SONY ERICSSON OPEN
Roddick Rides Fearsome Serve Into Final
Andy Roddick produced one of the finest performances of his career Friday to rally from a set down and upset Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Sony Ericsson Open.
Roddick turned the match on its head in an eight-point stretch late in the second set and rode the momentum to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the two-time Sony Ericsson Open finalist Nadal, who showed very rare signs of frustration as the match slipped away.
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In a master class serving performance, Roddick fired 15 aces and won 47 of 55 points on his first serve to claim his first win in his past four meetings with Nadal. After reaching the Indian Wells final two weeks ago (l. Ljubicic), Roddick has advanced to consecutive ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals for the first time since 2003 (Montreal and Cincinnati), which led into his triumph at the US Open.
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Early in the match, playing from deep behind the baseline, Roddick was unable to put Nadal under pressure. But a change in mindset midway through the second set to go on the attack reaped rich rewards for Roddick, who cracked a series of brutal forehands and made regular, confident forays to the net, winning 15 of 25 approaches.
“Anytime we got neutral [in the point] he was pushing me around,” Roddick said. “I knew I had to be more aggressive. My heavy forehand doesn’t work against him, so I had to hit it flatter, which is higher risk... I took really, really ridiculous cuts at a lot of forehands. They found the purple part [of the court].”
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Seemingly out of nowhere, with Nadal serving at 3-4 in the second set, Roddick broke the Spaniard to love after crushing three massive forehand winners. Then, continuing with his new-found attacking game plan, Roddick held to love in the next game to clinch the set. Roddick clipped 12 winners against just five unforced errors in the set.
Roddick claimed the first break of the third set with an aggressive forehand return off a Nadal first serve to go ahead 2-1, and, true to his reputation as one of the game’s best front-runners, held serve the remainder of the set and even broke Nadal in the final game of the match.
Nadal said that he was surprised by Roddick's change in tactics. “I started the match playing pretty well in the beginning. Later in the second set Andy was serving well; I didn't have a lot of chances on the return. He started to play more aggressive in the game where he broke me. It was a change, and it was surprise for me."
Dating back to the Indian Wells final, in which Roddick lost two tie-breaks, the former World No. 1 has held 62 of his past 64 service games. Against Nadal Roddick hit 37 winners to 25 unforced errors, with Nadal hitting 29 winners to 25 unforced errors.
In the final against either Robin Soderling or Tomas Berdych, Roddick will attempt to win his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title since August 2006 in Cincinnati.
Roddick, who won the Sony Ericsson Open title in 2004, improved to a 30-9 win-loss record at the event.
About his tactics against Nadal, Roddick said: “I took a lot of risk there in the last two sets. I said it on the court and I've it said a couple times: ‘The best thing I can think of is I rolled the dice a lot and came up Yahtzee a couple times.’ That's what I have to do. My comfort zone of moving the ball around and maybe chipping it around a little bit doesn't work against Rafa. I had to try to come up with something that at least took him out of his comfort zone a little bit, and it paid off.”
Nadal has won 15 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles but is yet to lift the newly renamed Butch Buchholz trophy. A winner of 36 career titles, Nadal last won a tournament at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome last May. But he showed encouraging signs during this US hard court swing in his comeback from a right knee injury that sidelined him for the month of February. “Two semi-finals in a row, first two Masters 1000 of the season for me is positive," Nadal said. "Positive American hard court season, first part. So, yeah, happy for that."
In little more than a week Nadal will return to his beloved clay at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament in Monte-Carlo, where he will start a hot favourite.
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