By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
It was a match decided by centimeters, from the first set to the last.
But that hardly made the defeat easier to bear for American Robby Ginepri, who for more than two hours on Tuesday fended off a barrage of aces from Germany's Benjamin Becker at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic only to crumple in the third and final tiebreak.
Becker, no relation to his country's elder tennis statesman Boris, fittingly closed the match with his 27th ace and advanced, courtesy of the 7-6 (7-3), 6-7 (1-7), 7-6 (7-4) victory, to a second-round meeting with the tournament's top seed, Andy Roddick, on Wednesday night.
Ginepri, by his own admission, was left with more bitterness than pride after taking a 4-1 lead in the third-set tiebreak and then losing six successive points -- four on routine backhand errors -- to give away the match. "I think it was 100 percent mental," said Ginepri, 26. "It's pretty uncommon for me to go through [an error-filled] stretch like that, especially when a match gets down to the wire. I didn't really try to win the match."
Virginia graduate Somdev Devvarman continued his improbable march through the draw by scoring the most significant victory of his young career in toppling 15th-ranked Marin Cilic of Croatia, 7-5, 6-4.
The match was marked by more tenacity than brilliance, but style points hardly mattered to Devvarman, a native of India, in winning his fourth match in four days, including a slog through qualifying to earn a spot in the tournament's main draw.
His reward for his first victory over a top-20 player is a day off and a potential third-round meeting with Cilic's countryman, Ivo Karlovic. "At this point, I'm just happy I got through," said Devvarman, who won back-to-back NCAA singles titles at Virginia. "I'm going to use my day off well."
Also advancing was former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, who subdued Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-0, in a well-played match that packed spectators into the grandstand.
Juan Martín Del Potro, the tournament's defending champion, overcame a sluggish start to turn back a strong challenge by Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in a match that ended at 12:40 a.m. Germany's Tommy Haas, a Wimbledon semifinalist, overcame nine double faults and a racket-breaking outburst in the third set to defeat Frank Dancevic, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
But Ginepri's struggles to make it past the first round held the most poignancy.
The Georgia resident was ranked as high as 15th in the world in 2005. But the grind of professional tennis was relegated to an afterthought after he was rushed to the hospital with a burst appendix in February. For nine days he was confined to bed with nothing to do but reflect.
During the painstaking recovery that followed, Ginepri lost nearly 30 pounds, considerable muscle mass and tumbled from the top 100. When he finally felt ready to play tennis again, he hit in five- and 10-minute increments every other day. His conditioning was so shot, that was enough of a workout.
Yet in losing so much, he gained a measure of perspective.
"You definitely take things for granted," said Ginepri, who has since climbed to 69th in the world, having won an ATP event in Indianapolis last month. "I'm blessed just to be playing tennis at the level I am here."
Tuesday against Becker, it was nearly enough.
At 5 feet 10 and 174 pounds, nothing about Becker's physique suggests a powerful serve. But its speed and placement -- with many serves struck at 135 mph and careening well out of the court -- confounded Ginepri.
Still, the American stayed in the set by holding his own serve. But Becker played the better tiebreak, snatching points on Ginepri's serve with a winning return and forehand that tagged the baseline.
Ginepri smacked a ball in frustration after letting the set slip away, while Becker remained as inscrutable as former champion Bjorn Borg.
The second set unfolded much like the first, with Becker dictating each point on his serve -- if not with an ace, by knocking the American on his heels and out of position.
Serving at 5-3, Becker was two points from victory. But Ginepri broke him for the first time in the match. Again, a tiebreak was needed. This time, Ginepri got the early break, leveling the match at one set each.
In a third set that reprised the first two, Ginepri's only gaffes came at the worst possible time. Up 4-1 in the tiebreak, he was three points from victory. Suddenly his groundstrokes lost their bearings.
Becker credited the outcome to a good serving day. "When I serve well, it takes the pressure off," he said. "I didn't have a good read on his serve in the first set until a little bit in the tiebreak. I think we both served well. I hit a little bit harder. But he really hit his spots, so I really had trouble returning his serve, as well."
No doubt it will be good practice, with the big-serving Roddick up next. Roddick won both previous meetings with Becker, each on hard court, but the two haven't played since 2007.
"He had a good run at Wimbledon," Becker said of Roddick, who has won three Legg Mason titles. "He likes it here. It will be a fun match for me. I'm going to try to do some damage."
Legg Mason Note: Concerned about fans who bought tickets for Tuesday expecting to see him play, Roddick is giving away 150 tickets to Wednesday's session after tournament officials were forced to postpone his opening match. The 150 tickets will be available Wednesday to fans who present their Tuesday ticket stub at the Lacoste store in Georgetown starting at 11 a.m. until they run out. The limit is two tickets each. Roddick is scheduled to play Wednesday at 7 p.m.