- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

NEW YORK — Andy Roddick ran into a bold, bigger version of himself at the U.S. Open, and 6-foot-6 Joachim Johansson sent the defending champion home.

Roddick was upset 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4 last night by another 22-year-old brandishing a powerful serve and forehand but also someone who has won just one title, was playing in his first major quarterfinal and started the year ranked 113th.

Not only that but Johansson never had played a five-set match before. Yet there he was, smacking serves at 141 mph, outslugging Roddick from the baseline during extended exchanges, saving two break points late and ending the match by breaking Roddick.

Far less surprising was Andre Agassi’s exit earlier in the day. That’s because he was up against No. 1 Roger Federer, who won 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in a quarterfinal suspended by rain early in the fourth set the night before and wrapped up in the worst of swirling winds.

It’s the first time since 1986 that no American man reached the Open semifinals.

Federer will face No. 5 Tim Henman, while Johansson, having eliminated the 2003 Open winner, goes up against the 2001 champion, Lleyton Hewitt — whose sister Jaslyn just happens to be the 28th-seeded Swede’s girlfriend.

That should make for interesting dinner conversation.

Johansson played pretty much perfectly for the first two sets and threw Roddick off his game. Twice, Johansson held serve after being down love-40; once, he broke Roddick after trailing 40-love.

In the final game of the match, No. 2 Roddick fell behind love-40 with a double-fault, saved two match points thanks to big serves, then sailed a backhand long on the third. Up at the net for a postmatch handshake, the 6-2 Roddick reached up to tap Johansson on the chest.

Roddick found himself playing the way opponents try to negate his power-packed game, standing way behind the baseline, resorting to guesswork on returns and hitting to the backhand. After dumping one return into the net, Roddick flipped his racket in the air and lamented, “Oh, my God!”

And Roddick seemed generally uncomfortable, arguing the occasional call, questioning a line judge’s positioning and standing with hands on hips as if he didn’t want to leave the court for what turned out to be a 55-minute rain delay right after being broken to 3-2 in the first set.

When they returned to action, Roddick missed a backhand on the first point, then pointed and snapped “Sit down!” at spectators slow getting to their seats. Johansson went on to win the first set with a running forehand winner down the line.

At one moment in the fifth set, while Roddick was needling the chair umpire, his coach, Brad Gilbert, pointed both index fingers to his temples. The message was clear: “Keep your head in the game.”

Johansson was flawless in the first two sets. In the third and fourth sets, it was Roddick’s turn to be brilliant, with a total of three unforced errors. Yes, three. Actually, Roddick won far more points: 152 to 128. But he converted only three of 15 break chances.

Both pounded aces, with Johansson finishing with 30 to raise his tournament-leading total to 109, while Roddick had 34.

The players know each other and each other’s games well. While this was just their second meeting as pros, they met three times as juniors and reached the 18-and-under doubles final together at the 2000 French Open.

Johansson inherited some of his abilities: His father, Leif, was Bjorn Borg’s teammate on Sweden’s 1974 Davis Cup team. And little Joachim — surely, he was little at one time — got to practice with Borg as a tyke.

Well, he’s all grown up now. Roddick came into the match having been broken just once in 50 service games during the Open. It took less than 20 minutes for Johansson to do it.

In the second set, Roddick had Johansson at love-40 in the second game, but the Swede saved the break points with a 132 mph ace, a 110 mph ace and a 133 mph service winner. In the next game, Roddick took a 40-love lead on his serve and lost the next five points, with Johansson seizing a 2-1 edge with a forehand.

Serving for the second set, Johansson fell behind love-40 again — and got out of it again, this time finishing with the flourish of a 136 mph service winner. The match was 75 minutes old, and already Roddick had lost two sets (two more than he had all tournament before yesterday), had been broken twice and had gone 0-for-7 on his break chances.

Roddick walked to his chair, slammed his racket down and looked up at Gilbert, who was biting his nails, while the partisan fans sat in stunned silence.

Johansson couldn’t possibly keep playing this well, could he?

And then, 56 minutes later, it was two sets all. From that second break, Roddick went on a roll in which he won 44 of 46 points on his serve, including 29 straight. He also finally began to get somewhere on Johansson’s serve, breaking him for a 2-0 edge in the third set by closing an 18-stroke point with a volley winner.

He rocked back on his heels, pumping both arms and screaming, as much to the fairly subdued crowd as to himself: “Come on! Let’s go!”

Hours earlier, Agassi sat alone, starting blankly at an Arthur Ashe Stadium doorway, the silence punctured by the rustling leaves on nearby trees.

Soon, he would walk through that exit, his U.S. Open done. In those idle moments on a lobby bench, there was plenty for the 34-year-old Agassi to contemplate.

“My game plan is to play until I can’t do it,” Agassi said. “I certainly want to be able to assess my level of play, and at some point my level of play will dictate my decisions. But as of right now, I’m trying to win tournaments, and I believe that with that focus, I can still do that.”

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