February 8, 2008: The day Andy Roddick earned one of his best ever clay-court wins
- 08 Feb 2021
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, February 8, 2008, in the first round of the Davis Cup against Austria, Andy Roddick won one of his most significant matches on European clay, defeating Jurgen Melzer in five sets (6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3). The American, who was known for his struggles on red dirt, overcame a particularly slow surface and a rowdy crowd to give the United States a 1-0 lead in the tie.
Andy Roddick, from the USA, was born in 1982. His biggest weapon was undoubtedly his massive serve. He then held the record of the fastest serve in tennis history after he had fired a 155-mph bomb on Alex Voltchkov in a Davis Cup tie in 2004. He also had a powerful forehand and displayed great athleticism and fighting spirit on court. He had his breakthrough year in 2001, at the age of 19, when he claimed his first three titles on the tour, reached the Grand Slam quarter-finals for the first time at the US Open (lost to Lleyton Hewitt) and finished the season as world No 14. That year, he also set a record in Roland-Garros, during his five-set win against Michael Chang, serving 37 aces during the match. His peak year was 2003, when he reached world No 1 with a highlight victory at the US Open where he defeated Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final (6-3, 7-6, 6-3). With the rise of Roger Federer as the new leader on the tour, he could not enjoy the No 1 spot very long. He remained a top five player in the following years, but he failed to claim a second Grand Slam title despite having reached three finals (two at Wimbledon in 2004 and 2005, and one at the US Open), each time defeated by Federer. In February 2008, he was world No 6, after starting the season with a disappointing third-round loss against Philip Kohlschreiber at the Australian Open (6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-7, 8-6).
Born in 1981, Jurgen Melzer, from Austria, had been successful at a young age, winning the boys’ event at Wimbledon in 1999. He broke in the top 100 in 2002, and the following year, he reached his first ATP final in Newport (lost to Robby Ginepri, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1). He claimed his first and so far only title in 2006, in Bucharest (defeating Filippo Volandri in the final, 6-1, 7-5), and in 2007, he reached his highest ranking as world No 28. Left-handed, his trademark shot was the backhand drop shot, which he sometimes used too often, and his game was adaptable to different surfaces. In February 2008, he was world No 57.
The 2008 Davis Cup first-round tie between Austria and the United States was held in Vienna, at the Ferry-Dusika-Hallenstadion, an indoor arena built in 1976, which could host 7,600 spectators. Austria had chosen to play on clay, knowing that the American players preferred hard courts.
To host the 2008 Davis Cup first-round against the United States, Austria had chosen to host the tie on clay: the two American leader, Andy Roddick and James Blake, were classic hard-court players, and, despite their great careers, none of them had ever made it past the third round at Roland-Garros.
In the opening match, Roddick faced the Austrian No 1, left-hander Melzer, whom he had defeated six times in six encounters. Melzer had just enough flair and returning skills to cause the American some trouble on European clay, a surface on which they had never met before. In fact, Roddick faced four break points in the very first game of the match, but he served his way out of this situation with three aces. The 2003 US Open champion took the first set, 6-4.
In the second set, Roddick lost his serve and his cool, as the dodgy bounces on the newly-laid court started to really irritate him, as well as the crowd that often shouted between his first and second serves. For the first time, Melzer won a set against Roddick, 6-4. The American then managed to calm down and to accept the poor quality of the clay, but despite his efforts, he was pushed into a fifth set. In the decider, he totally changed his tactics: in order to regain control of the rallies, he decided to play a much more aggressive game, rushing to the net as often as possible to shorten the points.
“Clay slows down your serve and he returned well so that frustrated me,” Roddick said, according to The New York Times. “He played too well for me to stay behind. That’s why I played more attacking in the decider and fortunately that worked.”
Indeed, with shorter rallies, Melzer lost his rhythm. Roddick won his two last serving games at love and sealed his seventh consecutive win over the lefty with an ace. The Austrian confirmed that this change of tactics disturbed him. “Until then I dominated the rallies, but his sudden attacks forced me into a couple of errors. I’ve had my chances but I was not clever enough on some big points.”
In the press conference, Roddick snapped at the clay court: “The court was terrible – the worst I ever played on in Davis Cup. It was the tough match I expected but I won and that means we accomplished our goal.”
In the second rubber, James Blake would defeat Stefan Koubek (5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2), and on Saturday, the Bryan Brothers would send the United States into the next round, defeating Melzer and Julian Knowle (6-1, 6-4, 6-2).
Although he would improve and climb as high as world No 6, reaching the Roland-Garros semi-finals in 2010, Melzer would never defeat Roddick. At the end of their careers, the American would hold a 10-0 record against the Austrian.