NEW YORK—Tim Smyczek could see the finish line as clearly as the baseline with the packed Grandstand roaring him on to reach it. Marcel Granollers heard the noise and saw hope flickering in a 1-4 fifth-set deficit. Then the marathon man from Barcelona picked up the pace for another rousing run.
As fans exhorting the last American man standing with a “USA! USA!” chant, Granollers tuned into the muse, winning five of the final six games to pull out a pulsating, 6-4, 4-6, 0-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory that spanned three hours and 24 minutes.
Both men emptied it all out tonight, pushing each other to every corner of the court in a thrill ride that featured plenty of plot twists, dazzling stretches of attacking tennis—they combined for 105 winners and 103 trips to the net—and a frenzied finish in which the 43rd-ranked Spaniard fought back from the brink to score his third consecutive five-set victory.
An inspired effort from the 109th-ranked wild card came up short, and because of it (though not exclusively because of it), American tennis made ignominious history: This marks the first time in U.S. Open history no American man reached the fourth round. It’s a gut-wrenching loss for Smyczek, who competed with passion, played the match of his life, led by a break in four of the five sets, reeled off eight straight games in one stretch, and had two break points in the decider for a potential 5-3 lead but could not close.
Granollers must have defiance ingrained in his DNA: He rallied from a two-set deficit to beat American Rajeev Ram in the second round, and muted a raucous crowd with another comeback as he won five of the final six games to take the opening set. Serving for the second set at 5-4, Smyczek went airborne. Launching his 5’9” frame into the court, he snapped off a 127 M.P.H. ace down the T for set point. Scrambling forward, Smyczek scraped a backhand lob off the court, clearing the outstretched Prince racquet of the 6’3” Granollers and settling softly inside the baseline to level after 83 minutes.
When a weary Granollers slapped a forehand into the middle of the net, Smyczek had another break point and broke for a 3-0 third-set advantage. Falling into a 0-5 hole, Granollers spent the ensuing changeover channeling Vera Zvonareva with his head shrouded by his white towel. Smyczek took the net away, winning all seven trips to net in the shutout set. But Granollers regrouped, sneaking a flicked forehand pass cross-court to break for a 4-2 fourth-set lead, and eventually holding at love to force the decider.
Reading Granollers’ serve-and-volley intent, Smyczek stepped forward and blasted a backhand pass to break for 3-1 as five guys wearing white tees that spelled out “SMY!!” stood in unison. Attacking again, the Milwaukee native deadened a gorgeous backhand drop volley winner to back up the break for a 4-1 lead at the two-hour and 46-minute mark. But Granollers refused to blink, earning his third break point in the seventh game and breaking back for 3-4 when Smyczek sailed a forehand long.
Moments after Smyczek held at love for 5-4, fans in the packed Grandstand arose for a spontaneous rendition of the wave. Granollers stood up to all of it testing Smyczek’s nerve in a three-deuce game. The American’s inside-out forehand was a major weapon—he hit 73 winners compared to 32 for Granollers—but he committed three consecutive forehand errors to drop serve for 5-6. Serving for the match, Granollers slammed three stinging serves, then reached back for a blast down the middle, erupting in a deep “Vamos!” and pumping his fists furiously in reaching the fourth round of the Open for the first time.
IBM Stat of the Match: Smyczek had 41 more winners (73 to 32) and 35 more errors (64 to 29) than Granollers.
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