Roddick power falls flat on clay

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The Independent Online

Dominik Hrbaty upset US Open champion Andy Roddick Friday to give Slovakia a 1-0 lead over the United States in their World Group playoff tie.

Hrbaty rallied after losing the first set to defeat Roddick 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in just over two hours.

Hrbaty dropped to his knees after the win, tossed the ball high into the stands and then broke into tears as he circled the clay court draped in the red, white and blue Slovak flag.

Roddick racked up seven aces in the first set and dominated Hrbaty. But the Slovak - ranked only 60th to Roddick's No. 2 - got back into the match with excellent returns. He also began to drive Roddick to the far corners of the slippery court, forcing the American into uncharacteristic unforced error.

"When I started to return his service, that was the key," Hrbaty said. "I hope we will show the Americans where the small nation of Slovakia is."

He suggested the Americans might have been overconfident.

"Roddick was not playing very well. He didn't play his best. But he's only a man of flesh and blood."

American No. 2 Mardy Fish faced Karol Kucera in the second singles match with doubles set for Saturday and reverse singles on Sunday.

The Americans, the most successful team in Davis Cup history, must defeat Slovakia to remain in the 16-team top tier of the Cup. A loss would relegate them to the American Zone in 2004, a black eye for a country which has won tennis' top team prize a record 31 times - but not since 1995.

The Americans last played in the second tier of Davis Cup in 1988.

Roddick often seemed troubled by the crowd noise and his poor play also hurt his serve.

"I was having to stop and start and really didn't get a groove on my serve," he said. "I was having to step back a lot because of this, that and the other. I think the worse I started playing in other parts of my game, it hurt my serve."

The loss ended Roddick's 19-match winning streak - all on hard courts and all in North America. It was also his third straight loss on clay in Davis Cup as his singles record fell to 7-3.

"It's never a good feeling to lose whether you've won 19 in a row or not," said. "I hate the fact I have lost my last three Davis Cup matches. It eats at me. Hopefully if we get to Sunday with a shot I can try my best then.

Roddick also said he put "undue pressure" on the rest team.

"That's why you play the matches, and that's why Davis Cup is different from any other tournament."

Roddick took the first set in only 23 minutes. After a slow start, he broke Hrbaty in the eighth game with a combination of errors by the Slovak and neat, sliced backhands.

Hrbaty found his way back in the second set, taking it 6-3. The Slovak, known as a streaky player, began hitting well aimed groundstrokes as Roddick's were often long and erratic.

After seven aces in the first set, Roddick managed only one in the second and 15 in the match. Hrbaty finished with seven.

Hrbaty kept Roddick in a funk in the third set, taking it 6-4 in 33 minutes. The Slovak continued to return Roddick's powerful serves and his play around the net was perfect as the American make uncharacteristic mistakes.

Hrbaty broke Roddick twice in the deciding fourth set. But Roddick broke back once, with the Slovak needing five match points to finally close out the American.

Roddick's record in Davis Cup singles fell to 7-3 with all three losses on clay. It's was Hrbaty's first win over Roddick in any competition (2-1).

The Americans defeated Slovakia 5-0 in 2002 in Oklahoma City. Both Kucera and Hrbaty were injured and didn't play.

Friday's match in the 4,200 National Tennis Center was played with the retractable roof closed to keep out harsh midday sun and shadows. The second match was to be played under an open roof.

Doubles on Saturday was to be under a closed roof, as was Sunday's early singles match.

The Americans have lost their last two Cup matches - one short of the record of three straight in 1986-87. The last loss was in Croatia in February.

The United States has also lost three straight matches on the road since Patrick McEnroe took over as captain in 2001 - and four straight overall. His brother John McEnroe was captain for the other away loss.

The most consecutive road losses for a US team is five.

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