All week he played bigger than his 5-foot-9 frame, using the energy of the hometown crowd to bolster him through the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. But suddenly last night Paul Goldstein found himself facing down the 6-6 Todd Martin and triple match point, and he was alone on the court. It wasn't enough.
Taking a deep knee bend to return a ball, he hit a backhand into the net to end his run at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center with a 6-4, 7-5 quarterfinal loss. The No. 4 seed here, Martin will go on to play in the semifinals today against No. 2 seed Andre Agassi. No. 1 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia will play No. 6 seed Nicolas Kiefer.
The unseeded Goldstein will go home to Rockville, where he will rest, prepare for the U.S. Open and wander through his memories.
"The week was outstanding," he said before stepping out into a crowd of fans waiting for his autograph. "I just ran into a better opponent. Todd's a real imposing presence out there with his serve and those beautiful, fluid strokes."
Goldstein's appearance in the quarterfinals marked his best result in an ATP Tour event and by far his best result at the Legg Mason, where he had never before won a match in three previous tries. Along the way he defeated Alex Corretja, ranked No. 8 in the world, and his own doubles partner, Cecil Mamiit. When the new rankings come out on Monday, he should jump from No. 97 to somewhere in the 70s, depending on how other players fare this weekend. At this time last year, he was ranked No. 264.
Goldstein also impressed Martin, who has been something of a mentor to the 23-year-old since Goldstein turned professional last year.
"We had a practice together last year before the U.S. Open and he was nowhere near the player that he is now," Martin said. "Especially in the offensive category, he's made a lot of strides."
Ever the teacher, however, Martin also had ideas on where Goldstein has room for improvement. "As he matures, he'll understand he doesn't have to force things," Martin said. "He made some plays that were a little overzealous when he was ahead in the second set."
After falling behind in the first set, Goldstein was as far ahead as 5-2 in the second set, and at 5-3 he held double-set point. But he never was able to open the window he had unlocked, much less crawl through it. He allowed Martin to eat away at his 40-15 lead until the big man first got to deuce and then to a service break.
Goldstein still had a chance to force a tiebreaker a few games later, but by then it seemed his moment had passed.
"That was my opportunity, at 40-15, and after I failed to get my first serves in, he won the points quickly," Goldstein said. "It was an emotional letdown, and Todd didn't give me a chance to get a second wind."
Goldstein's words echoed the sentiments of two of the other players dispatched today. France's Fabrice Santoro fell to Andre Agassi, 6-4, 7-5, but only after Agassi managed to battle his way back from a triple break point in the second set. After the match, Santoro sat replaying the points in his mind, noting that "if I could have gone ahead then, the match would have had a chance to be different. In the second part of the second set, he was nervous and I was playing well."
Czech native Tomas Zib also had plenty to mull over after nearly upsetting Kafelnikov in a 6-1, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5 loss, although he also had plenty to be pleased about. The 23-year-old Zib, ranked No. 135 this week, has played primarily on the Challenger level. This is only his fourth ATP tournament; before coming to Washington he had just one win on Tour. But once here, Zib blossomed, defeating No. 10 seed Rainer Schuttler and No. 7 seed Marc Rosset.
The two had never played before professionally, although they did meet once in a junior tournament in Italy. Yesterday, the stakes were a little higher, with Zib playing his first ever match on a stadium court. In every other tournament he has played, he has been relegated to the smaller, outer courts.
"I've never played in front of a lot of people before, but I hope to have some more matches like that," he said. "It's great. You are a lot closer to the people. It's my chance to show what I can do."
Kafelnikov next plays Germany's Kiefer, who defeated Jan Kroslak of Slovakia, 6-4, 6-3 in a match that featured 12 service breaks.
"I've had no match like this before," said Kiefer, the sixth seed.
Tickets: Available through TicketMaster, $32
vs. Nicolas Kiefer
vs. Todd Martin
Sessions begin at 1 p.m., 7 p.m.