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Roddick rally restores luster after Agassi falls to Ferrero

NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- No. 4 seed Andy Roddick saved the U.S. Open from its worst nightmare yesterday when he rallied from two sets and a match point down to beat Argentina's David Nalbandian in an amazing five-set match.

The victory set up a showdown between Roddick, the man who was called the favorite from the beginning of this two-week marathon, and the new No. 1 player in the world, Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain.

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No. 3 seed Ferrero earned the Open final with a fine upset of No. 1 seed Andre Agassi, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

The tournament has been beset by weather problems that have had residual effects. First, it caused 3 1/2 days of delays in play, the cancellation of the junior doubles tournament and the loss of television revenue and advertising.

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Friday, the organizers saw the remaining two American stars on the women's side --Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati -- ushered out by a pair of Belgians, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, who played in last night's final, with Henin-Hardenne emerging with the title, 7-5, 6-1.

And yesterday, when Agassi lost and Roddick was on the ropes, tournament officials were looking at the real possibility of a Ferrero-Nalbandian final. Wonderful tennis, it may have provided, but for the American audience the Open tries to attract, it was, at best, a disappointing prospect.

Enter Roddick, who in the middle of his match looked eminently ready to lose. But, Roddick overcame Nalbandian's steadiness and his own impetuousness to win, 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1, 6-3.

Neither men's match went the way most would have scripted it. From the beginning, Agassi did not seem to have as much pop in his 33-year-old legs as usual. That affected his serve and his ability to track down balls during long rallies.

"It's hard to be perfect," he said. "And it is always hard to lose."

The rallies were longer than usual. Shots that on other days against other players would have been winners came back at him for winners. A perfect example came in the third game of the third set, with Agassi already down two sets to love, when Ferrero took off after a lob.

Agassi, watching, said he had a conversation with himself.

"When I got the lob over his head, I started moving forward," he said. "And I said, 'Why am I doing this? I don't want to hit a volley.' Then I said, 'Screw it, I'll do it anyhow.' Then he made a shot between his legs. When it left my racket, I said, 'I told you so, you jerk.' And as he was running for it, I said, 'I deserve this.' "

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It was one moment among many, but it demonstrated fully who had the upper hand, as Ferrero picked that volley off his shoetops and sent it cross court for a winner.

"I feel so excited," said Ferrero, about his new ranking and his spot in today's final. "I'm really happy for both things. It is the first time I am in the final of the U.S. Open.

"I am playing great tennis on hard courts," he continued. "And now, Roddick. I know it will be a little bit difficult because he's going to very motivated with the crowd. He's in his house."

Ferrero, 23, won this year's French Open. Roddick, 21, is seeking his first Grand Slam title in his first Grand Slam final.

The two have never met on the court, but each is aware of the other.

"Roddick has a big serve, I know," Ferrero said. "But, at the French Open [against Martin Verkerk], he was serving like 200, 210, 220 [mph] all the time, and I did breaks on him. I know it will not be easy to break Roddick, but we will see."

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Roddick is eager to see, as well. There will be no old legs in this meeting, though they will be well-used, given Ferrero will be playing his fourth match in four days and Roddick his third in three.

"I think it's going to be very tough," said Roddick. "He played great against Andre. He probably doesn't get enough [media attention]. .... People maybe don't realize what a good player he's become. He's won a Grand Slam. He's No. 1 now."

Roddick fought off match point at 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker with a 138-mph ace, put away his own set-point chance four points later and then rolled.

Men's final

What: U.S. Open men's final

Who: No. 3 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero, Spain, vs. No. 4 seed Andy Roddick, United States

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When: Today, 4:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9


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