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US Open 2012: Andy Roddick stays alive, beats Fabio Fognini

- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2012

NEW YORK — Andy Roddick took up a new tradition in his final tournament.

His friend and opponent, Italian Fabio Fognini, asked to exchange shirts after their third-round match at the U.S. Open, a la soccer players and their jerseys.

It's a memento of the American's 7-5, 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 win Sunday at a pulsating Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"That was a cool gesture," Roddick said.

Asked if he handed over the sweaty top he wore during the 3-hour match, Roddick shot back: "Disgusting. No, I didn't. He got a washed one."

Roddick's career will last at least one more round — but staving off retirement now gets far tougher. His next opponent is a fellow former U.S. Open champ: seventh-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, who won in 2009.

"We'll go out and we'll give it a go," Roddick said of preparing for the match. "I'm not really planning anything. I'm kind of winging this thing as I go."

Del Potro defeated fellow Argentine Leonardo Mayer 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (9).

"I know this is special, this day, for him, but I'm doing my job," del Potro said. "I will try to be focused on my match and doing my things, my shots. The match is going to be very tough. But if I play in high level, will be tough for both players."

The highest-seeded American man, No. 9 John Isner, exited a Grand Slam tournament with a five-set loss for the fourth time this year, defeated 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 by No. 19 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany. The match ended at 2:26 a.m. Monday, tying the tournament record for latest finish.

Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, beat No. 31 Julien Benneteau in straight sets and will meet No. 18 Stanislas Wawrinka for a quarterfinal berth. No. 4 David Ferrer got past two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 and now meets No. 13 Richard Gasquet, who eliminated two-time NCAA champion Steve Johnson 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-3.

In women's action, top-seeded Victoria Azarenka beat 73rd-ranked Anna Tatishvili 6-2, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows for the first time. Azarenka has dropped only 10 games through four matches heading into a showdown against defending champion Sam Stosur, a 6-4, 6-4 winner over 18-year-old Laura Robson of Britain, whose breakthrough run included wins against past major champions Kim Clijsters and Li Na.

Maria Sharapova, a four-time Grand Slam title winner, rallied from a break down in the third set after a rain delay to beat No. 19 Nadia Petrova 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. She plays No. 11 Marion Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up, who came back to defeat 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 1-6, 6-2, 6-0.

Robson beat four-time major champion Clijsters in the second round Wednesday, sending the 29-year-old Belgian into retirement. It was the next day, Roddick's 30th birthday, that he surprisingly let the world know he had planned to walk away from the sport whenever this visit to Flushing Meadows ends.

The 59th-ranked Fognini told Roddick after the match that he had a request for the 2003 U.S. Open champ and would tell him more in the locker room. Fognini now owns an authentic Roddick shirt that will always remind him of the scintillating moments from their match.

One highlight included Fognini's full-sprint, back-to-the-net, between-the-legs shot. When Roddick returned it with a lunging volley winner into the open court to end the point, Fognini chucked his racket all the way to the service box.

"That's about as cleanly as you can hit a between-the-legs passing shot. He hit the thing from Jersey and almost won the point," Roddick said. "That was fun."

The key to the match came in the second-set tiebreaker, when Fognini took the first point, and Roddick the rest.

At 1-all, Roddick really came alive, as did the partisan group in the stands, when he smacked a winner and gestured vigorously.

"I played that point perfectly. It was so pretty, it should have been framed," Fognini said with a smile, "and he ruined it with a down-the-line passing shot that was crazy."

Roddick followed that with a pair of aces at 126 mph and 131 mph and pretty much was on his way.

Asked if he was pacing himself in the third set, which he lost, Roddick replied: "Man, I don't have time to pace myself."

The time between matches can be draining, too, the uncharted territory of readying himself for the end of his career while trying to postpone that moment a few more days.

"You're kind of smiling, humming, whistling, walking around, and you feel pretty good about it. All of a sudden, you have to say goodbye to someone. It's like this gut-check moment. It's these extreme emotions from five minutes to the next five minutes," Roddick said. "You think you know what's going on, but I don't think there's any way to prepare yourself for it."