- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

Neither Andy Roddick nor Juan Martin del Potro had an easy time reaching the final of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Roddick needed to defeat three strong servers taller than 6-foot-5, del Potro twice rallied from a one-set deficit and both players grinded out semifinal matches of more than two hours.

But Roddick and del Potro ultimately took care of business Saturday to set up the high-profile matchup fans wanted to see. Del Potro played first, outlasting Fernando Gonzalez 7-6 (2), 6-3; Roddick followed with a gritty 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-5 victory against John Isner. For the first time since 2000, the top two seeds will square off for the title at FitzGerald Tennis Center.

“It’ll be tough,” Roddick said. “[Del Potro] plays at a high level every day, hits the ball well through the court. … You know what he’s going to bring.”

The only other time Roddick and del Potro have faced each other was last year in the Los Angeles final. Del Potro prevailed in straight sets and never faced a break point, winning three games on Roddick’s serve.

In Saturday’s rematch of the 2007 Legg Mason final, Roddick dropped a set for the first time all week. He only lost six points on his serve in the opening set, but two of them came during the tiebreak. As a result, Isner built a 6-2 lead and finished it off on serve two points later.

“John made me play my best tennis tonight,” Roddick said. “Anything less than that wasn’t going to get it done.”

Roddick bounced back immediately, breaking Isner in the first game of the second set and cruising to a quick victory. Isner was rejuvenated at the beginning of the third set, saving two break points, but a late break did him in. He finished the match with 20 aces and no double faults but didn’t have a single break-point opportunity after Roddick’s second service game of the first set.

“I hung in there pretty tough - every service game was a battle,” Isner said.

In the earlier semifinal, del Potro took advantage of Gonzalez’s initial shakiness. Starting out on serve, Gonzalez squandered three game points before finally closing it out. He also double-faulted at the end of his third service game to give del Potro a 3-2 edge, which reached 4-2 minutes later.

But Gonzalez clawed his way back, holding serve and breaking del Potro to square the match at 4-4. The last two games before the tiebreak each lasted 18 points and featured multiple long rallies. Del Potro saved all three of Gonzalez’s set points in the 12th game and then dominated the tiebreak, winning seven of eight points after dropping the first.

That momentum carried over into the second set. Del Potro quickly jumped out to a 5-0 lead, winning 23 of 31 points and breaking Gonzalez twice in the process.

The heat and humidity had an effect on both players. Gonzalez, who played two matches Friday, looked drained during the second set. Even though he hadn’t played the day before except for a short practice session because quarterfinals opponent Robin Soderling withdrew, del Potro also struggled with the weather.

“It was very tough,” he said. “We don’t have many matches with this level [of heat].”

A late charge by Gonzalez made the score more respectable. He mustered enough energy to win the next three games and staved off match point while breaking del Potro for the second time.

But del Potro converted his second attempt to serve out for the victory, blowing another match point but winning when a Gonzalez backhand from the baseline couldn’t clear the net.

Gonzalez had a lot of trouble with his forehand, which had given opponents fits in his previous matches. He finished with nearly twice as many unforced errors (20) on his forehand side as winners (11). Just 43 percent of del Potro’s first serves landed inbounds. He knows a repeat performance won’t be good enough to beat Roddick.

“I need to improve everything,” del Potro said.

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