- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

PARIS — A photo of Andy Roddick graced the cover of the French Open program yesterday, along with the headline, “L’Americain de service” — a play on words that makes reference to his best shot and translates to, “The token American.”

By evening, he was gone, upset by a Frenchman ranked 125th who hadn’t won a match on tour in 2004 until Monday. Roddick joined Andre Agassi and eight other compatriots on the way home, making this the first Grand Slam tournament in more than 30 years without a U.S. man in the third round.

“It’s extremely disappointing. There’s no doubt there are issues with clay,” the second-seeded Roddick said. “It’s something we’re going to have to fix.”

Clay is considered the great equalizer in tennis, with a tempo so different from other surfaces that it tends to produce odd results. In a match preceding Roddick’s 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 setback against Olivier Mutis, top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne lost 7-5, 6-4 to Italy’s Tathiana Garbin, ranked 86th.

That ended Henin-Hardenne’s 15-match winning streak at majors, spanning titles at the U.S. and Australian Opens. It also made her the second defending women’s champion since 1925 to exit the French Open in the second round.

“It was my bad day, and it was her great day,” Henin-Hardenne said. “I wasn’t the player I’ve been the last 12 months.”

Her defeat makes things easier for the top women who won yesterday: No.3 Amelie Mauresmo, No.5 Lindsay Davenport and No.8 Nadia Petrova.

Henin-Hardenne missed the past six weeks with a viral infection, and against Garbin she double-faulted 10 times and converted only four of 18 break points. As lethargic as she was, Henin-Hardenne appeared to be climbing back, leading 4-2 in the second set. But she didn’t win another game.

That match ended under sprinkles, and the rain continued into the start of Roddick’s match, making the court slower than normal — bad news for someone who relies on the kick of speedy serves for easy points.

Still, the U.S. Open champion led 2-sets-to-1 and was up a break in the fourth. By then, though, Mutis had the measure of Roddick’s serve, cobbling together six breaks the rest of the way.

With fans chanting Mutis’ first name (it sounded like “O-leev-yay!”) and doing the wave at changeovers, he went for broke on point after point, taking the initiative.

“The more I was pushing the points, the more it was difficult for him,” said Mutis, yet to fulfill the promise he showed by winning the 1995 Wimbledon junior title.

Roddick agreed with his opponent’s assessment.

“I was dominating with my forehand early on. I was bullying him around the court,” Roddick said. But when Mutis began swinging away, Roddick added, “I wasn’t quick enough to go to a Plan B or stick to my guns. I kind of waffled in between. He just grew in confidence.”

By the end, Roddick looked out of sorts, meekly swatting at some balls and watching others fly past. He complained to the chair umpire about Mutis’ grunting and his moving during Roddick’s service motion.

Afterward, Roddick could have pinned his defeat on a stomach virus that forced him to take intravenous fluids Monday. Or blamed the crowd. Or the weather. Or accepted it as simply another poor clay day: He lost in the French Open’s first round in 2002 and 2003.

“I really made a concerted effort to try to be prepared and ready for the tournament so there were no surprises,” Roddick said.

Playing on clay is “a challenge for me. That’s no secret. But I’m going to keep plugging away.”

And while there will be no American men in a major’s third round for the first time since the 1973 Australian Open — none entered that tournament — Mutis will make his debut at that stage. He’ll face countryman Fabrice Santoro, who’s already spent nearly 10 hours on court, including the longest match on record in the first round.

Mutis was responsible for one of eight first-round exits by Americans, beating Robby Ginepri. Agassi, Todd Martin, Jan-Michael Gambill, Taylor Dent, Alex Bogomolov Jr., Jeff Salzenstein and Kevin Kim also lost right away.

Only Roddick and 27th-seeded Vince Spadea even reached the second round — and Spadea needed to save nine match points to do so. But he went out meekly yesterday, a 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 loser to French qualifier Julien Jeanpierre. Half of the Americans were eliminated by Frenchmen.

“When a French player arrives at the French Open,” Mutis said, “you forget everything you’ve done before.”

The same might be said of accomplished Americans.

Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe never held aloft the Coupe des Mousquetaires. None of Pete Sampras’ 14 Slam titles came in Paris, and only one of Agassi’s eight did. Between Tony Trabert in 1955 and Michael Chang in 1989, no U.S. man won the French Open.

“I was expecting a little bit more of myself this year. I am a different player than I was 12 months ago and 24 months ago,” Roddick said.

“But I’m going to choose to look forward instead of looking back.”

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