19 year old Del Potro of Argentina beats American favorite Roddick at Countrywide Classic LA (8/08)

     The Countrywide Classic Tennis Tournament at UCLA lacked some of the more popular names but there was plenty of good tennis.  Andy Roddick was the top seed and seemed back to his regular form after injuring his shoulder and having to withdraw at the Cincinnati tournament the week before.  While most of the top players went to the Olympics vying for their country to gain metals, the ones that didn’t had the chance to capture attention with the only ATP tournament happening this week.  Many times in past years the UCLA tournament goes up against other tourneys so players have to decide which one to go to.  The Legg Mason in Washington DC has been coinciding with the Countrywide in the past so Roddick heads to DC because his agency runs the tournament.  This year, the Legg Mason is the week after so Roddick came to LA for only the second time in his career to play and try for his first victory. 

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     Roddick, currently ranked 9th in the world, came up short falling to Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro (pictured above) in the finals in straight sets 6-1, 7-6.  Del Potro won his 3rd consecutive tournament while winning 14 matches in a row.  Del Potro will move into the Top 20 when the rankings come out next.  He missed the Toronto and Cincy Masters Series tournaments because his ranking wasn’t high enough.  He won 2 smaller clay court tournaments in Germany and Austria right before that but the Masters Series needed more points to qualify in advance.  The 19-year-old Del Potro outplayed three Americans in a row to capture his first ever hard court title. He beat up and coming Amer Delic in the quarterfinals before destroying Mardy Fish in the semi finals.

     Del Potro is 6’6” and played flawlessly using consistent ground strokes and clutch shots when needed.  When he got his feet set, he was passing with regular ease and dominated the field.  Keep an eye out for this lanky guy as he has the confidence and the game! He will be a force to be reckoned with and many believe he will be a Top 10 player soon.

     Other local and unsung players had chances to improve their rankings while there were a few upsets here.  Denis Gremelmyar from Germany made his first ATP semifinal before losing to Roddick.   He did upset #4 seed Feliciano Lopez and #5 seed Marat Safin along the way.  American Amer Delic upset #7 Carlos Moya before exiting to Del Potro.  #2 seed Fernando Verdasco lost his first match after getting a first round bye to Florent Serra of France.  Mardy Fish had a nice run and relatively easier draw until he met the future Argentine Champion.  Vince Spadea had two 3-set matches coming out victorious over France’s Sebastien Grosjean but then getting worn down by Fish after winning the first set in his next match.  Lastly, youngster Donald Young had the biggest win of his career in his first match beating long time veteran Tommy Haas of Germany. 

     Roddick seemed humbled at the press conference after the final saying he was happy to get so far after not being able to play the week before with a shoulder and neck injury.  He mentioned the injury had nothing to do with his performance and he felt fine.  He was just outplayed by Del Potro.  Del Potro comes across modest yet confident saying he is playing his best of his career at the moment.  He is red hot and will go to Washington DC next to play for his 4th straight title.  Don’t bet against him the way he was stroking the ball, serving and playing with the utmost confidence.  While Roddick was getting bombarded with questions over and over why he didn’t he play in the Olympics, I heard what he had to say and take his side.  Andy needed some matches under his belt with the US Open coming up which is his best chance of all Grand Slams.  The long flight to China especially after an injury was not best for him.  Roddick went to Athens in 2004 and anyone questioning his patriotism should see how he has been loyal to the US Davis Cup team.  He played in all the Davis Cup ties last year and helped the Americans win for the first time in a long while.  They will have their hands full taking on Spain on the red clay after the US Open but Roddick has been great for the USA team.  He should be cut some slack from any media saying otherwise.  Roddick is still in the Top 10 and if he can play with more consistency, he can make the top 8 for the Masters Cup finals in Shanghai at the end of the year.  He isn’t looking that far ahead. He wants to play well in DC this upcoming week and be as prepared as possible for the Open as his window of opportunity for another Grand Slam is closing a bit.  He is not getting any younger and now there are 3 top contenders to deal with including Rafael Nadal, who will take over the #1 ranking on August 18th from Federer after his long run.  Roddick did beat Federer for the first time in a long while earlier this year capturing the Dubai tournament but besides winning San Jose, his year has been sub par.  Plus there are so many great young players now including Mr. Juan Martin Del Potro!

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     A couple other side notes from this years tournament.  With the Bryan Brothers competing at the Olympics, the doubles draw was kind of wide open.  Another upset as Rohan Bopanna of India and American Eric Butorac captured the title.  There was also a senior’s tour, which was headlined by John McEnroe.  He put on his usual show throwing his racquet a couple times, talking to the crowd and playing some vintage tennis.  In the end, former #1  Jim Courier (pictured above) , who is 12 years younger, prevailed in the finals of Johnny Mac in 2 close sets. McEnroe took some time during his match to take a brief rest and chat with the crowd (pictured below)

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     More info and tickets for next year at www.countrywideclassic.com

Photo gallery by Kelly Doherty Click Here