Doubles Gets Its Day In The Sun at Legg Mason, Roddick Rules the Night
August 7, 2009 -- Fernando Gonzalez thrilled D. C. fans at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic first as he defeated crowd favorite Tommy Haas in singles, then with his doubles partner Tommy Robredo in their match against the world's number two ranked team and this tournament's #2 seeded team of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic.
Immediately following that doubles match, Lleyton Hewitt and Chris Guccione took to Stadium court and played Travois Parrott and Filip Polasek, in the second doubles match of the day.
You could imagine people at home in their recliners saying, "Finally. We get to watch some good doubles."
ESPN2's producers probably swallowed hard, though, wondering if the doubles broadcast would cause advertisers to pull the plug on their plugs. But the change in scheduling wasn't the fault of the giant sports' network. Instead, it was forced to change its lineup when the #5 seed Robin Soderling pulled out of the tournament. He cited a sore right elbow, although a coup of riotous doubles' leagues storming the doors of ESPN while they demanded more coverage of their beloved game would have made for a better story.
A humorless Soderling told the press that he had played too many matches.
"My elbow began bothering me two weeks ago," Soderling said. "This morning it was really sore."
Soderling will have an M.R.I. today to access the damage. But his injury comes at an inopportune time with the U. S. Open in a little over three weeks. "My goal is to get healthy and try to get in one or two tournaments before the Open."
With the Swede's withdrawal, #2 seed Juan Martin del Potro gets another day of rest and a walk into the semifinals where he will meet Gonzalez, who defeated Tommy Haas 75 64.
Although fans pulled for Haas, he slowly imploded after losing his serve at 5-all in the first set. In the second, every tool he had sputtered: his serve, backhand, footwork, and most tellingly his temper, the signal from the German that a massive racquet whacking was on the way.
Loyal supporters didn't want to see Haas go. They continued to yell, "Come on Haas," "Tommy!!!!"
Only a few voices could be heard rooting for Gonzalez, though. Oh, groups of Chilean fans did their "Chi╔ Chi╔ Chi╔, Lay╔ Lay╔, Chi-lay." And, some spatters of "Gonzo," and "Come on Gonzalez" could be heard. But you have to admit that to yell "Fernando" would take guts -- especially in a D. C. crowd that votes Democratic the majority of the time, but bows to public decorum as if their lives were under a political microscope all the time.
Same thing happened yesterday when Haas played Juan Carlos Ferrero. "Tommy" was a common cheer because he is popular here, and because of the problem with the Spaniard's name. What, were people supposed to say his whole first name╔ both parts? "Come on Juan Carlos"! Clapping to "Ferrero" would have been fine, but fans were stuck on 'Tommy.'
Back to the hard court of the match╔ Haas tried to make it a match, breaking Gonzalez as he tried to serve it out at 5/2. Haas won the next game, but Gonzalez got past his nervousness ending the occasion with a hard-hit overhead. Is there any other way he plays?
"I got a little bit tentative," Gonzalez said. "I haven't played in five weeks." His hiatus was to rest his right knee, which was aggravated at Wimbledon. "I have many hours to recover tonight. I will rest this afternoon."
Gonzalez didn't know about Soderling's injury until he left the court and was told he had to go back on in forty-five minutes. After some food, a shower, and some words with his doubles partner Tommy Robredo, they went on.
Gonzalez used doubles as a practice method for the hard-court season minus the formal stint with his coach and a litany of drills that to him seem boring. "I don't like to practice," he said. "Doubles is like practice, though. It's fun."
Fernando Gonzalez's name doesn't come up when the conversation shifts to talk about doubles, either. However, the Chilean won the Gold Medal in doubles during the 2004 Athens Olympics with Nicolas Massu. In Davis Cup, Gonzalez and Massu defeated Wayne and Byron Black in five sets during the World Group Playoff in 1999. This was one year after he turned pro.
Today, though, the well-oiled team of Nestor and Zimonjic proved too difficult for the Spanish team. They were quicker and more intuitive in, at least, eighty percent of the points. They danced to the music of a point, in rhythm with each other no matter the beat. They won the match 63 64.
The crowd at the William H. G. FitzGerald stadium stuck around to watch the next doubles match between Travis Parrott and Filip Polasek, but the buzz had fallen off as soon as Fernando and Tommy Robredo left for the locker room. It took little time for Parrott/Polasek to defeat the Aussie team 63 64.
The break from singles competition did thin out the crowd as the afternoon went on, but it grew to a sell-out audience as the seven o'clock hour approached and the promise of the marquee match of big serves between Andy Roddick and Ivo Karlovic.
On the ATP tour, it's a known fact that Ivo Karlovic is the one player most don't want to see on their side of the draw. Roger Federer says Karlovic's serve is the best in the game. And, he serves a lot of aces. The problem is breaking Karlovic. The problem is getting an edge.
Roddick quickly lost any hope of an edge in the first set because Karlovic broke the American early. It was the first time in their eight meetings that Ivo had broken Andy. However, with conviction and determination -- and a raucous crowd on his side -- Roddick came back to even the set. The same scene was played out in the second set: Roddick lost his serve, and miraculously broke back.
"It's a recipe for disaster getting down one break against Ivo, let alone two," Andy said.
Roddick prevailed in the tiebreaks to win the match 76 (4) 76 (5).
With serves coming so close to, and smack dab on the service lines, a couple line-call challenges were predictable. However, during one Roddick's agitation level piqued. Karlovic asked for a review; and, Roddick began an argument with chair umpire. Encounters between the chair and players aren't unusual; however, when Roddick spoke directly to Karlovic after the review was screened -- fans booed their hero╔ at least momentarily.
"I was surprised," Karlovic said. "I played within time. Maybe he was nervous. He said it was a tactic, or something, but it wasn't. I don't know what was the matter with him."
Andy had time to reflect on the incident, after the match, and spoke with Karlovic briefly. Andy thought that there was a lot of leniency with the challenge system. He saw it happen in Wimbledon four times.
"You should challenge immediately," Roddick said.
How to enforce 'immediately' and make players comply within a strict time frame remains problematic for tennis.
"It lends to awkward moments on court, like tonight," Andy said. "It wasn't Ivo's intention to stall. I know the guy. He wouldn't do that."