Three of Four Top Seeds Make Semifinals At Legg Mason Tennis Classic
August 8, 2009 -- Both Juan Martin del Potro and Fernando Gonzalez flew to Washington D. C. from their wintry southern homes in South America, before the tournament began Monday. Gonzalez played twice yesterday; once at noon; and, then immediately following that he played doubles.
Meanwhile, Del Potro had Friday off thanks to Robin Soderling's troubled right elbow and his decision to drop out of the tournament. Del Potro practiced for an hour and a half on court, and then called it a day.
"I want to be in the locker room and resting," he said, in a short press conference after Soderling's departure was announced. "The courts at Legg Mason are much faster here, which makes it tough for everyone."
But it wasn't the fast courts of Legg Mason that dragged on both these players today in the first semifinal of the day. It was the heat and humidity that sank over the D. C. area, a cloud of miserable soaked, steamy summer crap known to undermine the most acclimated of pros.
"It was very hot for both of us," Del Potro said. "We felt the humidity. It was very difficult for us."
In the first set Del Potro and Gonzalez looked mildly effected, although Del Potro moved for the towel between points looking like an old man shuffling toward shade on an afternoon walk. Then in the fifth game, Gonzalez lost his temper after he double faulted to lose the game. He broke his racquet in half, to the amusement of the audience. However, his spirits looked dashed. He sat on the sideline at the changeover with an ice scarf around his neck, and his head tipped backward as he drizzled ice-cold water over his forehead.
Gonzalez had chances to win the first set, but his serve was not on and Del Potro's serve fired assuredly. Gonzalez did break back; and, the set ended in a tiebreak where unforced errors and poor shot selection -- bad drop shot -- lost the set for him.
In the second set, Gonzalez was a changed man. Trying to run down a ball at the net, his feet slid out from under him and he landed flat on the court. Del Potro came over the net to help up his opponent who he new was very tired.
"I wanted to lie down on the court with him, I was so tired," Del Potro said.
Down quickly 0/3, 15/40 in the second, Gonzalez went for broke on shots. He told the press yesterday that he wasn't afraid his shots would go out, one reason he hits the ball so hard. Hitting the ball hard with no fear and trying to end points because you are dead tired are not the same thing for the veteran Gonzalez. His blowout shots today were desperate attempts... most went long.
Del Potro served for the match at 5/0. The Chilean showed signs of rejuvenation, though, and swung out on his shots. He was relaxed, and had nothing to lose. But on his second attempt, Del Potro made no mistake. He won the match 76 (2) 63.
"We didn't play our best tennis today," Gonzalez said. "It was hot. But that's part of the game and you have to play. I had chances to go to the final. I can play better than today."
Before the U. S. Open Gonzalez wants to improve his serve. He said, "I'll keep trying."
Del Potro is very proud to see his name on the stadium's awning, "with all the other great players." To have it written for a second consecutive year would bring him even more pleasure. He will have the opportunity to make that dream come true tomorrow.
Two years ago, when John Isner made his maiden voyage to the finals here, the crowds roared with support for the recent Georgia graduate and wildcard entry. Tonight, in the second semifinal of the day, the tide had turned on Big John. Andy Roddick was King, his royal status a result of his extraordinary marathon match and effort in the finals at Wimbledon, plus his relentless goal to improve his tennis game, his ranking, and his life.
Tonight, Roddick saw a different John Isner than the one Roddick faced in the final of the 2007 Legg Mason. This year Isner was a direct entry into the main draw; he didn't have to qualify and he didn't have to ask for a wildcard. He's ranked #80. Isner's ground game has improved. He pressures opponents with his forehand and can clock clean winners with it. Isner also has a developed a sweet drop shot, an added asset to his tennis toolbox. Of course his serve remains mammoth. He hits it from the stratosphere.
"I was riding a wave of momentum [in 2007]," John said. "Now I feel as if I truly belong."
Isner hit 20 aces in his three set loss to Roddick -- 67 (3) 62 75. The North Carolinian's returns, though, weren't as rosy, which eventually threatened his control of the match.
Roddick, on the other hand, looked sharp from ball one. He served 69% on first serve attempts, and won 89% of points when they went in. He saved both break chances Isner held on him, which prevented him from slipping away in the first set after Isner broke the #1 seed early on. After Roddick broke back, the set was on a collision course with a tiebreak.
On a routine rally in the tiebreak, Roddick hit a forehand long, which gave Isner the mini-break. Isner reached set point, when he shanked a backhand winner. He won the tiebreak with a well-disguised drop shot that left Roddick literally scratching his head.
Roddick served well in the second and third sets, getting the upper hand in the second with two breaks of serve. "John looked a little tired in the second set," Andy said.
In the third, John got his second wind. "I felt all along I could win tonight."
Roddick's serve put a dent in John's intentions, though. Roddick won all his points when he got his first serve in. He was revved up and pressured Isner on every game, accumulating five break points. Isner saved four, but at 5-all Roddick converted and served out the match.
"John made me play my best tennis tonight," Roddick said. "I did try, on my second serves, to hurry him so I made sure I finished my swings." This tactic returned the ball faster to Isner, which handcuffed him and prevented him from putting too much on his next shot. "I wish I could do that on first serves," Roddick added. "But I'm afraid I'm not that good."