FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — Back in 2003, we called the Andy Roddick vs. Younes El Aynaoui Australian Open marathon, which stretched into the middle of the night and was aired at an ungodly hour, the best tennis match nobody ever saw. Roddick’s fourth-round match against David Ferrer on Thursday at the U.S. Open was the most important match only 584 players only saw.
In the shadow of the huge Unisphere — the iconic symbol of the ’64-‘65 World’s Fair — hundreds sprinted out to the tiny, tree-lined Court 13. Decked in requisite baseball caps and sporting the colors of the University of Texas, the Pittsburg Penguins and Michigan State, and standing by brick walls with ivy trim or peering in from neighboring Courts 11, 14 and 15, fans crowded tight — an imitate appeal. Gone were the woes of being lost in the ozone in Row Z of Ashe Stadium. All were delighted, except for Alix. That would be bulky Alix Gio from Flushing in his black Mets jersey. While others rabidly cheered Roddick, Gio backed Ferrer. “Why?” we asked. “I didn’t like his whole attitude over on Armstrong,” where he snapped at tournament referee Brian Earley when water appeared on the show court. “I didn’t like the way Andy talked to that guy. I’m rooting for the Spaniard.”
What Court 13 lacked in size and widgets (no electronic scoring, no speed gun) it made up in flavor and feel. Media sat on courtside benches as fans wearing “Vamos, Rafa” and “Roger That” T-shirts watched a reprise of the Roddick-Ferrer Davis Cup confrontation, less some 16,000 fans.
Of course, A-Rod has played on smaller courts before. He practices on a tiny court carved out of a hill near his lakeside Austin house. And he scored a win on Roland Garros’ quirky Court 2, with its loud sirens and nasty truck fumes. Here in New York, kids giggled as Roddick, up-close and personal, moseyed by. Fans with German accents shout, “Break time Andy.”
Roddick himself stopped play briefly, saying, “Hold on, there’s a guy up on the fence.” And the result of the match seemed on the fence when Roddick — up two sets to one but down a break — scored two lightning breaks to score his biggest win in a troubled year in a storybook setting. After circling the court to high five the front row fans, Alix the Flushing fan turned to Inside Tennis and said, “Shoot, now I’m going to have to root for Roddick.”