Nalbandian Upsets Roddick at Commonwealth

Friday, January 16th 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ David Nalbandian tamed top-ranked Andy Roddick's powerful serves in a three-set victory Friday at the Commonwealth Bank International, putting him in the final against Andre Agassi.

The match lasted 2 hours, 15 minutes as Nalbandian, seeded eighth for next week's Australian Open, took a big third-set lead then had to hold on 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4).

With his scrambling baseline style, the Argentinian predicted a ``war'' against defending champion Agassi for the title Saturday.

Roddick beat Nalbandian the first two times they played. Nalbandian's unspectacular but solid game came through this time, with no sign of the wrist injury that has been hampering the 2002 Wimbledon finalist.

``He's not eight in the world for no reason,'' Roddick said. ``It's a good contrast because he definitely handles my power well and he exploits my weaknesses some. I think it makes for a good matchup.''

Players like the round-robin event at Kooyong because it guarantees them three matches with a competitive edge, so Roddick walked away feeling good despite the loss.

He'll face second-ranked Roger Federer on Saturday as both try to shake off the offseason rust before the year's first Grand Slam opens Monday.

``I'm not really worried,'' Roddick said. ``You just want to get in there and maybe get the feeling back of competitive tennis again. So it's definitely a good thing to have tough matches like that, just playing in a competitive atmosphere.''

After taking the second-set tiebreaker to even the match, Nalbandian broke Roddick's usually dominating serve twice to go up 5-1 in the deciding third set. Roddick rallied to force the tiebreaker, but didn't quite have enough left to finish off the comeback.

``We were tossing it up right in the sun, and he handled it a lot better than I did,'' Roddick said of his service problems. ``I let it annoy me, which I probably shouldn't have.''

Nalbandian, wearing a wristband that he said was more for psychological than physical support for the injured wrist, was pleased with his consistency.

``I didn't see the statistics, but I think I had a lot of winners and not many mistakes,'' he said.

Roddick got one of the tougher first-round draws for the Open. He'll face Fernando Gonzalez, whose 34th ranking just kept him out of the 32 seedings.

``It's good; means I'm going to have to play from the start,'' Roddick said.

In other matches Friday, Americans Taylor Dent and Robby Ginepri finished their Australian Open preparations with victories. Dent defeated Thomas Johansson 6-7 (1), 6-2, 6-4, while Ginepri beat Sebastien Grosjean 7-6 (3), 6-2.

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