January 28, 2003

The Next Tennis Star

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For most American 20-year-olds, last Wednesday was one just like any other. Simply a mid-January day consumed by hours of school or work. An unseasonably cold day, not just in typically snowy areas such as the Northeast, but everywhere. South Florida experienced a bit of a cold spell in its own right, enduring morning temperatures in the upper 30s last Wednesday morning.

For one 20-year-old American, though, last Wednesday was anything but cold. And it was certainly nothing like any other. No, for South Floridian Andy Roddick, last Wednesday was a day that will likely remain in his memory for some time.

Playing in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in steamy Melbourne, Australia, Roddick reaffirmed himself as a major personality in professional tennis. The No. 9 seed made history, ousting No. 18 Younes El Aynaoui to reach his first career Grand Slam semifinal.

Only this was no ordinary five-setter. Roddick’s 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 marathon win made history as the longest fifth set in the history of the Open era.

To American tennis fans, this five hour match has to rank up there with Pete Sampras’ emotional win over Alex Corretja in the quarters of the 1996 U.S. Open or John McEnroe’s legendary duel with Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final. For with every match Roddick wins, he takes another step towards the greatness embodied by these American champions.

Roddick is possibly the most exciting player currently on tour. He has the on-court intensity of McEnroe, the serve and forehand of Sampras, and the off-court grace and respectfulness of Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. He is the complete package. For this 20-year-old, it appears that the sky is the limit.

Possibly more important than his ever-improving skills is his tremendous heart, which this match put clearly on display.

Roddick found himself down match point at 4-5 in the fifth, some two hours before the epic would finally come to an end. At 10-10, Roddick broke El Aynaoui’s serve. Serving for the match at 11-10, Roddick was unable to close the deal as El Aynaoui, 11 years Roddick’s senior, returned the favor.

But the young American was unfazed. Serving for the match again at 20-19, he finally did hold on when El Aynaoui smacked a return into the net.

Earlier in the tournament, Roddick won another five-setter over Mikhail Youzhny, the young Russian whom Roddick had never defeated.

Two years ago in the U.S. Open quarterfinal, Roddick battled eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt to the bitter end, falling in the fifth set, in the process giving Hewitt his toughest test of that fortnight.

Three months earlier, he burst onto the tennis scene on the red clay of Roland Garros, squeaking past countryman Michael Chang in a five-set first rounder despite suffering from painful leg cramps down the stretch.

Following his win over Youzhny, former American star Jim Courier proclaimed that the victory would be the turning point of Roddick’s young career. Only time will tell if Courier was right. But it will be an exciting road to follow as Roddick asserts his place as a member of tennis’ elite.

Archived article by Owen Bochner