A lot of people had written Andy Roddick off, after seeing the American drawn to play Jarko Nieminen in the first round, and at one point it looked like some of us were right to have hope. Having lost in the first round of Roland Garros four times previously, history didn’t favour Roddick, particularly given he hasn’t officially played a match on clay this year. Roddick sat out Monte Carlo and Barcelona to celebrate his first wedding anniversary, he then missed Rome with fatigue and Madrid with a virus. “Obviously, this is far from perfect in terms of preparation heading into Paris but you play the hand you are dealt.”
Interesting both almost-veteran players had never played each other prior to today’s match. Neither player, particularly Roddick, is considered a clay court player, with Roddick openly acknowledging that his chances of doing well at Roland Garros are limited.
Keeping his unforced errors low (a conservative two for the first set), and serving just one double fault, Roddick broke in the Nieminen’s opening service game and quickly found his way to a 5-2 lead, despite losing his first serve slightly. The percentage of first serves won showed a huge discrepancy between the players, with Roddick winning 79% of points on his first serve, compared to just 50% from Finland’s top player.
A third, nervous double fault brought up double set point for Roddick, which he duly converted using his great court speed, taking the first set 6-2 in just 28 minutes.
At 3-3 Nieminen managed to get his first break point chance after Roddick threw in a few errors. Roddick saved it with a huge serve before the Fin came screaming back with a beautifully angled cross court forehand. Consistently yelling at himself, tyring to pump himself up, Nieminen was again denied by the Roddick serve. Another error off Roddick’s forehand giving up a third and final break point, ultimately allowing the Fin to take a 4-3 lead. A frustrated Roddick threw his racket into the dirt when a string broke. As the crowd whistled Roddick could be heard saying “Yeah, yeah, yeah”.
In response to Nieminen’s 5-3 lead Roddick pounded some serves and ground strokes while his opponent appeared to try an manipulate his own lower back with a fast rotational thrust while standing on one leg. Roddick started talking to himself as Nieminen threw in a few errors trying to close out the set, dumping a forehand into the net on his first set point. His second set point allowed him to level the match.
Nieminen successfully defended early break point chances with four big serves getting him out of trouble, to level at 2-2. The Fin then seemed to have a good read on Roddick’s serve, breaking him after smacking a forehand return winner for a 3-2 lead in the third set. The Americans body language started to deteriorate rapidly, with his racket barely surviving his irritation. Every time one of Nieminen’s balls clipped the net it dribbled over the net, untouchable luck, only serving to irritate Roddick more.
After an hour and 45 minutes an ace gave Nieminen a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 lead. Roddick was still serving well, and winning a good percentage of point on his first serve, but his errors were accumulating quickly and his mindset heading further and further south. At one point Andy could be heard saying “I don’t know what else I’m gonna do, but I bet I know how it ends.”
Roddick continued to work hard on serve, trying to stop the relentless Nieminen who was holding serve more easily that the American. Roddick had a set point to make it 2 sets all but sent a forehand wide and Nieminen managed to force a tiebreak. As the main show court slowly filled, (although it didn’t get any louder) Roddick opened proceedings in the tie break. Roddick quickly found himself with a handy 4-1 lead as conditions started to turn and become more windy.
After almost 2 hours and 40 minutes a 5th set started with Roddick looking slightly more positive, and Jarkko looking a little bit annoyed that the match was still going.
A beautiful stretching passing shot gave Roddick the crucial break for a 3-2 lead, fending off a break-back chance in the next game. An aggressive return game at 5-3 saw Roddick have 2 match point chances, something that 2 hours earlier was looking unlikely. A double fault gave Roddick the match after an epic 3 hours and 19 minutes.
Roddick is through to the second round after the 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory.