Roddick's rise to No 1 spoiled by Schüttler

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The Independent Online

The year-end No. 1 ranking already his, Andy Roddick went out and lost 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) to Rainer Schuettler in the Tennis Masters Cup on yesterday.

Roddick fell to 0-3 in 2003 against the sixth-ranked Schuettler, who mixed speeds throughout the round-robin match to keep the American off-balance.

When No. 2 Juan Carlos Ferrero lost to Andre Agassi in three sets Wednesday, the Spaniard was eliminated from advancing to the semifinals at the season-closing tournament, and couldn't accumulate enough ranking points to overtake Roddick.

So the tour honored Roddick after he faced Schuettler, presenting him with a crystal trophy marking his ascension to No. 1.

"I'm obviously disappointed" about the defeat, Roddick told the crowd during the on-court ceremony. "But in the bigger picture, this is quite an accomplishment for me."

As recently as 2000, he was playing in junior tournaments. Just 12 months ago, he was ranked 10th, too low to qualify for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup.

Now Roddick is assured of becoming the 13th player - and second-youngest - to finish a year atop the ATP Tour computer rankings. He's the sixth American, after Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

"That's pretty amazing," Roddick said. "If you look at the Americans who have finished No. 1, I don't put myself in that category. But I'm working on it."

Roddick's strength, his serve, let him down late, with six of his eight double-faults in the third set, including to set up match point. He then sailed a backhand long to end it with his 49th unforced error.

That made Roddick's record in the round-robin portion 1-1. Schuettler is 2-0.

"I made my week a little more difficult for myself by losing today," Roddick said.

He started off about as well as possible, winning nine of the first 11 points and breaking Schuettler in the first game. Schuettler's early barrage of mistakes frustrated him, and after double-faulting to open the fifth game, he swatted a ball over the court and into the stands behind the opposite baseline. The ball landed just a few seats from former President Bush and his wife, Barbara.

The players traded breaks to 5-4 for Roddick, who then faced a break point. But he eliminated that with a forehand winner to close a 14-stroke point, kicked up a 183 kph (114 mph) ace (he totaled 13), and closed the set with a forehand winner.

There were no breaks of serve in the second set, and Schuettler took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, which ended with Roddick's forehand into the net.

Roddick broke in the second game of the final set, smacking a cross-court forehand to the corner that a running Schuettler barely reached and put into the net. Roddick pumped his fist and yelled, "Let's go!"

But he allowed Schuettler to break back to 3-2 by putting a forehand in the net. Each then held serve into the deciding tiebreaker.

Even with all his mistakes, Roddick showed pieces of his ever-expanding repertoire, including some superb touch volleys, well-angled backhand passing winners, and even the occasional serve-and-volley on second serves.

Still, it wasn't enough to get past Schuettler, who lost to Agassi in the Australian Open final - after beating Roddick in the semifinals - and has improved his ranking for a tour-high nine straight seasons.

Roddick, of course, made the most significant ranking jump.

And he owes at least a tip of the hat to Agassi, who recovered from a terrible start to beat Ferrero 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

"Glad I could help. I aim to please," Agassi said with a smile.

Roddick's breakthrough season began to take shape in January at the Australian Open, where he outlasted Younes El Aynaoui 21-19 in the longest fifth set in Grand Slam history. That allowed the American to reach his first major semifinal.

He also made the semifinals at Wimbledon, then claimed his first Grand Slam title in the US Open by beating Ferrero. Roddick replaced the Spaniard at No. 1 last week.

Only Lleyton Hewitt, 20 in 2000, has been a younger No. 1.

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