Andy Roddick covered his damp eyes with his hands and bent double as the realisation sank in that he had won his first Grand Slam title in his first major final at the United States Open here last night.
The 21-year-old American overwhelmed a weary Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, defeating the French Open champion, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3. Ferrero had hoped to mark his rise to No 1 in the world with a second Grand Slam title, but Roddick was too sharp and strong on the day.
It was Roddick's 19th consecutive win since losing to Britain's Tim Henman in last month's final in Washington. He has won 37 of his last 39 matches since appointing Brad Gilbert as his coach before winning the Stella Artois Championship at Queen's Club, London, a week before Wimbledon.
Roddick and Ferrero had not played each other before, and the American was quicker to settle, winning the opening set after only 28 minutes. The American ended the ninth game with two consecutive aces, the first, at 141mph, equalling his fastest of the tournament.
Ferrero had the first opportunity to break, Roddick saving it with an 135mph service winner. With the Spaniard struggling to serve well enough to bring his ground-strokes into play, Roddick continued to attack and broke for 3-1, driving a forehand to the corner to terminate a lively rally.
Unlike Andre Agassi in the semi-finals, Roddick was giving Ferrero no time to prepare his shots. Unlike David Nalbandian against Roddick, Ferrero was unable to frustrate the Nabraskan by blocking his thunderbolts, a ploy that worked well for the Argentinian until Roddick saved a match point with a 138mph serve.
Although Roddick came back from two sets down to overhaul Nalbandian, Ferrero had a more demanding time advancing to the last four. In contrast to Roddick and Agassi, the Spaniard was stranded in the fourth round during the rain delays and did not have the benefit of two days' rest before playing five sets to defeat Todd Martin followed by four sets against Lleyton Hewitt in the quarter-finals on Friday.
Ferrero competed well in the second set yesterday, though neither he nor Roddick created an opportunity ahead of the tie-break. Four mini-breaks punctuated the first five points of the shoot-out before Roddick held for 4-2 with his 14th ace and went on to win the concluding three points.
Roddick's power and placement continued to profit in the third set, and Ferrero did well to extricate himself from three break points in the sixth game. Then, with the match rapidly running away from him, Ferrero had his last chance to make an impression, only for Roddick to deny him two break points in the seven game.
The American immediately pressurised Ferrero's serve, and the Spaniard double-faulted at break point to go 3-5 down. Roddick served the championships out after an hour and 42 minutes with three aces, taking his total to 23 for the match and 123 for the tournament.
"Right now I am a little bit sad," Ferrero said, "but I have to think that I did a great job these two weeks. At the beginning of the tournament, I didn't expect to be No 1 and to be in he final."
Roddick rises from No 4 to No 2 behind Ferrero in the rankings today, and obviously has the potential to finish the year in the top position. For American tennis, however, his triumph here yesterday came as a timely tonic to climax a championships that had been ravaged by the weather and the loss of leading home players.
Agassi came into the tournament as the world No 1 and top seed, but Roddick's recent form in winning back-to-back ATP Masters series events in Montreal and Cincinnati made him the true favourite. His prospects seemed to improve when Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion and No 2 seed, fell to his nemesis, David Nalbandian, although the Argentinian was unfortunate against Roddick in the semi-finals.
An all-Belgian women's final was one thing, but Ferrero versus Nalbandian would have done nothing for the American television ratings.
By advancing to the final, Roddick saved this year's championship and confirmed himself as the man who can lead the new generation into the void left by the retirement of Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Jim Courier and the uncertainty about how long the 33-year-old Agassi can continue to carry the torch as the game's biggest personality.
Sampras predicted that Roddick was the "future of American men's tennis" after being blown off court by the prodigy in Key Biscayne, Florida, in 2001. It is fitting that Roddick, who emerged on the Tour after winning the US Open junior title, should be the player to succeed Sampras as the senior champion at Flushing Meadows.
Jimmy Connors, who set a rumbustious tone for the US Open after it was transferred here from the country club atmosphere of nearby Forest Hills, made a rare visit yesterday, when he was inducted into the "Court of Champions" along with Rod Laver, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert.
Asked his opinion of Roddick, Connors said: "If he's the athlete, the competitor, and has the heart I think he is, after his comeback from two sets and match point against Nalbandian, this is where he belongs. Anybody can go out and win 6-1, 6-1 and walk away and say 'I played great,' or 'the other guy didn't have it today'. But to turn around a match like Roddick did on Saturday shows what you have beyond tennis. That's what it's all about."Reuse content