Andy Roddick had three match points against Kevin Anderson, a 6-foot-8 South African with a massive serve, but it was not enough to get the local favorite to the semifinal of the Delray Beach International on Friday.
Roddick, returning to the venue of his first pro match 12 years ago when he was still a student at Boca Prep, felt he made some progress this week after an injury-ravaged 2011, but still lost to Anderson 2-6, 7-6, 6-4.
The second-set tiebreak provided most of the drama and high quality tennis in this bruising battle that left Anderson battle-weary but triumphant. Roddick led 3-1 in the tiebreak, but let the advantage slip when he hit one of his sliced backhands an inch long.
Then Anderson erred to give Roddick the first match point at 6-5, but the South African thundered down a huge first serve and Roddick returned it wide. Match point No. 2 saw Anderson go to the backhand and score again with a first serve.
Then, at 9-8, Roddick stood one point from victory on his own serve, but he eventually lost control of a big rally and netted. Two points later the persistent Anderson forced Roddick to go long off a forehand to even the match at 1-1.
When Roddick dropped serve in the second game of the third set, he smashed his racket to the ground in frustration.
"Yea, it was frustrating," Roddick said. "But I can take some positives from the week.
"Let's see the plusses are my confidence is better, my return is a lot better, my forehand is better and I could run this week which is a definite help. But I served badly. It's not often that I look back and say my serve cost me a match but it was the case tonight."
Roddick believes he has allowed some bad habits to slip into his service motion, forcing him to spend the next few days working out the kinks with his coach Larry Stefanki.
"When we get to Indian Wells, (Calif.), the desert air will be thinner and that will help my serve. So I'll go there with a better feel about things," Roddick said of the next tournament.
Meanwhile, there is an Australian in the semifinal here but probably not the one most have heard of. John Isner took care of that.
Reaching his first ATP semifinal of the year, Isner started to back up his Davis Cup heroics in Switzerland -- when he upset Roger Federer on clay -- with some solid tennis in a swirling Florida wind as he crushed Bernard Tomic 6-3, 6-2.
Tomic, an Aussie teenager, lost in the qualifying rounds here last year, but has stepped up a bit since then, beating Fernando Verdasco and Sam Querrey on his way to the fourth round of the Australian Open.
"I played well from the get-go," Isner said. "When (Tomic) has time to get into it and starts feeling comfortable, he can play the match at his pace. I never let him do that and played the break points well, although the wind was very tricky. You were never quite sure where it was coming from."
Like Tomic, Marinko Matosevic was born in Europe before his parents emigrated to Australia and it was this big, powerful 26-year-old from Melbourne who has turned out to be the tournament's surprise package.
Friday, Matosevic reached the first semifinal of a modest career by outplaying the Latvian who won this title in 2010, Ernests Gulbis, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.
Gulbis is erratic to say the least but, even by his standards, it was a spectacular collapse against a player who is so inexperienced at this level. Obviously unhappy in the wind, Gulbis found it impossible to come out on top whenever long rallies developed. Matosevic, ranked 173, hits a heavy ball and likes to step in, forcing his opponent on the defensive, whenever possible.
"Yea, I thought I earned it," Matosevic said. "I wasn't making enough returns in the beginning, but then I started playing really well in the wind."
This late-bloomer won a Challenger event before arriving in Delray Beach and, having fought his way through qualifying, is on an 11- match winning streak.
His coach, Josh Eagle, arrived Friday. Plus, Matosevic has been getting calls from Mark Woodforde, who coached him last year, and Todd Woodbridge, the other half of the famous Woodies doubles team and the head of Player Development for Tennis Australia back home in Melbourne.
"Tony Roche also helps me so I feel a bit of pressure getting so much support from all those Aussie legends," Matosevic said.
Matosevic gets a chance to avenge his first-round loss here last year when he faces Dudi Sela in Saturday's semifinals. Israel's Sela defeated fifth-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 6-7, 6-0 in Friday's quarterfinals.
Isner and Anderson will meet in Saturday night's semifinal. Isner owns a 3-2 career record against the South African.