- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

With temperatures topping 110 degrees on the court, Juan Martin del Potro figured playing long rallies against Andy Roddick would be the death of him. So the world’s sixth-ranked player used a go-for-broke approach Sunday that paid off with a gripping three-set victory and a second consecutive Legg Mason Tennis Classic title.

The two battled at FitzGerald Tennis Center for more than 2 1/2 hours on searing asphalt, exchanging deep groundstrokes and rocket serves before del Potro prevailed 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6). The 20-year-old Argentine joins a distinguished list of multiple Legg Mason winners that includes Roddick, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.

For most of the week, the weather was only a minor nuisance; temperatures were in the 80s, and del Potro and Roddick played primarily at night. But Sunday, they met at 3 p.m. before a crowd that spent as much time fanning itself as cheering.

Roddick called the conditions “brutal.” Del Potro said he was affected by the heat as early as the first set and began playing aggressively to end points early. In the weeks leading up to the ATP Tour’s stop in the District, del Potro had been practicing in Argentina, where temperatures barely topped the freezing mark.

“It was so difficult for me,” he said. “If I was playing on another surface or in other weather, maybe I’d want to play in longer points to win because Andy doesn’t like to run too much. But today it was impossible. It was just - serve and one more ball and that’s it. Because if you run, you die.”

Roddick credited del Potro for converting on a number of high-risk shots and for winning a high percentage of his first serves late in the match. Del Potro served 12 aces in the third set, including five in the tiebreak.

“He was rolling the dice and hit Yahtzee a bunch of times,” Roddick said.

Roddick appeared sharp early, winning all but seven points on his serve in the first set and finishing it off with one of his 21 aces during the match. In the second set, del Potro broke serve at love to go up 5-3. But Roddick immediately broke back, earning a break point on an overhead smash and securing the game when del Potro double-faulted. Three games later, del Potro broke Roddick a second time to secure the set 7-5.

In the third set, they exchanged breaks of serve, eventually entering a tiebreak in which del Potro converted five aces. On match point, del Potro hit a forehand winner that both players later said they thought was just wide. Roddick challenged and the call was upheld, with the replay showing the ball barely touched the line.

For del Potro, the win was a validation of his run to the title last year, when he went from a virtual unknown to a player who dominated the U.S. Open hard-court season.

“I’ve improved a little bit - on my serve, my forehand, everything,” he said. “But I’m still thinking that if I want to beat Roddick many times or beat [Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal], I need to improve a lot and keep working.”

Roddick said Sunday’s match was part of a process of improvement that began last winter. The world’s fifth-ranked player worked with new coach Larry Stefanki to get quicker and more confident on the court, and it has paid off with some of the best results in his career. He reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, recorded a career-best fourth-round berth at the French Open and lost at Wimbledon to Federer in a long and memorable five-setter in the final.

Though he lost Sunday, Roddick appears poised to compete at the ATP Tour event in Montreal and the U.S. Open in two weeks.

“I’m not far from where I was toward the end of Wimbledon,” he said. “I think coming here after being off a month, you want to find out where your game is and get some matches in. It was fine. I think I feel a lot better about my game now than when I first got here.”

Notes - In the doubles final, Martin Damm and Robert Lindstedt beat Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski 7-5, 7-6 (3). It was the second straight doubles title here for Lindstedt, who won last year with Marc Gicquel. …

The tournament drew 76,881 spectators. Tournament officials said they believe it was a record crowd - or close to it.

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