Throughout the cycle of breakthroughs and setbacks that have marked Paul Goldstein's career as a tennis pro, Washington's Legg Mason Tennis Classic has represented the constant comfort of home. Once again last night, Goldstein's family and friends descended on the William H.G. FitzGerald Stadium to cheer on the Rockville native, who has been steadily climbing the rankings this season, for his second-round match against Paradorn Srichaphan.
There were many reasons to favor Srichaphan. A Legg Mason finalist in 2002, he is the tournament's 13th seed and holds a 2-0 record in top-tier tilts against Goldstein, whom he beat in straight sets just last week in Los Angeles. And though Srichaphan lacked Goldstein's advantage of playing before a home crowd (his own family half-a-world away in Asia), a throng of red-shirted supporters was determined that Thailand's most famous athlete not feel as if he were playing on foreign soil.
With spirited whacks of their "bam-bam" sticks and shouts of "Soo!" "Soo!" (the Thai equivalent of "Come on!" "Allez!" and "Vamos!"), members of the Reston-based Thai Tennis Organization in America were full partners in Srichaphan's 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Goldstein, pulling him through the decisive set after he developed severe stomach pains midway through the match.
The outcome sends Srichaphan on to a third-round meeting with South Africa's Wesley Moodie, whose upset of third-seeded Tim Henman Tuesday night was nearly as big a surprise as his doubles championship (with Australia's Stephen Huss) at Wimbledon last month.
"I run out of energy today," Srichaphan said, crediting his Thai supporters for helping him fight through. "My battery is really low today, but I just hang in there. Those people help me a lot, that's for sure."
Goldstein, meantime, is left to sort through a host of missed opportunities -- including three match points against a hobbled opponent.
"I put myself in a position to win the third set," Goldstein said. "But it's a credit to him. When a guy is struggling like that and [wins], despite feeling as ill as he is, it's just a credit to how strong he is -- what a mountain of a man he is."
Still, Goldstein's recent resurgence leaves him well positioned to surpass his career-best ranking of 69th, achieved five years ago this week. The key, he conceded, is to keep yesterday's loss to Srichaphan from sending him into a downward spiral, as close losses to top players have done in the past.
"This was the type of loss that has, in the past, been devastating to me for weeks or months at a time," he said. "I can kick and scream and rip up papers as much as I want tonight, but I need to put it out of my mind when I step on the court again in two weeks."
While Washingtonians wilted under a heat advisory, court temperatures reached 108 degrees at the Legg Mason and second-round action rolled on. James Blake needed three sets to pull off an upset of Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, the highest seed (fourth) remaining in the bottom half of the draw after Andre Agassi's withdrawal. But he was rewarded with a standing ovation for his effort, which included 11 aces en route to the 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory.
By the end of the night, eight of the tournament's 16 seeds were gone. Among those who joined Srichaphan and Blake in advancing were last year's runner-up, Gilles Muller, who defeated ninth-seeded Nicolas Massu of Chile; American Robby Ginepri, who dispatched 12th-seeded Karol Beck; eighth-seeded Sebastien Grosjean, who subdued Alexander Popp, 6-2, 6-3; and 14th-seeded Juan Ignacio Chela, a 6-3, 6-3 victor over wild card Brian Baker.
Srichaphan was in control early in his match, breezing through the first set with such ease that Goldstein worried he might fall in straight sets, as he had the week before.
But the momentum shifted late in the second set, when Srichaphan nearly did the splits as he chased down a ball. From that point, he said, he developed severe stomach pains, which he attributed to too much gas in his belly. He received medication and a massage on the court, and later, in the third set, drew a warning from the chair umpire for leaving the court for more treatment.
With Srichaphan hobbled, Goldstein leveled the match at one set each.
But even though Srichaphan lacked a full push-off on his serve and full mobility on his groundstrokes, Goldstein couldn't exploit the opportunity and struggled just to stay even.
He had plenty of chances. With Srichaphan serving at 2-2, Goldstein had four break points but couldn't convert one. He hurled his racket in disgust after ripping a wild forehand that sailed long to lose the game.
Unable to run full out, Srichaphan resorted to drop shots and lobs that worked moderately well. Goldstein got the critical break to take a 5-4 lead. But Srichaphan roared back with a vengeance, blistering groundstrokes with a power he hadn't shown since midway through the second set.
"I just try to play every ball," Srichaphan said. "It's the last chance for me to get back to the match."