- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Against the world’s best, Andy Roddick has been nearly unbeatable.

Against the likes of Bob Bryan, he was nearly anything but.

In a surprisingly competitive match, Roddick stopped Bryan 7-6 (7), 6-4 last night in the second round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic on Stadium Court at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

Afterward, Roddick approached Bryan — a doubles specialist and his Davis Cup teammate — and offered words of encouragement.

“I said, ‘Cut this [stuff] out,’” Roddick said. “‘Give yourself a couple months to play singles and you can do it.’ I was very impressed out there tonight. If he can play like that, he’ll walk up the rankings.”

In the other featured match of the evening, Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan defeated France’s Cyril Saulnier 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-1. The match between British No.10 seed Tim Henman and Rockville native Paul Goldstein ended too late for this edition.

Roddick next faces Britain’s Greg Rusedski in what promises to be a blink-and-you’re-toast exchange between the two hardest servers in the sport. Rusedski, the No.14 seed, owns the ATP service speed record of 149 mph; Roddick tied the mark at a grass-court tournament in June.

The two last tangled in the second round at Wimbledon, with Roddick earning a straight-set win that saw Rusedski unspool following an futile, expletive-laden argument with the chair umpire.

“You could see the same kind of match as tonight,” Roddick said. “He’ll definitely be dictating play on his serve, and I hope to do the same. There’s not much game plan to be had.”

The Roddick-Bryan match produced drama of a different sort — the kind that almost made a mockery of the Tour rankings.

Over the last three months, the 21-year-old Roddick has risen to No.5 in the world, winning three titles on three different surfaces. One of those came last week, when he stopped Paradorn in the finals of a hard-court tournament in Indianapolis.

Roddick’s surge began in earnest following a disappointing second-round loss at Roland Garros, a defeat that prompted him to drop longtime coach Tarik Benhabiles and hire cerebral former pro Brad Gilbert.

Roddick is 16-1 since, his sole loss coming in the Wimbledon semifinals against eventual champion Roger Federer. By contrast, Bryan’s primary claim to fame was winning this year’s French Open with twin brother Mike.

Ranked No.205 in singles, Bryan has won just three solo matches this season — 38 fewer than Roddick — and even suffered the indignity of a Tuesday night doubles upset at the hands of Roddick and partner Brian Vahaly.

As such, last night’s match figured to be as suspense-free as an episode of “According to Jim.” But Bryan had other plans, holding serve and pushing Roddick to a first-set tiebreaker.

At 3-3, Roddick blasted a 116 mph ace wide. On the next point, Bryan responded with a wide ace of his own, albeit at 105 mph.

On set point, Bryan hit a running backhand just long. Serving in the second to stay in the match, he suffered a similar and untimely fade, allowing Roddick to break him at love.

“[During the tiebreaker], he missed that last passing shot by this far,” Roddick said, holding up his thumb and forefinger. “The way he played tonight is top-35, top-40 in singles, easy.”

Like Roddick, Paradorn came into the Legg Mason on a high note — one that first sounded in Washington. Buoyed by his surprise run to last year’s final, Paradorn enjoyed a breakout 2002 and became the first Asian player ever to crack the ATP top 10.

Currently ranked No.11, he had a large and boisterous cheering section in the northeast corner of the stadium. Waving a large Thai flag, sounding noisemakers and clad in crimson — a nod to Paradorn’s signature red T-shirt — the group of more than 50 lent a Davis Cup-like feel to the evening.

“I knew there was going to be a lot of people from Thailand coming to cheer me today,” Paradorn said. “Last year there was a lot, but this year more. And this is just the [second] round. If I keep going, I think it’s going to be huge.”

For a time, the third-seeded Paradorn needed all the support he could get. Saulnier, a 27-year-old journeyman, gave lie to his No.102 ranking by hitting 10 aces and saving four of six break points over the first two sets.

At 4-4 in the first, Paradorn earned a hard-fought break with a backhand drop volley and a well-placed backhand lob. But up 5-2 in the second set tiebreaker, he dropped three consecutive points, the last on an errant backhand.

Saulnier took advantage, winning three of four points to claim the set and briefly quiet the crowd. But Paradorn squelched his momentum in the third, rolling through the set with little resistance.

“The third set I was serving well,” Paradorn said. “He missed a couple of balls on important points, and it was quite easy. But it’s not my plan to play three sets.”

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