It’s a walk in the park for Roddick

Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- Late in his mostly blah summer, Andy Roddick on Wednesday night suddenly looked so clear-headed, so sublime and so dominant in the U.S. Open first round that at 40-love in the final game his opponent just went ahead and quit.

A little bit miffed at Roddick for his previous serve and a lot bummed with himself for his play, Fabrice Santoro, 35, the oldest man in the draw in his record 65th Grand Slam event, just stood there upright behind the baseline, refusing to crouch into a set position to return serve. Roddick waited, but Santoro stood. Roddick served, and Santoro ignored the ball.

He simply began walking to the net for the handshake after an unusually brisk 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 loss in 87 minutes, and Roddick’s best tennis night in “four or five months” -- his words -- had a little downer of an ending.

“To end it like that, it was kind of, I guess, disappointing,” Roddick said.


On the penultimate point at 30-love, Roddick had blasted a 140-mph serve for a 14th ace and a first attempt to decapitate Santoro, well, at least if you’re asking Santoro. The ball whirred over Santoro’s head as he ducked, and later he blithely called himself “a little bit disappointed” with the serve, called Roddick “a good guy” but said, “He served right at me for sure, yeah. That’s a good strategy sometimes,” but not given the runaway score.

Roddick said he’d aimed for the “T” but missed and said, “It was a bad miss but it was a miss that I hit pretty hard.” Even as he prepares to play the onrushing Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the second round, and consults Patrick McEnroe anew for short-term guidance, Roddick said he’d seek out Santoro in ensuing days to reiterate he had not used him for target practice.

The strange ending capped a robust American night that followed a Serbian day inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Quite an unanticipated scene had happened just four hours earlier, when they started the usual big night show by opening the doors and welcoming out, well, Lindsay Davenport.

Seventeen years after she first turned up at age 15, two years after she seemed to exit and 15 months after she gave birth, she reached a 14th U.S. Open third round in her 55th Grand Slam event by beating 19-year-old Russian Alisa Kleybanova.


Her 7-5, 6-3 win failed the aesthetics test -- “I didn’t think it was very pretty tennis,” she said -- but passed the evocativeness test, as she felt amazed to appear. “I was just trying to tell myself to enjoy it,” she said, “because who would have thought that I would be back out there, and get another opportunity to play on that court in front of the fans and, you know, still be around here at the U.S. Open?”

A few hours before her, No. 3 Novak Djokovic had debuted as a returning 2007 finalist, received on-court treatment for a hyperextended ankle but pressed on to wipe out France’s Arnaud Clement, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. His Serbian countrywoman Jelena Jankovic, the second-seeded player, had weathered Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-5, in yet another ordeal for a top female player.

All that led to Roddick, and to guesses as to how he might play after a desultory summer, most recently a quarterfinal loss to the No. 93 player in Washington while most everybody else played Beijing.

Thereafter he parted ways with his older brother John as his coach, showed up at the U.S. Open still in the top 10 and for this tournament turned to McEnroe, his Davis Cup coach. “It’s about making adjustments,” Roddick said, and the first night raged with success while his brother still sat in his box.




Today’s featured matches

Venus Williams (8) vs. Rossana De Los Rios (113). De Los Rios, 32, is that rare player who has never lost to Williams. She has never actually played her, but there’s no need to get technical about it.


Serena Williams (3) vs. Elena Vesnina (71). Vesnina, 22, is that rare player who has never lost to Williams. She has never actually played her, but there’s no need to get technical about it.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Ryler De Heart (261). A Hawaii-born Floridian who attended Illinois, De Heart has a great surname. Unfortunately, mastering this particular competition would require the surname Zeus.

James Blake (9) vs. Steve Darcis (62). They’re letting Blake play at daytime, evidently hoping he’ll finish before the wee hours of the morning.

Ana Ivanovic (1) vs. Julie Coin (188). In her last three Grand Slam matches, the new queen has gone to 10-8 in the third with No. 97 in the world, lost, 6-1, 6-4, to No. 133, and gone to 6-4 in the third with No. 57. Well, at least it’s not a despotic rule.


Sam Querrey (55) vs. Nicolas Devilder (63). Gazing at the draw, Querrey, the 20-year-old from Thousand Oaks, very well could reach the fourth round against Nadal. Especially if he’s not gazing at the draw.


Note: world rank in parentheses

-- Chuck Culpepper