Delray Beach Returns: Americans Roll

Delray Beach Returns: Americans Roll

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Andy Roddick and Jan-Michael Gambill led the Americans to a 2-0 win in the first night of ATP Champions Tour action
By Steve Dorsey

DELRAY BEACH – Andy Roddick’s return to South Florida and Jan-Michael Gambill’s  ATP Champions Tour debut were successful Friday night in the opening round of the Delray Beach Open at the Delray Beach International Tennis Center.

Gambill defeated Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia 6-3, 5-7 (10-8) in the opening match, then Roddick, only a year removed from retirement on the ATP World Tour, won the nightcap match against Mats Wilander 6-3, 6-3 to give the USA a 2-0 lead against Team International after Day 1 of the three-day Champions Tour tournament.

Roddick, who attended high school only a few miles away at Boca Raton Prep and was the runner-up at the Delray ATP World Tour event in 2002, said he enjoys returning to play in Delray and is having fun playing his rookie year on the Champions Tour.

“It’s a blast,” Roddick said of his inaugural season on the tour that features mostly former World No. 1-ranked players or Grand Slam singles finalists. “It’s new for me. It’s different. You can be a little more interactive, and I especially enjoy playing against guys I grew up idolizing.”

Gambill, a wild-card selection for the six-player event, is a former two-time champion of the annual ATP  World Tour’s Delray tournament, having won here in 2001 and ’03 before retiring from the regular tour in 2010.

Gambill, who won three ATP World Tour titles in his pro career, and Ivanisevic, a 22-time World Tour champion, never had played each other before Friday night’s match. Both gave a credible performance while also entertaining the spectators with periodic humorous banter.

“That’s the point of this,” Gambill said of the Champions Tour format. “I’m still going to be competitive, but at the same time I want to have fun. I thought we had two good sets.”

The format for the Champions round-robin tournament this weekend matches the USA (Roddick, Gambill and Aaron Krickstrein) against Team International (Ivanisevic, Wilander and Mikael Pernfors). There are nine round-robin matches over the three days, with each match counting as a point. The team that reaches five points first wins the title. Each match has a 10-point tiebreaker if the match is tied after two sets.

“He was serving well, and it took me a while to get used to it,” Ivanisevic said of Gambill’s game. “It was good. I had fun and that’s most important.”

Roddick and Wilander also gave the crowd an entertaining match despite Roddick being 18 years Wilander’s junior. After Roddick sent a blistering cross-court shot past Wilander in the second set, Wilander, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2002, walked over to one of the ball girls, handed her his racket and sent her out to play a point against Roddick, drawing applause and laughter from the crowd for his on-court antics.

“It’s great to have him out here,” Wilander said of Roddick’s first appearance here on the Champions Tour.

All six players will be in action Saturday, with Ivanisevic and Krickstein opening Day 2 at 12:30 p.m. (EST), followed by Pernfors against Gambill not before 2:30. The evening matches will begin at 6:30 when Wilander squares off against Krickstein, followed by the nightcap between Roddick and Pernfors.

The Delray Beach Open also held its draw for the 22nd annual ATP event, which begins Monday. Tommy Haas, set to make his seventh appearance in Delray Beach, is seeded No. 1, with top-ranked American John Isner, who has back-to-back semifinal finishes the last two years, the No. 2 seed. Former champions Kei Nishikori (2008) is the No. 3 seed and Kevin Anderson (2012) is No. 4. The tournament’s No. 7 seed, Marin Cilic, is one of the hottest players in the draw. He won the Zagreb title last week and has reached the Rotterdam semifinals this week with wins over No. 10 Jo Wilfried Tsonga and No. 6 Andy Murray. The tournament’s wild cards went to 21-year-old Americans Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison, as well as former Top 10 Marcos Baghdatis.

Tournament officials also released the qualifying draw Friday. South Floridian Wayne Odesnick, once ranked as high as No. 77 in the world, is the top seed, with Steve Johnson of Orange, Calif., the No. 2 seed and 22-year-old American Rhyne Williams No. 3. Odesnik, now ranked No. 117 in the world, has played in four Delray Beach main draws. Williams, a Knoxville native, was a 2011 NCAA singles finalist and turned pro after his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee.

Four wild cards were awarded, including one to Stefan Kozlov, the No. 2 junior in the world from Pembroke Pines, Fla.

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