With a set in hand, serving 5-4 against Andy Roddick, Ernests Gulbis finally flinched. Gulbis never saw another lead again the rest of the match. That’s how fine a line tennis is. Had Gulbis served out that game he probably wins that match but Roddick somehow dug himself out of a serious hole to beat the Latvian youngster 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 to reach the third round at the US Open.
Going into the match I pegged Gulbis as the favorite, and for about 90 minutes he played like it, crushing forehands, backhands, serves and even showing the very deft touch with the drop shot. But Gulbis couldn’t sustain it. It seemed the closer he got to winning that second set, the more serves he missed, the more errors he made. The moment caught up to him and he crumbled. Credit to Roddick, though, for staying steady and allowing that to happen.
Roddick, who really hasn’t had a big, emotional match win like this since Miami, started out by really aggressively attacking Gulbis, which wasn’t working. But Roddick did what you have to do against a guy on a tear, and that is to keep plugging away, keep serving big, keep getting balls back and hope that things turn, and sure enough they did late in the second set and he got the birthday present he wanted.
At just 20, Gulbis will have plenty of happier birthdays at the US Open ahead. The kid has immense power – hell, he even hits his drop shots hard! – but he’ll need to cut down on the errors if he wants to big a Top 5, Grand Slam type contender. Otherwise he’ll end up as an Eastern European version of James Blake which, who knows, might be okay with him.
After a two tricky opponents, Roddick should get a breather Sunday afternoon against Andreas Seppi before another danger match with Fernando Gonzalez, then perhaps a Thursday night showdown with Novak Djokovic who’s been playing into form.
A guy still not looking like he should is Roger Federer, who I thought didn’t play that well yesterday in a win over Thiago Alves. Federer got through but he’ll need to play better to beat Radek Stepanek tomorrow, and I think he will. Again, his draw sets up nicely.
Later today Rafael Nadal faces Serb Victor Troicki. Nadal wins but I think Troicki could get a set.
Also today, I like Mardy Fish to beat James Blake, Ferrer over Nishikori and David Nalbandian over my man Gael Monfils. It’s good to see Nalbandian playing well again.
And in the best match of the day, we’ll see just how good Juan Martin Del Potro is as he takes on Gilles Simon. I’m actually leaning toward Simon in this one.
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