Andy Roddick, of the United States, reacts during his match against Gilles Muller, of Luxembourg, at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Tuesday Aug. 30, 2005.
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
NEW YORK Andy Roddick wore a look of disbelief on the court and an hour later when he tried to make sense of the beating he just took.
The worst birthday of Roddick's life ended with three straight tiebreak losses and a shocking first-round exit from the U.S. Open against a player making his debut in the tournament.
Roddick, the champion two years ago and the No. 4 seed this year, fell 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (1) on his 23rd birthday Tuesday night to Gilles Muller, the first man from Luxembourg to compete in the Open.
The 22-year-old Muller, ranked No. 68, outhustled, outmaneuvered and, most astonishingly, out-aced Roddick 24-17 to claim his second huge upset of the summer. In his first Wimbledon, he beat French Open champion Rafael Nadal.
Asked how he managed to dismantle Roddick, Muller replied sheepishly, ''I have no idea.''
''For me, it was just unbelievable to come out here today,'' Muller said. ''I told myself to enjoy it and I did every minute.''
Roddick hated every minute of it after blowing a 5-2 lead in the first set and a chance to serve out that set at 5-3. From then on, Roddick was frustrated by the left-handed Muller's canny mix of angled groundstrokes and serves, his blend of speeds, and his amazing ability to hit line after line.
Roddick flung his racket to the ground, dropped it another time in disgust, and kept chomping on a towel during changeovers. More than a few times he stared at the lines where Muller's shots landed, as if not believing his eyes, or watched the replays on the giant screen atop the stadium.
''I don't really remember a loss where I've felt this bad afterwards,'' Roddick said. ''I love playing here. I probably had the best practice week I've ever had in leadup. It just didn't translate tonight. ... I'm in a little bit of shock right now, to be honest. I'd give anything to go back four hours right now.''
Roddick looked shocked as he spoke, alternately staring at his hands and running his fingers through his hair.
''I've put more work in mentally and physically in every which way,'' he said. ''I've never cared so much as I care now, which makes it tough. Last year I didn't work hard. I didn't even step up. I wasn't training hardly and somehow sneaking out big points.
''This year I just killed it as far as working hard and doing all the right things. I took my lumps. ... We're talking about this as a big disappointment and I'm still sitting up at three in the rankings. I guess that's a good sign. It's tough for me to have a lot of perspective right now.''
Muller didn't serve as fast as Roddick but that didn't matter. Roddick couldn't figure out how to break him in the tiebreaks and in the last two sets. Rather than asserting himself, Roddick looked flat as Muller dictated the match and forced the action, running up 65 winners to Roddick's 39, though making 33 unforced errors to 15 by Roddick.
''I took some risks and maybe sometimes I was also lucky,'' Muller said.
If ever a player deserved a turn of good fortune, and earned one by dint of hard work, it's James Blake. To see him play so beautifully and with unfettered ease in a straight-sets takedown of former finalist Greg Rusedski in the afternoon was to watch a man who summoned a reservoir of inner strength from a year of unrelenting misery.
Backed by his friends and many fans chanting ''James! James!'' in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Blake served a 131 mph ace to reach match point, then ripped a backhand passing shot to beat the No. 28 Rusedski, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
Blake won his first tournament in three years on Sunday in New Haven, Conn., not far from where he grew up in Fairfield. It was a victory, a few weeks after he reached the final in Washington against Andy Roddick, that showed how far Blake had come since his lowest moments when he lay in a hospital bed with a fractured neck last spring from a freak accident on court; or when he later contracted an illness that affected his sight and hearing and temporarily paralyzed part of his face; or when he watched his father dying of cancer last summer.
Unseeded, James may not be a threat to win the Open. He's playing the best tennis of his life at age 25, but he harbors no illusions that he's in the same class as No. 1 Roger Federer, who won his first-round match against Czech newcomer Ivo Minar 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 in 1 hour, 1 minute earlier in the day, or the No. 2 Nadal, who could end Blake's run in the third round.
It was a sweltering afternoon at the Open as No. 12 Tim Henman of Britain lost 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in the first round to Spain's Fernando Verdasco. Women's No. 2 Lindsay Davenport won in straight sets in the breezy evening after No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 6 Elena Dementieva and French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 7, did the same during the day. There were touches of drama in three-time French Open champ Gustavo Kuerten's 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over American Paul Goldstein.
Muller, a former ITF junior world champion and U.S. Open juniors winner like Roddick, cracked the top 100 last August, a week after reaching his first ATP final at Washington with an upset of Andre Agassi in the semifinals.
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