It was rush hour in Queens and Jurgen Melzer was directing traffic. Dictating the direction of rallies with the authority of a traffic cop commanding cars into the appropriate lanes, Melzer moved Gregory Carraz around the court for much of the match before moving into the second round of the U.S. Open with a 7-5, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 victory.
The 40th-ranked Melzer meets 23rd-seeded Boca Raton resident Vince Spadea, who stopped Long Island finalist Luis Horna in four sets on the Grandstand Court, in the second round. Melzer’s last meeting with Spadea wasn’t exactly a match to remember as Spadea annihilated the Austrian, 6-0, 6-1 in the opening round of the Olympics amid blustery conditions completely frustrated Melzer.
"Well, I hope there is not such a hurricane here as we had in Athens," Melzer said with a smile. "He beat me, 6-0, 6-1, two weeks ago so he’s obviously a favorite coming into this match. I mean, I’m not scared of him or anything because I lost two weeks ago. I’m in great shape and I’m looking forward to the match. It’s going to be a tough one."
The left-handed Melzer made things difficult on Carraz from the outset with shrewd shot selection that unsettled Carraz. The 29-year-old Frenchman is a serve-and-volleyer adept at moving into the court to cut off angles, but not nearly as comfortable moving laterally to hit groundstrokes on the run. Melzer’s movement is one of his strengths and he used his clear advantage in court coverage to break open a 5-5 tie, winning eight straight games to seize a two-set lead.
"I felt from the beginning that it was just a matter of time until I break him and the match would turn in my favor," Melzer said. "I felt I was hitting better from the baseline and I was serving better."
Disrupting Carraz’s rhythm by alternating his drop shot with deep forehands and sharp angled backhands crosscourt, Melzer kept the Frenchman off balance and was able to bail himself out of trouble by playing to Carraz’s slice backhand which lacked the bite to bother Melzer.
"He was serving and volleying all the time so it’s tough to pass him when he gets a rhythm," Melzer said. "I did well the first and second sets moving him around. I was a bit unlucky to lose the third, but I came back in the fourth to finish pretty good."
In reaching the Tennis Masters Series-Canada quarterfinals in July, Melzer used his drop shot effectively to defeat Dominik Hrbaty, Andre Agassi and Fernando Gonzalez before falling to Nicolas Kiefer in three sets. Melzer is enamored of his drop shot, but went to it too many times at the end of the third set. Anticipating the drop shot, Carraz ran down consecutive drops and replied with angled winners to break in the ninth game of the third set. Carraz saved a pair of break points to take the third set.
In the fourth set, Melzer began to take the net away on occasion and force the Frenchman to try to pass. Carraz slapped a forehand wide to face break point. Charging the net behind a slice backhand, Carraz was forced to suddenly stop and change directions to pursue a Melzer lob. His leaping backhand overhead found the net and Melzer had a break and a 2-0 lead. Carraz came back to even the set, but Melzer broke for 5-3. Serving for the match, Melzer, who served big on break points, slammed an ace down the center to save a break point. Two points later, Melzer approached and Carraz’s forehand pass landed wide as Melzer secured a spot in the second round.
"My game is more from the baseline, but if it’s time to come in, I come in, I mean, I’m not worried about volleying," Melzer said. "The tactics were to mix it up and play a variety of shots." After the U.S. Open ends, Melzer’s preparation for Austria’s Davis Cup tie against Great Britain begins. The tie will be staged on clay in Austria and marks the debut of former Roland Garros champion Thomas Muster, who took over as the country’s Davis Cup captain after Austria fell to the United States in the opening round.
"It’s going to be a hard tie," Melzer said. "We have the home crowd, we have the surface, which is obviously a big advantage for us. But if Tim and Greg play well it’s always tough to beat them. We will see what happens. I think it could come down to the match I play with Tim on the final Sunday and the better one will win. We haven’t actually worked with Muster yet, but I was told that all 3,500 seats are already sold out so obviously he is an attraction for tennis."
Sounds like it would have been a fantastic match to watch