Wimbledon: Head bowed, Andy Roddick trudged off Centre Court, his purple Wimbledon towel dragging along the turf.
As the three-time runner-up at the All England Club headed for the exit, he passed some kids clamoring for an autograph from their front-row perch. Roddick paused and tossed his blue-framed racket underhand. Thanks to his latest earlier-than-anticipated Grand Slam loss, the American won`t be needing it next week.
The eighth-seeded Roddick departed quickly Friday, beaten 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the third round by unseeded Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Lopez served spectacularly well, hitting 28 aces, and finally got the better of the 2003 U.S. Open champion after losing all seven previous matches they played.
Roddick turns 29 in August, and he was asked whether, as the years go by, one particularly depressing thought creeps into his mind: He might never win Wimbledon.
"Well, sure. You`re human. I mean, of course it does," he replied. Then, speaking directly to the reporter, Roddick added: "You know, you may never get your favorite job, either — no offense to your current employer."
Roddick lost to Roger Federer in the 2004, 2005 and 2009 finals — 16-14 in the fifth set of that last one — but only made it as far as the fourth round last year, and second round in 2008.
"What do you do? You keep moving forward until you decide to stop," Roddick said. "At this point, I`ve not decided to stop, so I`ll keep moving forward."
He hasn`t been past the quarterfinals at any of the past seven major tournaments; he withdrew from the French Open in May because of a right shoulder injury, but said he`s healthy at the moment.
That, in part, is why Roddick figured he`d make a deep run at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.
"He gears a lot of his year for Wimbledon. It`s a tough loss," said Roddick`s coach, Larry Stefanki. "He`s disappointed. Very disappointed."
It didn`t help that Lopez was nearly perfect, conjuring up 57 winners and eight unforced errors.
"Unbelievable," Lopez said. "When I came back in the locker room, my coaches told me. I was surprised that I didn`t miss anything, almost."
Because of rain, only two other third-round men`s matches finished Friday: No. 4 Andy Murray moved forward in his bid to give Britain its first male champion at Wimbledon since 1936, beating Ivan Ljubicic 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) with the help of a behind-the-back, between-the-legs trick shot under the Centre Court roof; and No. 17 Richard Gasquet of France beat Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Murray plays Gasquet next.
Roddick is the highest-seeded man out of the tournament so far. Two of the top three women already are gone: No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, the runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, was eliminated by No. 32 Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 6-2, 6-3 Friday, less than 24 hours after No. 3 Li Na, the French Open champion, lost.
Pironkova reached the semifinals last year, when she upset five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, and they`ll have a rematch in the fourth round next week. Williams overpowered 76th-ranked Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain 6-0, 6-2 on Court 1.
"I`m in the next round. That`s my main goal, regardless whether I play amazing, whether I play halfway decent. Doesn`t matter," Williams said. "It`s just about finding a way to win."
Looking ahead to facing Pironkova, Williams said: "Last year, you know, I think I just got unhappy with how I was playing, and I let that affect my game. This year, I won`t let that happen."
Another past Wimbledon winner, Maria Sharapova, struggled at the start against 17-year-old Laura Robson of Britain before righting herself to win their second-round match 7-6 (4), 6-3, her shot-accompanying shrieks as loud as ever.
Sharapova trailed 4-1 early, then fell behind 4-2 in the tiebreaker, before taking the set`s last five points, closing it with a 108 mph service winner against 2008 Wimbledon junior champion Robson.
"She was much more aggressive than I was in the beginning," Sharapova said. "But then I just kind of got my rhythm a little bit and started playing better."
Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki also won a delayed second-round match, as did 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli. Defending champion Rafael Nadal`s match was among several in the third round stopped because of rain Friday evening.
Having saved two set points against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, the top-seeded Nadal came back to take the opener 7-6 (6), despite slipping behind the baseline and tumbling to his knees. At the ensuing changeover, Nadal asked to see the trainer for treatment.
But play was suspended before the start of the second set, then called off for the day at about 7 p.m. Shortly thereafter, Nadal walked out of the club without any noticeable hitch in his gait.
It has rained on four of the first five days of competition, but the tournament press office said there hasn`t been consideration given to scheduling matches for the middle Sunday, traditionally a day off at Wimbledon. Saturday`s forecast calls for a chance of rain in the morning, but dry weather in the afternoon.
In three second-round men`s matches held over from Thursday, 18-year-old Bernard Tomic of Australia, the youngest man left, defeated Igor Andreev of Russia 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1; No. 11 Jurgen Melzer of Austria beat Dmitry Tursunov of Russia 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1); and No. 7 David Ferrer of Spain finished off a 6-7 (6), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 comeback victory over 19-year-old Ryan Harrison of the United States.
Harrison credited Roddick with being a mentor.
"He`s helped me deal with every situation I`ve faced, as far as all the new stuff I haven`t experienced myself yet," Harrison said. "He`s made himself available to ask him any questions, whether or not it`s about tennis, life, priorities, whatever. I can ask him and talk to him about anything, which has been a great help to me."
Roddick never got comfortable against the 44th-ranked Lopez, who played his usual classic grass-court style, charging the net whenever possible, a tactic that carried him to the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2005 and 2008.
While Lopez is one win away from returning to the quarterfinals, Roddick heads home. He`ll have much more time than he wanted to work on his game ahead of the July 8-10 Davis Cup quarterfinals between his US team and Lopez`s Spain.
Roddick beat Lopez on grass two weeks ago at the Queen`s Club tuneup tournament. But this time, Roddick said, "He played better than I did. He beat me. It`s easier for me to walk out of here with that and move forward with that than, let`s say, `08, where I lost to (Janko) Tipsarevic, and I felt like I completely choked, or last year, where I just kind of had a million opportunities and kind of gave it away."
Roddick managed to break Lopez once, in the first set. But he only earned one break point the rest of the way, in the opening game of the second set, and Lopez saved it.
"That was about his only opportunity to make a dent," Stefanki said. "He returned as well as he could return when he got his racket on it."