Contributed by Paula Schumann
In Friday’s quarterfinals we saw Gonzales beat Hass, and then came the news that the Soldering vs Del Potro match was canceled because Soderling withdrew, due to a sore elbow. I had seen him playing earlier in the week and he looked to be in good form. I noticed that his choice of outfit was trimmed in gold, as if to anoint himself the new prince of the tour. When asked about his withdrawal, he said he woke up with the sore arm and his plan was to get an MRI and then to get healthy for the US Open.
Tommy Robredo & Fernando Gonzalez
As disappointed as I was not to get to see what promised to be an exciting match, I was glad to get to see the men’s doubles played inside the stadium. First up was Gonzales/Robredo vs Nestor/Zimonjic. It was a lively match, but the fact that two doubles players were playing two otherwise singles players became obvious as it unfolded. I watched as Gonzales and Robredo tried to out power their opponents, driving shots from the base when Nestor/Zimonjic charged the net. But, the ball kept coming back and more often than not they would lose the point. I wanted to scream out, ”Just lob over their heads!”, a totally legitimate shot when you can’t get past the net. But Gonzales/Robredo seemed not to have that shot in their arsenal. It soon became clear that the competition was somewhat one sided, but all the players kept up the pace and seemed to have a good time. After some especially vigorous points, the players would laugh and joke with each other. At one point, Simonyi was preparing to serve to Gonzo and looked up to see him standing way back to receive the serve. He went to serve but at the last second, tossed the ball low and in front of him and tapped an under handed serve over the net. Gonzo stepped in and wailed a return to win the point. Everyone, players included, seemed stunned by such a strange point, but were soon laughing. Nestor/Zimonjic win the match 6-3, 6-4.
Lleyton Hewitt battles at the net in doubles
While waiting for the next doubles match to get under way, I heard a lot of complaining from the crowd about not being able to see the Soderling quarterfinal. But the fans seemed to get into it as the Guccione (AUS)/Hewitt (AUS) vs Parrott (USA)/Polasek(SVK) got under way. Although it was a fun match to watch, once again, the stronger doubles partners quickly took control and won the match 6-2, 6-2.
Friday night in front of another sold out crowd, we saw both Americans, # 1 seed Andy Roddick, and 24-year-old John Isner, go through to the semi final round.
By Saturday the heat was mounting for the Gonzales vs Del Potro match. The temperatures and Del Porto’s powerful forehand proved to be too much for Gonzales, who said about the weather, “It was tough for me but you take any condition and try your best.” He’s looking forward to playing well at the US Open and I hope he does too. For more coverage on these two matches, see Sunday’s posting by Veronica Jackson.
The day turned gray and the air was heavy and still as number one seed Andy Roddick and 24-year-old John Isner took the court in a nearly full stadium. It was a battle of heavy hitters and a bit of a roller coaster ride to the finish.
Roddick serves first and comes out big with a 134 mph serve, but Isner doesn’t seem phased as he takes the game to deuce. Andy holds for 1-0. Isner hold his serve and then Roddick once again lets the score drop to 15 – 40 in his second service game. He puts in a couple well-placed serves, to even the score to deuce, then ad in. He finishes off the game with a 98 mph serve and holds at 2-1. The stadium is filling up and the air seems even thicker, as if to parallel the level of tension and excitement on the court. Isner serves and easily holds to even up the score at 2 -2. He seems to be having no problems with his serve, while Andy starts to struggle getting his first serves in. Although we have become accustomed to seeing the huge 130 mph and over serves from Roddick, most of his serves in this match have been in the teens. Roddick serves and holds in the next game, polishing it off with a beautiful drop volley. Both he and Isner are showing incredible touch at the net. The players continue on serve, Andy making full use of the court by forcing Isner to run side to side and lining up some beautiful inside out down the winners. Isner responds using his whip like forehand serving up serves at 129 and 134 mph. Roddick’s seems to get his serve under control and during the long rallies repeatedly drives the ball at Isner’s backhand, hoping to for an error. But Isner’s defense is strong and the set goes to a tiebreak.
Roddick serves first and holds a 1-0. Isner serves next and holds with a winner inside out forehand and then an ace. Score is 2-1. Andy brings the score to 2-2 but after a long rally in the next point, he mishits and gives the point to Isner for 2 -3. Isner plays well and after another long rally, holds for a 4-2 lead and the players change sides. Andy’s tick of tugging at his shirt becomes more pronounced as he feels the pressure. Isner makes a great volley drop shot and takes his lead to 5 -2. Andy seems flustered and suddenly not able to anticipate Isner’s shots, as he tries but fails to get to another fantastic drop shot. John Isner takes full advantage of this and continues to change up the pace. His shot selection becomes more unpredictable and fans love it. He takes the set 7-3. This was the first Roddick match of the tournament that the crowd wasn’t solidly behind Roddick. During the tiebreaks and throughout the match, I heard equal shouts of encouragement for both players, with many fans rooting for both, depending on which one seemed to need it more at that moment.
Roddick seems to compose himself and regain his focus in the second set. Although he is serving in the low teens, he still manages to throw Isner off balance and gets a lot of cheap points. John seems to let his level of play drop somewhat, and maybe he is beginning to feel the heat, as he seems to make more errors as Roddick drives shots to his backhand and low at his body. I wanted to yell out “Bend your knees, John!”, one of the first things to go when you get tired in a match. Roddick breaks Isner’s serve twice and takes a 5-2 lead. Roddick serves for the set, but Isner manages to take the game to deuce. Andy gets it back and makes a winning shot, which lands at Isner’s feet, to take the set 6-2.
Darkness sets in and both players leave the court for a quick break and change of clothes. The third set opens with Isner serving. Roddick forces the score to deuce but Isner serves up an ace for ad in. Roddick challenges the serve while shaking his head back and forth repeatedly, convinced the serve was out. It was and the game goes back and forth to deuce until Isner finally holds for 1-0. There is a dramatic point in the next service game as Isner makes a drop shot, which Andy unbelievably gets to. His shot just makes it over and rolls down the other side of the net. Thinking it wasn’t coming back, Isner makes a dash to the net but can’t get his racquet on it. Andy holds at 1-1. They continue to stay on serve, the level of play high and the fan’s cheering escalating. But Roddick starts to show some agitation as he lets the noise and movement in the stands get under his skin. He pauses his service to wait for the crowd to settle. At 4-4, Isner serves up a 133mph ace and Roddick just ducks. But Andy ties up the score and at deuce, gets to a ball that Isner drops over the net and makes an unbelievable winning shot for the point. Isner throws up his hands in disbelief. Ad out. In the next point, Andy seems determined to break and goes for a seemingly impossible shot, takes a tumble and literally rolls over the hard court several times before popping back up onto his feet. It was quite a spectacle, however he didn’t make the shot and the score went back to deuce. The play continues with more great shot making, but Isner holds at 5-4. Roddick holds his serve, evening up the set at 5-5. Now Isner starts to show a crack in the confidence, as he has trouble getting his first serves in. Roddick takes advantage, stays focused and gets the break. He serves the next game to hold and win the match. In his post match interview, Roddick said about the match, “It’s about getting down to just a couple points,” and he worked on “taking advantage of the second ball” to win the points.
The crowd lingered wanting more but eventually the stadium emptied and the grounds closed for the night. An earlier announcement was made about a limited number of tickets for Saturday’s final were available, and as I was leaving saw a small line at the box office waiting to snap them up.
Sunday was by far the hottest day of the tournament, with the temperature on the court reaching 129 degrees, as if DC was saving its best for last. On the grounds outside the stadium, every square inch of shade was used by sweltering fans waiting for the action to begin. People took to various methods of cooling off, from fanning themselves to standing under the giant mister provided by one of the vendors. As I looked around I noticed that for the first time, the line to purchase ice cream was almost as long as line to use the ladies room. And people…that was a long line. Those of you who waited know what I’m talking about.
First up was the men’s doubles final, with Martin Damm (CZE)/Robert Lindstedt (SWE) taking on Mariusz Fyrstenberg (POL)/Marcin Matkowski (POL). Now here was the doubles match I had been waiting for. The well-seasoned partners showed us how this game is really played. Each with their own styles, the players kept us entertained with a wide variety of shot making and lightning fast back and forth pace in the points. At times the ball moved so fast that even the players seemed to be amazed at the end of certain points. They even applauded their opponents on especially well placed shots. Throughout the match, we got to see pounding shots into the bodies the net players, only to be returned by unbelievable blocks and volleys. These guys, though, were not afraid to lob when they were unable to get the ball past the force of the team at the net. During their service games, Fyrstenberg/Matkowski made use of complicated hand signals, while Damm/Lindstedt opted to walk to the back of the court for a brief conference between their serves. Both methods seemed effective as the play was competitive in the first set, with Damm/Lindstedt taking it 7-5. The second set was equally rigorous, eventually going to a tiebreak. Damm/Lindstedt took an early lead and before you knew it they are up 5-1. Fyrstenberg/Matkowski held serve to regain some momentum and brought the score to 3-6. But Damm/Lindstedt won the set with an ace, ending the tiebreak at 7-3, winning the match in straight sets.
I headed out of the stadium for a break and some liquid. The tournament staff and vendors all seemed a bit weary and ready to see things come to a close. But the crowd was clearly looking forward to the men’s final and no one was letting the heat get the better of them. The tables around the food stalls were packed with people trying to squeeze under the umbrellas for some shade. There was a lively band playing which seemed to take the edge off the heat we were all struggling with. There seemed to be a new fashion trend this year – a wet towel draped over the head was the look of the day.
As the players were being announced, the stadium filled again, and people tried to settle into their burning hot seats. If you were wearing shorts, you were out of luck, as the plastic chairs and even hotter metal bleachers seared red marks into the backs of the legs. Looking up into the stands there were so many cardboard fans waving that it looked like hundreds of fluttering butterfly wings.
In one week the players narrowed down from 48 to these final two, the number one seed, Andy Roddick vs number the two seed and defending champion, Juan Martin Del Potro. They took the court to play their final match of this Legg Mason Tennis Classic. I snagged a seat very close to court and sat right behind Roddick as he opened the match with a big serve. In this position, I could clearly see the arc of the curve that the ball made as it came off his racquet, and it was easy to see how hard it would be to return his serve. He missed an overhead and dropped the first point but followed this with an ace and leveled the score at 15-15. Del Potro seemed undaunted and forced the game to deuce. Andy had trouble getting his first serve in but he managed to hold for 1-0. Del Potro servesd next and held easily, giving away only one point during the game. He was able to make Andy run a lot already, which seemed to be a smart tactic in this weather. In the next service game, Andy held, winning it with an ace for 2-1. We were only eleven minutes into the match but already the players were drenched and so were the fans. This kind of tennis watching is not for the faint of heart, as you were either dripping on or being dripped on by the people around you. Roddick challenged a serve from Del Potro in the next game, walking to the back of the court saying, “I think I’m wrong, but I just want to see…” Andy was very vocal between points and I was so close that I could hear all of his remarks that illustrated his thoughts as he was playing. After a while, I realized that he was not just talking to himself, but he was directing his comments to his coach, Larry Stefanki, who along with Andy’s wife, was sitting in a corner box just to my right. Stefanki remained stoic and without visible emotion the entire time. He occasionally nodded his head in response to Andy’s banter, but gave nothing more away. Del Potro’s serve was good and they continued to play, each making some brilliant shots, but Del Potro delivered an ace to hold at 2-2. Roddick served well in the next game and finished off with an ace that bounced up off the court into the stands, hitting a man in the front row in the face. The man seemed fine but I was glad not to be him. At 2-3, Del Potro double faulted and lost the first point. He then served out wide and came to the net to make a driving backhand down-the-line winner for 15-15. Andy came to the net and won the next point with a beautiful volley. Del Poto blew a point by dumping the ball into the net. Del Potro spun a second serve into the corner for an ace, but Andy challenged and won the point, getting an early break for 4-2. Ouch!
Roddick seemed to have hit his groove and started to play a bit smarter. He takes some pace off his serve and twice in a row, Del Potro overhit his returns. Andy picked up some cheap points here, something they both needed to do to avoid getting into long rallies in the heat. Andy finished off the game with a brilliant volley, holding on to his lead at 5-2. Del Potro held his serve and then Roddick served for the set. He continued to change up his shot selection and won a couple of points with some backhand slices. At 40-15, he faulted on his first serve and then lost the point. The crowd roared as his mettle was being tested, his serve shaky again. But he showed us that amazing ability to focus, and pulled out an ace to win the game and the set at 6-3 in just 35 minutes.
Del Potro served first in the second set. He double faulted on the second point but made up for it with some driving cross court forehands and held for 1-0. Roddick then held his serve and the level of play ramped up. Each player exhibited masterful control at the net, and was able to stick it out in the long rallies. At this point, the sun is still relentless, and I reapplied sunscreen for the third time. I looked over to the box where Andy’s wife, fashion model Brooklyn Decker, sat seemingly unaffected by the intensity of the heat or the match. It must be some secret glamour trick, but I didn’t see even a droplet of perspiration on her. No hat, no fan, hair down, she sat exuding virtually no discomfort or emotion. This must be the modus operandi of the Roddick team, the calm counterbalance to Andy’s storm.
It was Del Potro’s serve at 2-2 and I noticed for the first time his tick. Before each serve, he turns his clenched hand that is holding the racquet over to palm side up, and blows, not like he is drying his hand, but a little short puff. It’s like crossing one’s fingers for good luck. But he didn’t need it as he won the game on a fantastic passing shot to hold at 3-2. Andy shook his head and said, ”Yep,” in acknowledgment of the great shot. The crowd was going wild and was starting to take longer to settle down between points. At one point during Roddick’s serve he turned around to the stands behind him and said, “Sit down please.” That did the trick. It wasn’t a testy reprimand, but an act that showed Andy’s familiarity with this crowd. Roddick struggled a bit in this game and after Del Potro hit a winner to level the score to deuce, Andy says, “Wow.” But once again, he used his serve to get him out of a jam, and delivered back-to-back 130 mph and then a 132 mph serve to hold at 3-3. At a little over an hour into the match, a small breeze picked up, offering a tiny bit of relief from the heat. Del Potro held his serve at 4-3. Roddick served and there was suddenly a chance for Del Potro to break, but he blew his chance by over hitting an easy shot that went out. He clenched his face in frustration and you could feel his pain. Then he got another chance by forcing Andy to hit his shot long and Del Potro gets the break and took the lead at 5-3. Del Potro struggled with double faults and Roddick took advantage, putting away some points at the net and breaking back to get on serve at 4-5. At this point someone in the crowd yelled out, “Let’s go Andy, it’s hot!”, stating the obvious but saying what we all were thinking. Andy held his serve at 5-5. The next game went back and forth, but Del Potro held his serve, 6-5 Once again, someone in the crowd yelled out, “Andy, get the job done!” Roddick served and Del Potro responded with a forceful backhand down-the-line winner. Later, Andy ran from the back of the court to get a drop shot and dribbled it back over the net – a great effort by Andy and the crowd was on their feet. Del Potro played amazing defense but Roddick slammed an overhead. Del Potro was giving himself a good talking to, then redeemed himself with a cross-court winner. Roddick missed a shot, and then missed his first serve, and before you knew it, Del Potro broke and won the set 7-5.
More of the same in the third set had the fans glued to their seats. No one seems to be leaving the stadium for a break, bearing down for what could be a long match. At 1-1, Del Potro starts to show signs of fatigue and struggles with his serve. He double faults on the last point and Roddick gets an early break. He serves next and holds for 3-1. Del Potro musters some energy and fights to hold his serve, which he does for 2-3. As the set progressed, I started hear people calling out predictions. “I told you, Del Potro in three,” one guy said to his friend. Another person shouted, “Andy’s got it, he’s going to win it.” At this point, it was anyone’s guess. Roddick serves, double faults, and suddenly he is at 0-40. Talk about a match turning on a dime… He chokes and Del Potro get the break for 3-3. Andy is scolding himself at the back of the court for losing his lead. He becomes more agitated and shows it by tugging at his clothes and talking in the direction of his coach. Del Potro serves but lets the score slip to 15-40. This doesn’t seem to buoy Roddick as he doesn’t even run for a down the line shot from Del Potro who manages to hold for a 4-3 lead. Someone shouts out, ”Vamos, Andy!” and the crowd chuckles. Roddick serves and seems renewed. He finishes off the game with an ace to hold at 4-4. It’s now 2 hours into the match. They both efficiently hold their serves and the match is still level at 5-5. It looks like it was heading for a tiebreak Del Porto makes hasty work of holding his serve for 6-5. Even though he double faults at 40-30 he gets back on track with a 131mph ace. He pulls this out after choking on similar points earlier in the match, which testifies the to the level of focus he has in this game.
Roddick serves an ace to the T in the next game, only to follow with a double fault. He wins the next point, and although Del Porto blocks back his next serve, he gets the score to 40-15 and then holds. Tiebreak it is. Del Potro serves and wins the first point. Roddick wins his serve at 1-1, but misses a backhand deep and the score is 1-2. Del Potro serves an ace, Roddick challenges, but i’ts good. Del Potro serves another ace and takes a 4-1 lead. Roddick wins the next point on his serve and they change ends. Roddick holds at 3-4 and it once again looks like it could go either way. Del Potro holds his serve keeping his lead at 6-3. Roddick serves an ace, holds his serve for 5-6. Roddick makes a brilliant return and levels the score to 6-6. The crowd is roaring as Del Potro gets an ace for 7-6. He serves what seems to be another ace and throws up his hands in victory before he sees Andy putting up his hand in a challenge. They both meet at the net and wait while shot spot confirms that the serve was good. They shake hands and the match is over in 2:20. They both get a standing ovation from the crowd and the court is rapidly readied for the trophy ceremony. All the usual faces were there, tournament organizers, Legg Mason VPs, and the mayor.
In his post match interview, Roddick said that both players thought that the last serve was out, and Del Potro confirmed this when he spoke to the press. All in all, a very close final match between two great players. Like Andy says, it all comes down to a couple of points, as the box scores show that total number of points won by Roddick was 98, and by Del Potro 100. Finishing up his remarks after receiving his trophy, Andy joked that he was “going back to his spot on the court to think about Wimbledon some more”, a subtle way of expressing his disappointment of losing this match.
Both players said that they attempted to keep the points short, which meant going for more on every shot, not playing safe. They both acknowledged the challenge of playing in the extreme heat on fast courts. In the end, Del Potro proved to be the better high-risk tennis player. They both said they felt like they played well, but have things to work on in preparation for the US Open. I wish them good luck for that.
I want to add one last thing about the Legg Mason Classic. Aside from being one of the top twenty in the world men’s tournaments, with its affiliation to the Tennis Education Foundation, over the years it has helped to raise $15,000,000.00 for tennis and academic programs in the Washington DC area. The ATP believes in giving back to the community, and that tennis helps kids develop their minds, boosting focus and determination, which ultimately helps them in other areas of their lives. As someone who plays recreational tennis, I can attest to the fact that tennis definitely strengthens a part of my brain that I don’t use in my daily working life.