‘Hand of God’ Touches Nadal as He Upsets Roddick

Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal

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SEVILLA, SPAIN – Andy Roddick has never fought harder in a Davis Cup match and has never experienced a team loss like he did in his 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (6) 6-2 defeat to Spanish 18-year-old Rafael Nadal on Friday in the US-Spain Davis Cup final. Roddick pushed, pulled, sweated and strained to dictate the action on the super slow clay in the three-hour, 38-minute contest, but the lightening quick lefty had too much from him from the backcourt. The extremely nationalistic and emotionally involved crowd of 27,200 cheered Roddick’s every fault. He was restrained for a man who usually makes his living debating the finer points of line-calling with chair umpires. He cut loose on the balls instead, but Nadal chopped him down nonetheless.

“Emotionally I’m pretty down,” Roddick said. ” I wanted to get one for the team. I leave everything out there, and I take a lot of pride in that. I just ran into a guy today that was too good. I couldn’t have tried any harder.  I gave it everything I had.  It just wasn’t enough on the day.”

As a result of Roddick’s dramatic loss and Fish’s routine 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Carlos Moya in the opening match, the US will go into Saturday’s doubles in a 0-2 hole. It’s a hole as deep as they’ve ever been in and one they are not likely to climb out of.

For most of the match against Nadal, Roddick went above and beyond his capabilities on the surface. He’s never hit that many half-volley winners in his life. But in the end, the US’ big gun had his power muted on the wet clay by an 18-year-old with a world of spunk and shotmaking abilities. 

Roddick and Nadal contested two of the most athletic and spectacular tiebreaker of the year. Both men dove, reflexed volleys and pulled off hooking passing shots that caressed the lines.  In the first set breaker, Roddick came back from 3-5 down when the youngster got nervous and committed a series of errors. At that moment, it seemed like the 2003 US Open champion might have a shot at winning the contest based on experience alone.

But as one Spanish journalist said as they walked off the court, the hand of god touched Nadal. Gone was his youthful erratic swings and mental letdowns. In the tradition of his uncle, Miguel, who was nicknamed “The Beast” when he raged for the Barcelona soccer team, the now muscular Rafael was a lion. He hammered and hooked his forehand every way possible, and powered his once weaker backhand deep and with authority. He displayed remarkable touch with his sleight of hand drop shot. Roddick kept charging and serving bullets, but Nadal sped around with hungry determination, consistently getting returns in play and waiting for a chance to dip balls at Roddick’s feet and then swipe a passes beyond the reach of taller and equally ferocious American.

“He played well.  It’s very impressive,” Roddick said.  “Every once in a while people come along and they’re big-match players.  He apparently looks like he’s a big-match player. He’s come through. This is the third time this year he’s stepped up in singles [in Davis Cup] and played well.  I think you either have it or you don’t, regardless of age.  Maybe it helps him in a way.”

With the fans sounding like a group of wasps on a mosquito hunt, the match turned in the third set. Nadal had eight chances to break Roddick, but the American team leader came up with tape-snapping serves and ambitious volley winners. Roddick fought off seven of the eight break points with winners, earning himself another nail biting tiebreaker. He was inches from winning the third set and had he done so, may have won the contest. Up 5-4 and with two serving points on his racket, Roddick doubled faulted to 5-5. He quickly responded by scooping up a low volley and forcing Nadal into a forehand error. On set point at 6-5, Nadal went to his drop shot, Roddick charged, and couldn’t lift a forehand passing shot over the net cords. The Spaniard then crushed a swing volley winner and a backhand crosscourt to win the set.

“Obviously that was going to swing the momentum either way – and fast,” Roddick said.  “You were playing those two points for the next two sets. They were pretty crucial.  I just missed that [set point], so that was big.”

The match essentially ended there as Roddick’s confidence level plunged and Nadal soared along with the crowd. Roddick slowed considerably and Nadal became the new darling of Spanish tennis, celebrating like he won the Grand Slam.

There is a glimmer of hope on Saturday, because Nadal might be tired when he and Tommy Robredo go up against the Bryan Brothers, former Roland Garros champions who might be able to pull out a win. But even if that occurs, Sunday looms. To think that the Bryans will emerge victorious and Roddick and Fish can both win their singles matches on Sunday is wishful thinking, but if you’re a US fan, there’s nothing left to ponder. In the 104 years of Davis Cup competition, an 0-2 comeback has happened only once in the World Group, in 1939, when Australia came back to shock the US.  It’s only happened eight times in the World Group period and here’s a shocking fact: the hard court bred boys of the US have never pulled it off on clay.  They did it once in an inter-zonal match in 1934 against Australia on grass. The US is 1-30 when they are 0-2 down. They are underdogs of the scraggly and wounded variety.

With the temperatures dropping into the mid 40s, US captain Patrick McEnroe nearly froze sitting five hours courtside. But he needs to gets his team fired up as quickly as possible because the last thing the US wanted coming here was to travel across the Atlantic, spend all week get used to sliding on dirt and have their buts kicked in a shutout.

“We know our backs are against the wall,” McEnroe said. “But we’re going to come out and we’re going to fight for every point. We’re going to come out and hopefully play a great doubles match.  And Sunday will be a new day. There’s no big mystery of what we need to do. We came here knowing the difficulty and knowing the challenge.  We’re still going to relish the opportunity.  We’ve still got an opportunity to make history.”