A boisterous group of students from a small Minnesota college has been making Andy Roddick feel right at home at the Australian Open.
Along with the Greek, Swedish and other national contingents that make annual sojourns to Melbourne Park, the patriotic undergrads from Gustavus Adolphus College have quickly earned a reputation for their fervent support that includes a variety of cheerleader-like chants during changeovers.
Roddick embraced their support during his 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 rout yesterday of France's Julien Benneteau.
The fans had something of a running conversation with Roddick. After he broke Benneteau in the opening game of the third set, Roddick told them: "I got something for you real soon."
As promised, he whacked the ball up to them after finishing off the match with his 17th ace.
They drew the attention of TV commentator Jim Courier, who asked Roddick which he'd rather have backing him: this tanned group with a number of women who "seem like they spent more on tickets than clothes" or the loud backers of Greek Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, Roddick's next opponent, who had no problem disposing of German Denis Gremelmayr 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
"I have a bunch of half-naked women," a smiling Roddick pointed out as Baghdatis fans could be heard cheering out in the concourse. "He has a bunch of men. I know who I'd rather have dinner with me."
Roddick's fans included a row of women in red, blue and silver spangled hats who had "WE (heart) ANDY" spelled out, letter by letter, on their bare stomachs. The men's bare chests read "R-O-D-D-I-C-K."
The students were here as part of a sports ethics class and were wrapping up their five days at the Open and lamented that they won't be around to try to outdo Baghdatis' fans. "It'll be a little quieter here the second week," Gaard sighed.
Hotter than July
Meanwhile, he temperatures soared but eighth seed Gaston Gaudio went cold and was knocked out.
The tournament's extreme heat policy came into force with play suspended on most courts for about two hours as temperatures reached 35 Celsius.
In other matches, French veteran Fabrice Santoro ousted Argentine eighth seed Gaudio in a five-set epic and will play Spain's 11th seed David Ferrer, who ended 18th seed Mario Ancic's tournament, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Santoro, at 33 the oldest man left in the tournament and in his 14th Australian Open campaign, equaled his best performance to outlast former French Open champion Gaudio in a gruelling 3hr 47min match.
He sacrificed the fourth set to save himself for the deciding fifth before prevailing against the Argentine 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4 to set up a fourth round tie with Ferrer tomorrow.
Like Santoro and Gaudio, top-seeded Lindsay Davenport and fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova also used bags of ice to keep cool.
Davenport spent 2 hours, 19 minutes on the center court in beating Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
"It's tough. The courts are real sticky," said Davenport, who caught her ankle during one rally and said later it was sore.
Davenport and Kirilenko took a break at the side of the court after the second set.
Sharapova beat Jelena Kostanic of Croatia 6-0, 6-1 in the opening center-court match yesterday.
French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne followed Santoro and Gaudio onto Vodafone Arena but officials had closed the stadium's retractable roof for the women's match.
Henin-Hardenne beat Virginie Razzano of France 6-4, 6-1 in 82 minutes.
"We play outside for four hours without the roof, five sets. Now the girls start with the roof (closed), (for) one hour," shrugged Santoro after his match.
In other women's action, No. 14 Svetlana Kuznetsova dispatched Italy's Mara Santangelo 6-3, 6-1, while her compatriot Nadia Petrova was even more convincing in her 6-1, 6-2 win over another Italian Maria Elena Camerin. Another Russian to progress was Elena Vesnina, who beat Ukrainian Olga Savchuk 5-7, 6-2, 6-4. And Spain's Viginia Ruano Pascual beat Laura Granville of the U.S. 6-3, 6-3.
Later yesterday, Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian, who hasn't had an easy match so far, advanced by beating No. 26 Jarkko Nieminin after dropping the first set. The fourth-seeded Nalbandian, who had a behind-the-back volley winner, will face the winner of yesterday's late match between No. 20 James Blake and No. 16 Tommy Robredo.
Taiwan's Wang Yeu-tzuoo and his Chinese partner Na Li were knocked out of the Australian Open mixed doubles tournament at the earliest stage yesterday.
The cross-strait duo proved no match for Martina Hingis and her experienced Indian partner Mahesh Bhupathi who inflicted a 6-2, 6-2 defeat on them.