Foot Fault!

Calling all the lines of professional tennis

From The Vault: THAT 2003 Australian Open Quarterfinal

Long before the words “Isner” and “Mahut” were ever uttered in the same sentence, the tennis world looked to a different match as the marathon match of the generation; the 2003 Australian Open quarterfinal between Andy Roddick and Younes El Aynaoui.

Roddick came into the 2003 Australian Open with plenty to prove. Despite already sitting as a top ten player and a household name, the then 20 year-old had yet to fully break through and establish himself as one of the premier players. In complete contrast, El Aynaoui came into the 2003 Australian Open at 31 and in the twilight of his career, and though he peaked and enjoyed some of his greatest results in 2003, injuries and health problems were only around the corner for the Moroccan.

So many other great marathons are celebrated for the mere statistical triumphs, but what set this contest apart from the rest was the shining quality from first game to last. Both players engaged in lengthy, gruelling rallies while flitting through a whole arsenal of different strokes – slicing, net rushing, dropshots, blasting serves and groundstrokes alike. Playing at at a high level for a straight sets best-of-three match is impressive enough, but neither ever faltered.

As the stunning shotmaking raged on and the match edged slowly into a classic, it was that vast gap in age that became a focal point in the battle. Roddick, with his relative lack of big match experience, was forced to find a never-before-used resolve and mental strength against a seasoned veteran to who it came natural after so long. Meanwhile, El Aynaoui had no choice but to push his body its very it limit as he attempted to outlast a fresher and younger player in Roddick. Even more notably was the spirit the match was played in; in a sport that has seen so many rivalries and clashes between the younger upstarts and the older, established players, the clear mutual respect and admiration illustrated both during and after the match only added to its legendary status, a sentiment that was echoed by the American after the match.

“My levels of respect for him just grew and grew throughout the match and I’m pretty sure it’s vice-versa. “He’s 31-years-old, he’s out there five hours, and he’s still standing at the end. It’s very impressive. I don’t think I’ll be able to do that when I’m 31,” he said.
“This has proven that even the old guys can still play some ball.”

Roddick went on to win this match 4-6 7-6 4-6 6-4 21-19, and though he fell at the very next hurdle, it was his first outing into the final realms of a major and arguably a defining moment in his career. By the end of 2003, he was a US Open Champion and finished the year number one. This certainly wasn’t a bad start.

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