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Roddick, Ferrero advance to US Open final

New world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero and Andy Roddick meet for the first time on Sunday in the US Open final, a showdown that could be the start of something special.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2003 17:29 IST

New world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero and ATP Champions Race leader Andy Roddick meet for the first time here Sunday in the US Open final, a showdown that could be the start of something special.

On the same Arthur Ashe Stadium court where Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras played the last match of their epic series in last year's final, two rising stars seeking a breakthrough Grand Slam triumph will begin a new rivalry.

"If Andy has a great serving day, it's going to be tough for anybody to beat him," Agassi said. "But if he's a little off and Juan Carlos gets into some of the points, Andy is going to feel him."

Third seed Ferrero, the French Open champion, took the top ranking from Agassi by beating him 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 here Saturday in the semi-finals.

"To be number one, it's a special day for me," Ferrero said. "I worked a lot for this number one. I'm really happy to be number one. It's my first time and I'm going to work really hard to stay number one."

Ferrero became only the second Spaniard to reach number one, after Carlos Moya owned the spot for two weeks in March of 1999, and reached his first Grand Slam final outside the red clay of Roland Garros.

"He probably doesn't get enough respect," Roddick said. "Maybe people don't realize what a good player he has become. Maybe a match like today is what he needed for peoople to take notice. It's going to be very tough."

Ferrero, 23, can become Spain's first hardcourt Slam winner ever and first US Open winner since Manuel Orantes won on clay in 1975. Ferrero called beating Agassi the greatest hardcourt victory of his career.

"I think I did the perfect match," Ferrero said. "I'm playing very good on hardcourts. I think they don't know me because I haven't played so well here. This time I think they'll know me pretty good.

"I think right now, it's my time."

US fourth seed Roddick has similar notions after saving a match point to ignite a comeback that lifted him past Argentina's 13th-seeded David Nalbandian 6-7 (4/7), 3-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-1, 6-3 and into his first Grand Slam final.

"I'm pumped," Roddick said. "I came here so many times when I was younger. I can't believe I'm actually in a US Open final. That being said, it would be great to go one step further."

Roddick, 21, fired a career-best 38 aces to win his 18th match in a row and first Slam semi-final after earlier semi losses at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He found maturity helped keep him from panic when he faced defeat.

"If this had happened a year ago, I probably would have freaked out that I was down, gotten upset," Roddick said. "I tried to keep it pretty even keel."

The five-setter drained Roddick of precious energy he might need against Ferrero.

"I'm just going to have to accept the cards I've been dealt," Roddick said. "I would have preferred to be out of there in three but that's the way I had to do it."

Roddick will draw strength from a vocal and supportive home-nation crowd.

"It's going to be a little bit difficult because he's going to be very motivated with the crowd," Ferrero said. "He's playing his first final. He has a lot of confidence."

Ferrero will be playing for the fourth day in a row after an unprecedented Grand Slam match jam that four days of rain forced upon organizers.

"I feel a little bit tired but I think I'm going to be OK," Ferrero said.

The endurance test figures to take a toll, but the thrill of achievement will help Ferrero find the strength, Agassi said.

"I'm sure it's not easy," Agassi said. "He'll be all right. He's one match away. If there's ever a time to find a little extra, it will be tomorrow."

Roddick is 26-1 since Wimbledon and 36-2 since firing France's Tarik Benhabilies as his coach following a French Open first-round loss and joining forces with Agassi's former coach, Brad Gilbert.

That run includes titles at Queen's, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Montreal, semi-final losses at Washington and Wimbledon.

Roddick broke his career record of aces in a match with his 38th on the penultimate point, surpassing by one the mark he set two years ago against Michael Chang at the French Open.

Nalbandian had a match point in the third-set tie-breaker but Roddick saved it with a service winner and seized momentum, capturing the tie-break, winning the fourth set with ease and taking a 4-3 lead in the fifth.

"I thought I had a little more left in the tank than he did," Roddick said. "I just tried to keep fighting."

A controversial call spelled doom for Nalbandian in the eighth game, when Roddick broke him on a backhand that was ruled wide. Nalbandian protested to no avail, then went down to Roddick at love after three hours and 31 minutes.

"It was difficult. You have to fight against everything," Nalbandian said. "Every time when it's close everything is for them."

Roddick's rally prevented the first American-less US Open singles finals since 1988, following the semi-final failures of Agassi, Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport.

Agassi, 33, failed in his bid for a ninth Slam crown. He won US Open titles in 1994 and 1999 and lost last year's final to Sampras, but could not book a return trip by beating Ferrero.

"By the time I was getting into the match I was already down two sets," Agassi said. "Just a little too big of a hill to climb."

First Published: Sep 07, 2003 17:29 IST