see him past the quarterfinal stage, which has been his limit for the last three years. Dent, who never has gotten past the fourth round here, just wants to win matches … one by one.

Roddick, celebrating his 28th birthday, found himself up against a languid and talented Frenchman, Stephane Robert, and decided it was not time to mess around. Unleashing the full force of his all-court game, Roddick blasted his opponent 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

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It was the wind, rather than Robert, that the American found most difficult. "It feels as if you are playing downhill one side and uphill the other side," he said. "It's a complete 180-degree adjustment every two games."

As for how he was feeling after a good run in Cincinnati coming off that low dose of mono, Roddick would only say, "I feel 80 percent better than I did five, six weeks ago. 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."

Dent, of course, had more than a dose of mono. Three lower back operations put him in bed for the better part of eight months during 2007 and he spent most of that time in a body cast. Only a very determined and optimistic character could survive that ordeal and still want to play pro ball again, but Dent's ready smile and gung-ho spirit have got him back on the tour, and today he had one of those wins that make it all worthwhile.

Dent took on Alejandro Falla, the Colombian left -hander who gave Federer such a hard time in the first round of Wimbledon this year. At the start, Dent was surprised at how well Falla returned his serve.

"For a while I was scratching my head," Dent said. "I was putting in some of my best serves and they were getting rifled back a foot from the baseline. But I was able to hang in there."

With the approval of father Phil, a former Australian Davis Cup player, Dent started going for more serves into the body and chose, with great care, the moment to serve and volley. It wasn't often — certainly not like it was at the start of Taylor's career, when he went in behind virtually every first and second serve. But, used frugally, the tactics worked 75 percent of the time, and for the rest, Dent just searched for moments to attack as he roared on to a 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 victory.

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"My basic philosophy is this," he explained. "You can't just come in on a whim these days. Guys are too good. So you have come in off something, off something good to great. But as soon as I get a half-chance to attack, I'm going to give it a rip. The longer I stay at the baseline, the chances are my win percentage is going to go down."

The stats back him up. Dent won 68 percent of points at the net and only 45 percent from the baseline.

Next, Dent will face Robin Soderling, the French Open finalist of the past two years whose quarterfinal showing here last year was his best at Flushing Meadows. The tall Swede has not had a great summer and found himself embroiled in a five-set battle on the Grandstand with a qualifier few had heard of, Andreas Haider-Maurer. The Austrian looked a great deal better than his lowly ranking of 214 as he battled back into the match before going down 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4.

Seeded players took care of a couple of veteran Americans who are refusing to bow to passing years.

Michael Russell never really was in the hunt against the sixth-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko, who had been out for months with a wrist injury, and went down 6-4, 6-1, 6-3. But Robert Kendrick used his big serve and ability at the net to give wiry Frenchman Gael Monfils a working over before the 17th seed got his act together in the fifth to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4.

Roger Rasheed, the Australian who has been coaching Monfils for the past two years, put it down to a "bad day at the office." Rasheed insisted, as did his player, that Gael had been practicing well and was feeling good physically. "But the mind is not working that good, as you can see," Monfils smiled. "I was like slow on court and had bad judgment sometime. But I think I was strong in the fifth set."

Two men's seeds went out. Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, seeded 27th, had to retire with a recurrence of his knee injury against Ivan Dodig of Croatia at one set all and 0-1 in the third, while, under the lights on Louis Armstrong Stadium, the 2002 champion here and the 32nd seed, Lleyton Hewitt, went down to the experienced Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1. The Australian ran out of steam after a typically gutsy fight back in the third and fourth sets.

By then, another 23,000 people had poured in for the night session to give this first day of the Open a total attendance of 59,931.
 

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