Among the sea of fans gripping the edges of their seats at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center last night, three people had the whitest knuckles of all. The family of Paul Goldstein watched, cringed and took short breaths through every point the Rockville native played, enduring two tiebreakers and two match points before Goldstein finally won on the third, upsetting No. 5 seed Alex Corretja, 7-6 (11-9), 7-6 (7-5), in the third round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
"It's impossible to just sit and watch, but we try to grin and bear it," Paul's older brother, 26-year-old Jason, said of himself and his parents. "It's impossible. But, God, it's great when it turns out like that."
Joining Corretja were a pile of other discarded seeds, including No. 3 Tim Henman, No. 7 Marc Rosset and No. 8 Marat Safin. No. 2 Andre Agassi was much steadier, wiping away German teenager Bjorn Phau, 6-1, 6-3. No. 4 seed Todd Martin had the easiest day of all, getting a walkover when Paraguay's Ramon Delgado defaulted with a sprained ankle.
Martin will play Goldstein, who reached his first quarterfinal in an ATP Tour event. Goldstein knew this day would come -- he is ranked No. 97 after being ranked No. 264 at this time last year -- he just didn't expect it to happen here. This is his fourth year playing this tournament but only the first year he has even won a match.
"It's wonderful -- I can't express the gratitude I feel for the crowd," said Goldstein, a Sidwell Friends graduate. "This is possibly my greatest win ever, and to look up and see all those familiar faces made it really special."
Goldstein has one other top-10 win, a victory over then-No. 8 Greg Rusedski at the Australian Open, but that match wasn't close to the roller coaster he rode against Corretja, ranked No. 8. Goldstein started slowly, looking tired as Corretja ran him from one side of the court to the other. Before he had time to catch his breath, he was down 2-5.
Most of the crowd seemed resigned to wait for Goldstein to rebound in the next set, keeping applause to a polite smattering, but the noise level grew as Goldstein began to battle back, winning his own serve and then breaking Corretja twice to take a 6-5 lead.
Corretja then broke Goldstein at love, forcing a tiebreak so painstaking it seemed to last longer than the entire first set. Corretja reached set point once but failed to convert; Goldstein reached set point four times, finally converting on a stunning cross-court forehand that passed Corretja at the net.
"I was really pleased with my composure," Goldstein said. "I was saying the other day that I got tentative sometimes but I didn't here. I went for it."
Despite having the first set tucked away, Goldstein fell behind again in the second set, 3-5. But he began to battle back once more, winning his serve at love. He racked up a double-break point on Corretja in the next game, and while he wasted both opportunities, he converted on his third, tying the set at 5.
Goldstein reached match point on Corretja's serve, but he couldn't convert. He reached another match point in the tiebreaker, but he squandered it. He didn't waste his third, striking the ball hard enough on a short rally that Corretja hit a forehand into the net.
"At the end he looked exhausted -- if I had won the second set, I think I would have won the third because he was really running around," Corretja said. "But we will never know, because he won it in two. He has a lot of spirit, a lot of good strokes. He wanted to be out there and he wanted to fight."
Goldstein was elated when the last ball fell, shaking hands with Corretja and then pumping his fists toward the sky. He jogged over to the corner of the court, reaching up into the stands to hug his brother, Jason, and wave to his parents, Clark and Patricia.
"You can see my dad in the crowd, giving the occasional fist pump during my matches," Goldstein said. "With my mom, I'd be surprised if she actually sees the tennis -- she covers her eyes most of the time. It took her about a year to learn how to keep score, but she said she can always tell how I'm doing from my body language. They're having a great time. So am I."