Andy Roddick: His 2003 U.S. Open Comeback Will Make You a Believer

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Andy Roddick: His 2003 U.S. Open Comeback Will Make You a Believer
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

If you're on the fence about who to root for in the upcoming U.S. Open Tennis tournament, root for Andy Roddick.  You won't be sorry.

Considering how the fans in Paris bolstered Roger Federer to his first French Open title this summer, is it easy to imagine the New York crowd going wild for Roddick.  

Fueled by the intensity he ignited in our hearts after his valiantly fought five-set defeat he suffered at the hands of Federer at Wimbledon this July, Roddick is our great American home court favorite once again.

In the not so distant past, Roddick was urged on by a raucous U.S. Open crowd and dug in for a marathon five-set battle on center court, except in that match, he overcame.

The match that I am referring to is the classic U.S. Open Men's semifinal where Roddick battled David Nalbandian for his shot at the title.  If you missed it, it will be re-aired this Sunday, Aug. 30, on ESPN Classic at 7 p.m.

Until you are able to watch it with your own eyes, I will fill you in with my recollections of this time-honored upset suffered by Nalbandian at the hands of Roddick on his way to grabbing his first slam title.

Roddick's trip the the semifinal was easier than that of Nalbandian. Three of the first four rounds were handled with relative ease. The only set Roddick lost on his way to the semifinals was a second set tie-break in the second round against Ivan Ljubicic.

Nalbandian's only straight-set victory came in the first round against Philipp Kolschreiber.

His perseverance led him through a five-set victory over Jarkko Niemenen in the second round and continued to be tested with four-set victories in every other match along the way to the semis, including one over Federer in the fourth round.

Once the two opponents stepped on to the court on Sept. 7, 2003, each was primed for a run at the title.

The U.S. Open website designates the 2003 tournament as one of the soggiest to go down in tournament history. Four days were affected by rain and during the delays, the network rebroadcast the footage of the legendary 1991 U.S. Open fourth-round match between Jimmy Conners and Aaron Krickstein.

Now was the time for Roddick to make his mark upon the greatest stage in American tennis.  The number one seed, Andre Agassi, fought to the semis and advanced no further.  Andre was out, it was time for Andy.

Winning the first set in a tiebreak, 6-7(4-7), Nalbandian rode the momentum and cruised through the second set, 3-6.

Digging in and holding serve in the third set, Roddick hung on and forced a tiebreak.

The third set tiebreak however, quickly put Roddick in a 0-3 hole.  As coach Brad Gilbert peered dejectedly through his fingers or from behind his black baseball cap, Roddick gathered himself and returned to his signature serve.  

Leaning in with his 26th ace, Roddick got on the board. Next, he backed off and delivered a gentle serve and volley strategy, and winning another point, Roddick started to find footing.

The two players remained locked in battle until Nalbandian had Roddick at 5-6, match point.  

Rising once again to the pressure, Roddick rips off his 27th ace at 138 mph to save match point, and after the two change sides, delivers a 136 mph 28th.  

Nalbandian responded and evened the score, only to fall victim to bad luck on the very next volley. At seven all, after Nalbandian had hit Roddick's return right along the line, a fan called the ball out. Roddick returned the volley and Nalbandian hit the ball into the net.  

After the unfortunate circumstance, it was up to Roddick.  He responded by serving out the set and surviving certain death the way only a champion can.

I remember thinking through the first three sets that Andy Roddick was an overrated punk.  I had the Jimmy Connors match fresh in my mind and I couldn't help but think that there was no way that Roddick had that kind of grit to his character.

After he battled back in the third set tiebreak, I can rarely remember a time when I was so happy to be proven wrong.

Roddick went on to take the next two sets, 6-1 and 6-3.

In the final, he eliminated Juan Carlos Ferrero in straight sets.

There have been many unforgettable upsets in U.S. Open history.  Perhaps why this one meant so much to me was the juxtaposition of Roddick with Connors.  

We all wanted and expected Roddick to win, what we didn't expect was the opportunity to witness the Connorsesque tenacity that it took for him to get the job done.  We had been watching a classic on tape and now, we were treated to one live.

Suddenly he wasn't just a poster boy who rubbed fit biceps with celebrities like his then squeeze, Mandy Moore.  He was now a young athlete who never lost his will to compete even when everyone else had thrown in the towel and defeat was all but certain. 

Then the years of less-than-stellar showings in Grand Slam events once again tarnished my opinion of Roddick.

Maybe a lot of us felt that way until this past July at Wimbledon when we caught a glimpse of the Andy Roddick that won our hearts at the 2003 U.S. Open.

His skill is evident.  His serve continues to be a force, but he is now fitter than ever and armed with a more complete arsenal of weapons on the court.

He has also made a serious upgrade in marrying Brooklyn Decker.  The pair look every inch a dynamic duo of glamorous ambassadors for the tennis world.

The 2003 Men's Semifinal will forever be a favorite comeback match for me because I watched Andy Roddick do what I had deemed impossible.

I will be glued to the Open this year, but for the first time ever, Andy, I believe!

 

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