Roddick, Federer fashion different farewells

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NEW YORK — On an emotion-filled afternoon that morphed into a shocker of an evening, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer both bid farewell to Flushing Meadows.

Roddick is leaving for good, a moment he knew would come this week.

Federer is presumably gone only until next year, though the timing of his 2012 U.S. Open exit was unexpected.

Roddick lost 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-4 to No. 7 seed Juan Martin del Potro to bring the curtain down on his career Wednesday — an ending that came, fittingly, on the court where he won his only Grand Slam title, back in 2003.

Federer fell 7-6 (1), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to No. 6 Tomas Berdych, who improved to 4-3 in his last seven matches against the 17-time Grand Slam champion, ending Federer’s string of U.S. Open semifinal appearances at eight, much the way he halted Federer’s streak of 23 straight trips to major semifinals back in 2010 at Wimbledon.

The two losers’ news conferences were where the postmatch drama was. They couldn’t have been any different in tone.

“Maybe it’s a good matchup for him,” top-seeded Federer said in one of his several short, clipped answers, when asked about Berdych’s recent success against him. “I don’t see him play every match he plays on tour. That’s why I can’t really answer that question.”

Roddick, however, lingered over his final official session with the reporters. He said it was fun to be in Arthur Ashe Stadium, listening to the fans spur him on with cheers of “Let’s go Andy” — and to play tennis simply for tennis’ sake.

“It wasn’t about ranking points or paychecks or anything else,” Roddick said. “This week I felt like I was 12 years old, playing in a park. It was extremely innocent. That was fun. I enjoyed it.”

Last week, Roddick used the occasion of his 30th birthday to announce the U.S. Open would be his last tournament as a pro. He did get one bonus day on the grounds, thanks to a rainstorm that delayed his match Tuesday with him leading 1-0 in the first-set tiebreaker. He hit the ground running, won six of seven points after the restart and won the tiebreaker.

That, however, was as good as things would get. He dropped the second set in a tiebreaker, fell behind by two early breaks in the third, then after getting broken early in the fourth set, he could feel the end was near. He appeared to be trying to avoid crying while serving in the next-to-last game. In the stands, both his mother, Blanche, and his wife, actress-model Brooklyn Decker, were wiping away tears.

After match point, del Potro met Roddick at the net for a quick handshake, then pointed at the American, acknowledging that this was his moment. Roddick covered his face with a towel and took the microphone to thank the fans.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve been coming to this tournament. I felt lucky just to sit where all of you are sitting today, to watch this game, to see the champions that have come and gone,” Roddick said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Warming up for her match while watching Roddick on TV, Serena Williams said she was overcome with emotion. She was in the same situation — next up in Arthur Ashe Stadium — when Andre Agassi gave his equally poignant farewell speech to the fans back in 2006.

“It’s the end of a great player, a legendary player,” Williams said. “Definitely, I was upstairs thinking, ‘Gosh, last time this happened was Andre Agassi. How many more of these do I have to sit through?’ It was great.”

If the emotions bothered Williams, it didn’t show. The No. 4 seed overpowered No. 12 Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-3 to set up a semifinal against 10th-seeded Sara Errani, who beat her Italian doubles partner, Roberta Vinci, 6-2, 6-4.

The other women’s semifinal will pit top-seeded Victoria Azarenka against No. 3 Maria Sharapova, who returned to her rain-suspended match with a 4-0 deficit but defeated 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Advancing to the men’s quarterfinals were defending champion Novak Djokovic and his Serbian Davis Cup partner, eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic, along with No. 3 Andy Murray, who was down a set and 5-1 in the second before he rallied for a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-0 over No. 12 Marin Cilic.

“He got nervous. That was the main difference,” Murray said. “I did start playing better toward the end of the second set. And because I was in it, I started to feel that momentum was with me.”

Later, Berdych won 7-1 in the first-set tiebreaker, and kept a firm grip on the match, save his hiccup in the third set.

“Probably there was not, well, not a bad spot,” said Berdych, who has never won a Grand Slam tournament. “Of course, I lost the third set. But, you know, I cannot count on beating Roger in straight sets and not getting in any trouble.”

Maybe the biggest trouble came in the fifth game of the fourth set when he took an awkward tumble to the court and fell on his right hand, the one he holds the racket with. But on a night when everything went well, there was nothing more than a scrape — nothing to prevent him from finishing up a win in which he played well and Federer couldn’t harness his forehand, committing 24 unforced errors from that side.

He hadn’t played since Saturday, thanks to a walkover he received when Mardy Fish withdrew with health problems. But this year’s Wimbledon champion and silver medalist at the Olympics was not in the mood for excuses.

“Once, I had six and a half days off and I ended up winning Wimbledon,” Federer said. “I don’t think this was the issue tonight.”

Meanwhile, Roddick simply found himself up against a better player. He had beaten men ranked 43rd and 59th since announcing his retirement, but del Potro, the 2009 champion, offered a completely different kind of challenge.

At 6-foot-6 with a flat forehand that he was angling off at will, the 2009 champion here turned things around in the second set. Gaining more traction on Roddick’s once-all-powerful serve, that still maxed out at 135 mph Wednesday, del Potro whipped a cross-court forehand return right at Roddick’s feet on set point.

Del Potro’s momentum continued when he broke to begin the third set, and in the fourth, he broke early, then served out the match.

“No one really wants to be on the opposite side, to be the one who retires someone,” del Potro said. “Andy is that kind of player everyone wants to keep playing forever.”

But nothing lasts forever, and Roddick was very much in touch with that coming into this tournament.

He recalled his first trip to Flushing Meadows, back when he was 9. That was 1991. Jimmy Connors was making his memorable run to the semifinals at age 39.

Fifteen years later, Connors would coach Roddick for about two years, before they parted ways. Still, the five-time U.S. Open champion, who turned 60 over the weekend, was on hand Wednesday to watch Roddick fashion his own ending.

“He’s a big boy. He’s 30 years old and he’s a U.S. Open champion,” Connors said. “I’m sure his aftereffect, when he gets away from the U.S. Open, will be a bit different. ... It’s a life-changing experience.”

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