The odds were stacked against him and he tore them up.
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There was no way Andy Roddick was supposed to win this match, not against a man who had beaten him 21 times out of 23; not against a player who had lost only twice since the US Open; not against the great Roger Federer.
But Roddick’s self-belief — battered and bruised though it may be after a series of injuries and a sudden ranking dive out of the top 10 to No. 34 — is still intact. And it was that belief that enabled him to pull off a sensational 7-6, 1-6, 6-4 victory over Federer in front of a packed Stadium Court crowd at the Sony Ericsson Open, earning the cheers of not just his own fans, but of those who, minutes before, had been willing Federer to win.
“I’m happy for you,” Federer told Roddick as they shook hands at the net. “You deserved to win tonight.”
Roddick, although delighted, is too old a pro to get carried away.
“I’ve been feeling better these last few days, running well, and tonight I played well in pockets,” he said. “But you don’t get to enjoy it for long. The process starts now getting the body to recover after a late night, getting ready to go again tomorrow. When I beat him here in 2008, I lost to (Nikolay) Davydenko in the next round. There’s no script in sports. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
Fourth match on Stadium Court on Tuesday afternoon, Roddick will find himself facing Argentina’s Juan Monaco, who upset the 14th seed Gael Monfils of France 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Roddick-Federer match was a battle between the game’s two oldest rivals, a contrasting pair in style and background who had first played in Federer’s home town of Basel in 2001. It went to a third-set tie break; Federer won, and the battle lines were drawn. Roddick kept pounding away, but almost always to no effect.
A victory in Montreal in 2003 and another here in the quarterfinals in 2008, and that was it. Even the epic Wimbledon final of 2009 — the third they had played in six years — went Federer’s way, although, as the 16-14 final set score suggests, Roddick had done everything but win it.
This time it could all have slipped from Roddick’s grasp once again. Federer had taken total charge of the match in the second set, and he had three points to break at 0-40 in the second game of the third.
“That was the turning point,” Roddick said. “Once Roger gets a lead like that, he’s like a runaway freight train. But I served well to get out of it and then thought, ‘Let’s kinda go over-the-top-aggressive.’ And then I played one of the best return games I have ever played. I think I hit four forehand winners. Gosh, even when I was serving it out, I was 15-30 in that last game after he had a great pass, and then it was a 20-ball rally. I was thinking, ‘Come on, give me a break here.’”
There have been times when Federer has withheld praise for players who have beaten him. This was not the case here.
“He’s still very good,” Federer said. “I hope you guys give him more credit than he’s getting at the moment. I’m happy to see him play really well, you know. He’s a great champion and, yeah, enjoy him while you have him. It was a great night for him and American tennis, I guess.”
The feelings are obviously mutual. Roddick was aware that a good percentage of the crowd was rooting for Federer, but he understood why.
“He’s developed such a fan base. A side story — the Madison Square Garden event we did three weeks ago was the first time Roger and I spent an entire day together doing stuff. I’m amazed at the way he does every picture, every autograph. I know what I deal with on a small scale, and it’s not what he does. So you start to have an understanding of why people are so fanatical about him. Probably, in the USA, it would have pissed me off not too long ago, but I fully get it now after seeing the way he is. I don’t think I could have been more impressed with him.”
There was almost a major upset in the women’s singles when Victoria Azarenka — the world No. 1 who went into the match on the Grandstand with a 25-0 record in 2012 — was facing the abyss at 6-1, 5-2 down against Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova, to whom she had lost only once in seven previous meetings.
Azarenka was obviously not at her best but that had much to do with the way the Slovakian was hitting the ball. It was only when she came to serve for it that doubts crept in and prevented her from grabbing the victory her tennis deserved.
“Until then I was killing her with the return and from the forehand,” said Cibulkova. “Then at 5-2 on my serve I didn’t want to go for so much. I just wanted her to beat herself. The biggest mistake was the way I just let her play and didn’t finish, you know.”
Even then Cibulkova, No. 18 on the WTA ranking, forced her way back into the match in the third set. Some of the rallies were breathtaking, but Azarenka’s extra firepower and self-belief enabled her to slowly get control and preserve her unbeaten record for the year.
Half an hour after midnight, with several hundred people still in the stadium, Venus Williams joined her sister in the quarterfinals with a 6-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic had clinched the first set tie-break by 7-4 after two challenges went her way — her own cross court, which clipped the outer edge of the line, and a Venus shot, which was a centimeter out.
The last set was closer than the score suggested, as Ivanovic forced the American to save break points with aggressive returning. But, in the end, extra power decided the issue, and the Venus revival continued.