Roddick wins opening match in Cincinnati

Andy Roddick relied on the best part of his game - the nasty serve - to set up a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over Fernando Verdasco.

updated: August 16, 2007 15:54 IST
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Mason, Ohio:

Andy Roddick relied on the best part of his game - the nasty serve - to set up a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over Fernando Verdasco in his first match at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters on Tuesday.

Roddick won the tournament last year, making a triumphant return from a long slump and pulled side muscles that had left him vulnerable. This year, the tournament is more about maintaining than regaining.

"This is where the big turnaround took place," said Roddick, who went on to reach the US Open final after winning Cincinnati last year. "It feels like home."

After a ragged first set, he settled in and finished off Verdasco for his 20th victory in his last 23 matches. Roddick served 13 aces, one of them clocked at 146 mph (235 kilometer).

"I felt I got better as the match progressed," Roddick said. "It's better than the alternative."

The third-seeded Roddick was the only player among the tournament's top six with a match during the first two days. The top eight seeds got first-round byes this year, giving them time to relax and practice.

Rafael Nadal welcomed the break. The second-ranked Spaniard has been bothered by a sore right knee since his epic Wimbledon final loss to Roger Federer. His first match is on Wednesday.

"I have to be careful with the knee," he said shortly after a workout. "But I'm happy about how the knee worked in Montreal. It wasn't a problem, and I come here with the same expectations."

In earlier matches, ninth-seeded James Blake beat Colombian qualifier Alejandro Falla 7-6 (5), 6-1, and teenager Juan Martin Del Potro defeated 15th-seeded Guillermo Canas 6-2, 6-2 in the first meeting between the Argentines.

Mario Ancic boosted his recovery from mononucleosis by ousting 15th-seeded Tommy Haas 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3. Ancic was affected in February, and didn't return to the tour until last week. Jarkko Nieminen removed seventh-seeded Tommy Robredo 6-4, 6-1.

Two-time runner-up Lleyton Hewitt needed 2 hours, 58 minutes to beat Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (5) in a match with so many twists that it lacked a turning point. Hewitt had eight double faults, including one in the tiebreaker that kept it close.

After failing to convert his first match point, Hewitt ran Wawrinka from side to side with ground strokes, then put it away with a forehand at the net. He pumped his right fist and showed his relief by swatting a ball out of the center court stadium.

"Tough one," the 26-year-old Australian said. "Long match in the heat. That's what you need heading into a Grand Slam. Three sets and a tiebreak at the end. It was a little bit of a toss of the coin at the end."

Britain's Andy Murray, struggling to come back from a wrist injury, became the first seeded player to lose in the tournament. The 14th-seeded Murray never got into a rhythm during a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Marcos Baghdatis in 49 minutes.

Murray was sidelined for three months by an injured right wrist. He returned in Montreal last week and lost to qualifier Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-2.

"I'm pretty comfortable now that it (the wrist) is not going to hurt, but your swing changes a bit when you're not hitting for a while and you're obviously not swinging as hard," Murray said. "It's just getting used to swinging hard consistently all the time."

The biggest question about Nadal is how his knee will hold up on hardcourts, the same type that is used at the US Open. He got the knee treated during his five-set loss to Federer on Wimbledon's grass, and had it taped when he tested it at Stuttgart later in July.

He dropped a two-set match to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals in Montreal on Saturday, but that was more a case of losing to the tour's hottest player. Djokovic went on to beat Federer for the tournament title on Sunday.

"Last week, I started playing very bad," Nadal said. "I finished the week playing so much better. I hope to continue playing my game this week."

So does Djokovic, who is coming off a tournament title like few others. He beat Roddick, Nadal and Federer last week, the first time anyone beat the world's top three players in the same tournament since Boris Becker pulled it off in 1994 at Stockholm.

Is he on the verge of cracking into that elite group at the top?

"I think I have a lot of confidence," Djokovic said. "I showed enough quality that I can potentially be there on that level with them, but it's still early to talk about that. My lifetime goal is to be No 1 in the world, but I'm still 20 years old and I have a lot of time."