Roddick wins Cincinnati opener

August 15, 2007 11:59 AM

MASON, Ohio (AP) -- Andy Roddick bounced his racket after one poor shot, stared at the sky in disbelief after another. A little off at times, he still had that serve to pull him through.

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

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.

"I don't think I hit the ball great early, but I got better as the match went on,'' Roddick said. "I served better. I haven't been serving well the last couple of weeks.''

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 Tuesday morning, shortly after a workout. "But I'm happy about how the knee's working in Montreal. It wasn't a problem, and I come here with the same expectations.''

In other matches Tuesday, two other players coming off injuries got vastly different results.

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.

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.''

By contrast, ninth-seeded James Blake got better as his match went along, beating Alejandro Falla 7-6 (5), 6-1. The American had to withdraw from Montreal last week after he strained abdominal muscles during his first-round match.

He was careful at the outset Tuesday, curious to see how the injury would react.

"I was a little nervous at the start, but I felt great at the end,'' he said. "My main goal is to still be careful and be ready for the US Open. That's my biggest tournament of the year, the one I love to play in.''

Lleyton Hewitt needed 2 hours and 58 minutes to beat Stanislas Wawrinka 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (5) in a match with so many twists that it lacked a turning point.

"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.''

The biggest question about Nadal is how his knee will hold up on the hard-court surface, the same type that is used at the U.S. 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 Tuesday, before his doubles match. "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.''