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Roddick Just a Piece of Cake for Muller

Times Staff Writer

It might be easy to say that Andy Roddick’s first-round loss to Gilles Muller of Luxembourg at the U.S Open on Tuesday night was a fluke.

But more and more, evidence is suggesting that the real fluke might have been his 2003 U.S. Open title. Roddick, who lost in the quarterfinals here last year, has regressed in the place that he owned two years ago.

Muller outplayed, outserved and simply outhit the fourth-seeded Roddick in their 2-hour 6-minute match, winning, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (1), hitting 24 aces to Roddick’s 17. In 2003, Roddick survived a match point in the semifinals, and in the final, beat Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, who also lost in the first round on Tuesday.

Tuesday was the first time Roddick lost in the first round of a Grand Slam since the French Open in 2003, and the only other time he went out in the opening round in New York was back in 2000.

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“I don’t really remember a loss where I’ve felt this bad afterward,” said Roddick, adding later that he was “totally blindsided.” “I love playing here. I probably had the best practice week I’ve ever had in lead-up. It just didn’t translate tonight.”

Even the USA Network broadcasters looked stunned. Though Muller reached the final in Los Angeles in July, he is ranked 68th. “This is an unbelievable setback,” John McEnroe said on TV.

The odd thing was that Roddick seemed in control until he served for the first set, at 5-3. Muller broke him at love, and that drastically changed the tenor of the match, as Muller started controlling the rallies.

Muller picked on Roddick’s backhand, noticing it was especially vulnerable. He served well and kept his nerve, hitting an especially audacious drop shot winner at 5-4 in the first-set tiebreaker.

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“I think today he had some problems with his backhand. If he’s playing better with his backhand today, it’s going to be very tough for me,” Muller said. “I think also I have to say he didn’t play his best match. But that’s not my problem.”

Muller, 22, has a way of stepping up in the spotlight. He beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon this year, and hardly seemed intimidated by Arthur Ashe Stadium and the huge throng on hand, poised to celebrate Roddick’s 23rd birthday.

“I really enjoyed it,” said Muller, who faces his doubles partner Robby Ginepri in the next round. “That was also my goal when I went into the court. I told myself, ‘Don’t be nervous, it’s a big chance to play there. The whole world is watching.’ ”

An action-packed Day 2 had been marked by a stellar opener by defending champion Roger Federer of Switzerland, who beat Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, in 61 minutes, and superb performances by a trio of teenagers -- 18-year-old qualifier Andy Murray of Scotland, 16-year-old qualifier Vania King of Long Beach and 15-year-old wild-card entry Alexa Glatch of Newport Beach.

But humidity took a toll for the second straight day and caused some serious concern. Michael Llodra of France retired against Carlos Moya with Moya leading, 6-4, 6-4, 2-1, in the first round. The match was played on Court 7.

Llodra walked off the court and was returning to the locker room and fainted on a bench by Court 5, according to a USTA spokesman.

A court attendant was on hand and sent for a tournament doctor. Llodra was taken to a nearby hospital in Queens and was said to be doing fine.

Llodra wasn’t the only suffering player. Victor Hanescu of Romania determined it was simply too hot to play and called it a day and retired against Albert Montanes of Spain in the fourth set.

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But Murray showed considerably more guts. Literally, that is.

In a move reminiscent of Pete Sampras, Murray threw up on the court in the fifth set against Andrei Pavel of Romania, causing a 21-minute delay as the workers cleaned it up. Sampras threw up against Alex Corretja at the 1996 U.S. Open in the fifth-set tiebreaker and went on to win.

The Scot did the same there too, beating, Pavel, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, in 3 hours 18 minutes.

“I just felt like I was going to burp, and then everything came up,” Murray said, blaming it on a sports drink.

He did see the humor in all of it, saying: “But I’m sure I’ll find it funny tomorrow.”

Doubles partners Glatch and King advanced to the second round on the same afternoon. Glatch beat Yuliana Fedak of Ukraine, 6-4, 6-3, and King defeated Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, moving on when Koukalova hit a forehand long.

“Coming in here, I had no expectations. I mean, 15 years old,” Glatch said.

King wasn’t even sure she would get a wild card into qualifying. Once in, her self-doubt carried over to the latter stages against the No. 41-ranked Koukalova.

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“I thought I was going to lose the third set,” said King, ranked No. 721. “It’s an accomplishment. I don’t think she’s ever played anybody ranked as low as me.”

On match point, she missed her first serve. What was she thinking on the second?

“Please don’t double-fault,” King said, laughing.

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At a glance

Highlights from Tuesday at the U.S. Open:

* Top men’s seeded winners: No. 1 Roger Federer, No. 11 David Nalbandian, No. 16 Radek Stepanek, No. 21 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 22 Mario Ancic.

* Men’s seeded losers: No. 4 Andy Roddick, No. 12 Tim Henman, No. 20 Juan Carlos Ferrero and No. 28 Greg Rusedski.

* Top women’s seeded winners: No. 2 Lindsay Davenport, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 6 Elena Dementieva, No. 7 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 11 Patty Schnyder, No. 13 Anastasia Myskina, No. 15 Nathalie Dechy, No. 17 Jelena Jankovic, No. 19 Elena Likhovtseva.

* Women’s seeded losers: None.

TODAY’S FEATURED MATCHES

* Day session: Lleyton Hewitt (3), Australia, vs. Albert Costa, Spain; Kim Clijsters (4), Belgium, vs. Fabiola Zuluaga, Colombia; Maria Sharapova (1), Russia, vs. Dally Randriantefy, Madagascar.

* Night session: Serena Williams (8) vs. Catalina Castano, Colombia; Rafael Nadal (2), Spain, vs. Scoville Jenkins.


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