The crocodile on his cap was swimming in a pool of perspiration, as Andy Roddick’s Wimbledon dreams drowned in a shower of Feliciano Lopez winners. Winless in seven prior meetings with the three-time finalist, a focused Lopez lashed 28 aces in knocking Roddick out in the third round, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 6-4. It was Roddick’s earliest exit at SW19 since he suffered a second-round setback to Janko Tipsarevic three years ago.
The sting of this loss will linger for Roddick, whose days as a legitimate Grand Slam contender are waning. He’s just two years removed from his epic, five-set loss to Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final, but Roddick’s increasingly passive play has contributed in recent major defeats to Stanislas Wawrinka (fourth round, 2011 Australian Open), Tipsarevic (second round, 2010 U.S. Open) and Yen-Hsun Lu (fourth round, 2010 Wimbledon). It proved costly in the second-set tiebreaker today, where Roddick poked a slice backhand pass into net to give Lopez a set point at 6-2. The left-hander ripped a service winner that rattled Roddick’s racquet and took a two-set lead.
Lopez resembles a tennis Tarzan and has been tagged as a ladies’ man with an aversion to grittiness (Andy Murray’s mom, Judy, is a fan, calling F-Lo “Deliciano”). But beneath the surface of his fashion-model looks lies some occasionally-inspired tennis; Lopez beat Rafael Nadal at Queen’s Club last June, upset Juan Martin del Potro in the 2008 Davis Cup final and nearly knocked off Roger Federer in Madrid last month.
The two-time quarterfinalist competed with conviction today, whipping 57 winners compared to Roddick’s 40, and played with more ambition and authority on pivotal points. There was a time when Lopez’s backhand was such a sketchy shot he sometimes played hit-and-hope off that side. He’s strengthened the stroke, and today produced some timely backhand passes, including one cross-court that gave him a 3-1 lead in the first-set tiebreaker.
Lopez used an ace and a service winner to reach triple match point. Two points later, Roddick poked a running backhand wide and Lopez banged his clenched fist over his heart, crossed himself and pumped his fist repeatedly in setting up a fourth-round meeting with either ninth-seeded Gael Monfils or Lukasz Kubot.
“I never beat Andy so it’s so important for me to win today,” Lopez told the BBC. “To beat him in Wimbledon is most special.”
Roddick’s last comeback from a two-set deficit was in the 2003 U.S. Open semifinals, when he rallied past David Nalbandian, while Lopez had not lost a two-set lead since 2004. In those days, Roddick could be commanding in strong-arming opponents with his serve and forehand. These days, he plays a more coaxing style, using the slice backhand and topspin forehand to try and coerce errors. Roddick is undoubtedly a more complete player than he was when he captured the 2003 U.S. Open, but his defensive positioning and aversion to stepping inside the court—to flatten out the forehand and bang backhands up the line—makes the once-imposing intimidator a more muted match player.
Just two weeks before the USA will host Spain in the Davis Cup quarterfinals in Austin, Texas, Spain has stamped its opening week Wimbledon presence at the expense of Americans. A day after Nicolas Almagro downsized John Isner, David Ferrer fought past talented teen Ryan Harrison and Lopez showed Roddick the door. Captain Jim Courier will have to hope Roddick can regroup, and that the fast court in Austin will accelerate American ambition.