Return to court brings Roddick huge relief

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Stretching minds is as important as stretching limbs here at the Quick-Dry Hand Towel Open, which originated as one of the world's four major championships. In spite of scheduling cock-ups that have compounded the problems caused by the rain delays, the United States Tennis Association is to be congratulated on keeping competitors amused in the players' lounge.

Dimitri Schnyder, a Latvian-born New York chess master, has been check-mating all-comers, including Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, on up to eight boards at a time. Table tennis, which launched the likes of Fred Perry and Ann Jones to Wimbledon triumph, is another favourite time-consumer. The American Andy Roddick lost three games in a row to Bob Bryant, his Davis Cup team-mate.

Roddick, the fourth seed, and the No 1 seed here at the US Open, Andre Agassi, have been luckier than most in terms of time on court. They were the only men to have advanced to the quarter-finals at the close of Wednesday's play as the event moved towards a Monday finish, for the first time since 1987, the year Ivan Lendl defeated Mats Wilander.

The first round junior matches were switched to indoor courts at nearby Porchester yesterday, and no matches could be scheduled on the Grandstand Court because of the rising level of the water table beneath the surface.

Just as Agassi was the only winner on Tuesday night, so Roddick was the only victor on Wednesday, although technically his fourth round success against Xavier Malisse, of Belgium, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6, finished half an hour into yesterday.

Roddick, released from the locker room - "It's frustrating listening to everybody's theories about what should be done... are we going to all die because we're playing four in four days?" - was a man possessed in possession of a mighty serve. Perhaps he imagined that Malisse was Bryant in disguise.

Having defeated the 67th-ranked Malisse in their seven previous matches, Roddick was virtually unplayable for two and a half sets, in which he served to love in nine games.

"It's the toughest serve I've ever seen," a shell-shocked Malisse said. "Even if you get your racket on it, the ball just takes off and goes long. He mixes it up great. Then, if he misses the first, the second has got all that spin on it. It just jumps everywhere. But I started getting it a little bit in the third set."

Even then, when Malisse threatened to take the match into a third set, he was unable to convert any of five break points, two being set points with Roddick serving at 4-5, 15-40. When it came to the tie-break, Malisse netted a volley after serving on the first point and then led, 5-3. "I wasn't liking my prospects at that point," Roddick admitted. He responded by scoring four points in a row to clinch the set.

Roddick has won his last 15 matches since losing to Tim Henman, the British No 1, in the Washington final last month. The 21-year-old Nabraskan will play the winner of the fourth-round match between Rainer Schüttler, the German No 8 seed, and the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, seeded No 12.

"I'm not really worried about how many days [it takes]," Roddick said. "I'm trying not to get caught up in all that. I'm just happy to be through." Having completed two of his four matches after midnight, the American was asked if there was any difference playing at 12.15am versus 12.15pm.

"Sun's not out," he replied. Then, after the next question, he returned to the subject and added: "You know what? That doesn't necessarily mean the sun's out." Such is life at Flushing Meadows.