New York: Novak Djokovic continued his stroll through the US Open draw on Sunday, while former champion Andy Roddick staved off retirement by winning in front of 20,000 of his new-found best friends at a raucous Arthur Ashe Stadium.
While Djokovic had a workmanlike 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Frenchman Julien Benneteau to reach the fourth round, the stadium turned rowdy watching Roddick’s 7-5, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 triumph over Italy’s Fabio Fognini.
Other winners included top-seeded Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and defending champion Sam Stosur of Australia in the women’s draw, and David Ferrer of Spain and Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka on the men’s side.
The party continued at Flushing Meadows for Roddick, who has become a rock star since announcing on Thursday he would retire after the US Open.
New York fans always enjoyed watching Roddick, but it has been raised several notches. Fans in Ashe Stadium cheered the 30-year-old American’s every move and repeatedly broke into chants of “Let’s go An-dy, let’s go, An-dy.”
When Fognini’s service return slammed into the net on match point, the crowd, including Roddick’s model/actress wife Brooklyn Decker, erupted.
“I’m comfortable out there,” Roddick told reporters. “I’d be an idiot not to use the crowd right now. It’s a huge advantage. Each match is almost like it’s another memory. I’m certainly going to use them.”
Roddick, whose 2003 title at Flushing Meadows was the only grand slam he ever won, blasted 10 aces and struck 39 winners in the three-hour match.
“I’ve been surprised by the support,” said Roddick. “I thought inside our world [my retirement] would be something, but I don’t know that I expected all of this and the crowd to react the way it has.
“It’s been a special experience for me. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Roddick will next play seventh seed Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open winner, who beat Argentine compatriot Leonardo Mayer 6-3, 7-5, 7-6.
“We’ve had really close matches,” Roddick said of his fourth-round match-up. “I was 0-3 against him. I beat him the last time we played. I think of the 0-3, two of them I had match points in.
“He’s a tough match for anybody because he hits such a big ball. I’m going to have to serve well, kind of try to rush him a little bit. When he gets into a groove and has time, he’ll put a hurt on the ball.”
While Roddick and five-times US Open winner Roger Federer have grabbed most of the headlines, Djokovic, the defending champion, has progressed through the draw without losing a set.
The Serb took time off after reaching the final in Cincinnati this month and it has paid dividends.
“The attention comes and goes,” said Djokovic. “It’s normal. This is sport. Obviously Andy and his retirement attracted a lot of attention, so everybody is excited to see him play and see how far he can go.
“I have been playing really well in the US Open the last five years. My goal was to, in these seven, eight days I had off after the Cincinnati final, to really try to recover, charge my batteries, work on some things in my game, and come out strong from the start.
“That’s what I’ve done. I feel great on the court. I’m really trying to keep that up.”
He thoroughly dominated Benneteau, hitting 13 aces, enjoying a 41-15 advantage in winners, and never facing a break point despite landing only 59 per cent of his first serves.
“Winning the first set obviously brought me a lot of momentum and confidence to continue on playing well,” said Djokovic, who won three majors in 2011, including the US Open.
“I felt from the start that from the baseline, I was very comfortable, defence, offence. So I tried to be aggressive and not allow him to come to the net because he plays good when he’s in control.”