Roddick outlasts heat, Ram

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

JOHNS CREEK -- Perhaps it has been the typical Southern summer heat or the fact that many players have taken a bit of a break since Wimbledon, but few of the higher seeds have had it easy in their early rounds of the singles draw at the Atlanta Tennis Championships.

Such was the case for top-seeded Andy Roddick in his first singles match, a second-round meeting with fellow American Rajeev Ram.

However, the world's No. 7-ranked player toughed out heat in the mid-90s and high humidity, plus an ailing foot, to outlast Ram 6-1, 6-7 (1), 6-3 on Thursday at the Atlanta Athletic Club's stadium court.

Lleyton Hewitt, however, was not so fortunate.

The fourth-seeded Aussie looked sluggish in dropping a 6-4, 6-2 decision to unseeded Lukas Lacko of Slovakia.

With three other seeded players -- No. 4 Horacio Zeballos, No. 5 Janko Tipsarevic and No. 8 Benjamin Becker -- having been ousted in early rounds and others like Roddick and No. 2 John Isner having struggled to three-set wins, nothing has come easy for the favorites.

"It's probably similar to what Isner told you last night. You come here, and you haven't been playing much. I don't think we're expecting to see the best versions of ourselves early on in this tournament," Roddick said in his post-match media conference. "But you work your way in. You give yourself a chance to play another day and to improve every day.

"That's how you get your feet into a tournament. That's how you get to that level where you're feeling sharp on everything. What I did (Thursday) was give myself a chance to come back (today)."

Roddick looked pretty sharp early on, breaking Ram's first two service games en route to a 5-0 lead and eventual 6-1 win in the first set.

But he started feeling the heat -- both literally from the high temperature and figuratively from Ram's improved serve -- in the second set.

Ram increased his first-serve percentage by 14 points and winning 80 percent of his service points with six aces and no double faults to hold his serve throughout the set and force a tiebreaker, where he gained an early mini-break off a second serve and breezed to the 7-1 win to even the match.

"I think we (felt the heat) in different parts (of the match)," Roddick said. "(Ram) said he felt it a little bit just when we first got out there in the first set. It was kind of a shock to the system. I was feeling it in the second set. He said he felt it a little in the third set. I think it kind of goes in waves."

Roddick gathered himself at two critical points in the third set, first holding off two break points on his first serve and then rallying from 40-15 down to gain a break for a 3-1 advantage before closing out the match.

"That was a huge turning point," Roddick said. "(If) he breaks first game of the third, I think it's a long way back, especially since he started serving better in the second. ... That was a pivotal moment in the match."

Instead, Roddick will take on seventh-seeded Xavier Malisse of Belgium, who cruised past Ukrainian Illya Marchenko in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, in tonight's quarterfinals.

Roddick defeated Malisse for his first ATP title in the finals of the last previous Atlanta Tour stop in 2001.

"It's a little coincidental," Roddick said. "We've played each other plenty of times since then. I don't think there's going to be a lot of surprises out there. We both know each other's games well."

Hewitt, meanwhile, actually went up a service break to take a 4-3 lead in the first set.

But Lacko answered with two straight breaks of his own to take the set, and the two-time Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1 player never recovered, and also couldn't overcome an unspecified injury he was trying to play through.

"A couple of days ago, I had a small injury," Hewitt said. "I haven't been out at practice 100 percent the last couple of days.

"I went down love-40 (up 4-3 in the first) and played a couple of good points and got it back to deuce. If I could've snuck out of that game and gone 5-3 ahead with a little bit of momentum. It could've been different."

But it will be Lacko advancing to today's quarterfinal match against Kevin Anderson, a 7-5, 6-3 winner over Atlantan Donald Young.

While Roddick survived in his singles match, he and No. 6 singles seed Mardy Fish won't be moving on in doubles.

Fish withdrew from the doubles draw to rest a sore ankle suffered during his 6-1, 7-5 win over Robby Ginepri late Wednesday.

Instead, Stephen Huss and Andre Na will move on to meet either Tipsarevic and Jonathan Erlich or Rohan Bopanna and Kristof Vliegen in the semifinals.

Fish, however, is scheduled to continue in the singles draw, where he will meet fellow American Taylor Dent in today's quarterfinals.

Isner and James Blake also moved into the doubles semifinals Thursday by beating the German pair of Michael Kohlmann and Ranier Schuettler 6-4, 6-1.

Isner will be in singles action today with his semifinal match against Michael Russell.