No fun for Americans
We know it’s springtime in Paris, lots of American bodies are piling up on the red clay and it’s only Day 3. Gulp! Guess I had better be careful what I wish for next time. Around Monte Carlo, in a moment of realous gage, I seem to recall castigating the Americans for not showing up for the European clay season. A just punishment would be for all of them to lose their opening matches at Roland Garros, I wrote. Well, lo and behold, they have obliged us only too well.
This morning Andy Roddick led the way in losing to Igor Andreev in four sets, with James Blake following him in a four-set loss to big-serving Ivo Karlovic. The other Americans were not far behind: newcomer Sam Querry lost in five sets, Michael Russell lost in three, Amer Delic in four. Justin Gimelstob and Vince Spadea left the grounds also. The vote is still out on Ginepri: he is one set apiece against Diego Hartfield. Thank God for the Williams sisters, they’ll carry the banner now that the guys are nearly all dead.
We were backed up with rain delays the opening two days, with the net result being that 82 matches had to be played today, Tuesday. Yes, 82 matches. I went through the draw counting them, I could not believe there were so many.
Other upsets occurred today as well. Fernando Gonzalez had a tough opener against Radek Stepanek, but we would have expected Gonzo to find his way. He did not, and the Number 5 seed went out rather meekly in three sets. We looked forward to Del Potro maybe pushing Nadal a little, but only in the first set, which Nadal won 7-5 before closing it out in three. Hewitt continues to look good on clay, taking out Max Mirnyi in three sets. Baghdatis looked sharp in his three-set win over Grosjean, but another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, got through another countryman in straight sets. The tall guy (Monfils) and the midget (Rochus, O.) put on a good five-set show before Monfils pulled it out.
On the women’s side, Nadia Petrova lost to the veteran doubles player Kveta Peschke. What has happened lately to Petrova? Ranked as high as Number 3 last spring, she has now dropped out of the Top Ten. Her back problem is still with her and her confidence seems shot. Jelena Jankovic and Nicole Vaidisova got through their first rounds easily, following Justine Henin and the Williams sisters yesterday. I want to feel some hope for them but it is too early to tell yet. Venus could likely run into Jankovic in the third round and in that case I would have to go with the Serb. She is exuding loads of confidence and might even be able to beat Henin if they see each other in the final, which could be likely.
But what about Roddick and Blake? When the draw came out I had a sinking feeling for Andy’s chances. Igor Andreev is not a guy Roddick would want to meet in the first round, especially on clay. The Russian Andreev can play well on this surface and he has beaten Roddick before on a hard surface at Indian Wells last year. Things looked good early for Roddick. He fought off three break points in Game 2 then another one in Game 5. With the confidence seemingly on his side, Roddick got the break himself for 5-3 then served the set out with an ace on set point. He got the early break in the second then had a chance to serve for a 5-3 lead. The wheels came off at this point: At 15-15 Igor whipped another massive forehand up the line for 15-30. Then, showing some nice touch, the Russian drew Roddick into net with a nifty dipping backhand slice then put away the forehand volley. Roddick made it 30-40 with a great second serve winner but the forehand of Andreev’s was really cranking now: the Russian unleashed another winner up the line and the score was now 4-4.
Andreev can be a cranky, volatile guy on court when things don’t go his way. He also gets really tight sometimes in the key moments. But his nerves held up today and the more he relaxed, the more he started making Roddick play his game. Andreev held serve at love for a 5-4 lead finishing with an ace of his own. Now it was Roddick’s turn to stay even. He dropped the first point then saw yet another Andreev forehand motor up yet another line and it was 0-30. Then Roddick dumped a silly backhand into the net. Just for variety he launched his own forehand way long and Andreev had the second set. That pretty much broke Roddick’s back and the Russian went on to win it in four sets.
As I watched the match, it seemed that Roddick’s serve was coming back an awful lot off Andreev’s racquet. The guy only had to block it back to get himself into the point. When Roddick served the kicker out wide he had better luck. Too many players seem able to read his serve too much of the time now. His return game still needs improvement too. Roddick could show a lot more aggression on his returns and get them deeper than he is. But the main trouble is still the attitude: Roddick perpetually gets into situations where he needs to play well on a few key points and he can’t deliver the goods. Does his concentration disappear? All it takes is a moment or two and the match is over and gone. Mentally he just can’t keep it together for the short length of time it takes to win those big points.
A disappointing day for Roddick and for Coach Connors, who was in attendance today and not looking very happy. As for James Blake, there were no answers when Ivo Karlovic starts serving well and steadily. Blake couldn’t move the big guy around enough to maneuver his own way into points. If anyone is dying to see the end of clay, it must be James. He tried to play his way into a fifth set but couldn’t do it. Hey, at least he wasn’t confronted with the prospect of trying to win another five-setter. James is 0-9 in those.
Welcome to the red clay, everyone!