Today we’re going to watch the top ten play the bottom one hundred in the quarterfinals of the RCA Championships. Andy Roddick is ranked number four in the world. Robbie Ginepri is ranked number ninety-eight. Ginepri is one of the American players who arrived on the tour at the same time as Roddick but haven’t kept up with him. Ginepri has been ranked as high as twenty-five but he’s having some problems with his confidence at the moment.

Don’t look for too many Spanish and Argentine players in Indianapolis this week. They’re still in Europe racking up more clay court titles. Rafael Nadal won his eighth title of the year and 34th straight match on clay in Stuttgart. Fernando Gonzales beat Agustin Calleri to win in Amersfoort. They might want to get themselves to the United States pretty quickly. Indianapolis is the first tournament in the U.S. Open Series: ten hard-court events for men and women leading up to the U.S. Open in late August. The player with the most points at the end of the series doubles their U.S. Open prize money. That could be two million dollars – not a bad payday at all.

Tennis is a big sport in Europe, not so in the U.S. We only pay attention during the grand slams. The idea behind the Open Series is to increase our attention span by offering a large payout to attract top players, getting a regular television slot on ESPN – finals will be televised every Sunday in August at 3 and 5pm – and increasing television coverage.

Oh, and one other thing. Every tournament in the Open Series will be played on a blue hard court surface. For a minute there I thought I was watching a Boise State football game.

Roddick is still recovering from Wimbledon, he had to play the entire two weeks unlike Ginepri who lost in the first round. It’s a good start as he wins the first set 6-4. Ginepri doesn’t usually get to the quarterfinals, he might want to thank those clay court players for staying in Europe, so I haven’t seen him play very much. He’s a baseliner who moves well, hits the ball very hard and has a good enough serve. If you took Roddick’s first serve away you’d get Ginepri except that Ginepri is in better shape and attacks more. His main problem is patience. When he’s pulled wide he tries to hit a winner as if it would be beneath his pride to hit the ball safely to the middle of the court. I can relate. I also think I’m a much better player than I am.

Things are even in the second set until Roddick gets a break point in the third game. Roddick gives away one then another break point then screams at himself. He might not have the energy to go three sets today, he wants to close out now. Ginepri doesn’t help himself with another difficult shot from an impossible position. But Ginepri is smart. Roddick stands way behind the baseline to receive serve and Ginepri is spinning the wide serve sharply enough to push Roddick into a lot of return errors. Ginepri finally hits an extremely sharp angle off a high looper to get a game point then wins the game with a good forehand approach. He has just fought off three break points to avoid going down a set and a break. A huge lift for a player with confidence problems.

Despite a few more ill-advised shots, Ginepri gets into the second set tiebreaker. Ginepri’s hold in the third game was crucial because Roddick now looks tired – he’s hitting balls into the net. A tennis match is made up of waves of momentum. One player gets tired or dejected and goes through a low point. The opponent sees this immediately and bells go off. Here’s an opportunity! Their confidence goes up and they rise with it. Ginepri takes the opportunity. He hits two winners and finishes with two aces to win the tiebreaker 7-2.

Clearly a champion should be able to recover from an egregious error and win a match against the ninety-eighth ranked player. But I’m sympathetic. This is a situation begging for the introduction of Shot Spot technology.

Serving at 3-3, 15-30 in the third set, Roddick pulls Ginepri wide then gets passed by a beautiful backhand passing shot that snakes around him and drops into the corner. That point tells Ginepri that he can beat Roddick today. Not necessarily a good thing. Ginepri is unnerved by the thought. He gets the break but then he plays a loose game and gives the break right back. He’s on a walkabout at the moment, one of those low points. He puts balls into the net and over the baseline and hangs his head. Serving at 4-5, he double faults to give Roddick his third match point. Ginepri manages to pull himself up long enough to get a game point when all hell breaks loose.

Ginepri serves wide for an ace but it’s not an ace. It’s clearly out. Roddick is furious. He scratched and crawled his way to three match points on a day when he doesn’t have his best stuff only to have a lineperson gives a crucial game to his opponent. It’s not like it was a Pete Sampras serve either, there’s no excuse for that call.

Now it’s Roddick’s turn be unnerved and it costs him the match. He wins only two more points and Ginepri gets to the semifinals with a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5 win.

This is an old problem for Roddick. His meltdowns have cost him grand slam matches. Even when he doesn’t have a meltdown, he can’t beat players like Lleyton Hewitt. Roger Federer has more game than Roddick. Hewitt doesn’t. He’s just mentally stronger. Clearly a champion should be able to recover from an egregious error and win a match against the ninety-eighth ranked player. But I’m sympathetic. This is a situation begging for the introduction of Shot Spot technology.

As for Ginepri, winning in a competitive environment takes luck and skill. He lucked out with the bad call but he also pulled himself through a walkabout and three match points to get the most important victory of his career. This is the kind match that can change a player’s mindset. Next time Ginepri will feel comfortable with the thought of beating a top five player and that might be enough to lift him into the company of the seeded players on tour.

Ginepri went on to beat Taylor Dent and win this tournament. He’s on his way.

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