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Honesty backfires as Roddick loses

ROME, Italy -- A fair-play gesture backfired for Andy Roddick as Fernando Verdasco came back from the brink of defeat to oust the top seed 6-7 7-6 6-4 in the third round of the Rome Masters.

One set down and serving at 3-5 and 0-40 in the second, a linesman called Verdasco's second serve out and the umpire announced Roddick the winner.

Roddick, however, corrected the call, telling the umpire the ball was in.

Verdasco went on to hold serve and then break his distracted-looking opponent in the following game.

The set went to a tiebreak, which the Spaniard won easily by whipping crosscourt winners off both wings.

Roddick then put a forehand wide to drop serve in the opening game of the decider and the unseeded Verdasco, now playing with increasing confidence, went on to claim victory.

His reward will be a quarter-final against fellow claycourt specialist and number nine seed Guillermo Coria of Argentina, who crushed home favourite Davide Sanguinetti 6-0 6-4.

"Maybe I should have stood on the mark," Roddick joked with reporters. "I don't think I did anything extraordinary, the umpire would have come down and said the same too. I just saved him the trip.

"When Verdasco hit it, before I saw the mark, I thought it was out. On a hardcourt I wouldn't have done anything but then I walked back and saw it was good."

Roddick was generous in praise of Verdasco and also spoke of his own improvement on a surface that does not favour his serve-and-volley style.

Before losing in the Italian capital he had won seven matches in a row on clay, including his run to the U.S. Claycourt title in Houston last month.

"Sometimes you feel you've done something wrong and deserve to lose the match. That wasn't the case today. He just went for broke," said Roddick.

"In the second set tiebreak I didn't play a single bad shot...he was playing with confidence, he just turned 180 degrees.

"Compared to where I was on clay last year, though, I'm improving. I was a point away from the quarters here and I'll continue my preparation for the French Open at the ATP tournament in Hamburg next week."

In a day of surprises, French Open champion Gaston Gaudio slumped to a 6-0 6-1 defeat to Spain's David Ferrer, and fourth seed Tim Henman lost 6-3 3-6 6-3 to Dominik Hrbaty.

The exodus of leading players left Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal as the highest-ranked player in the draw.

The fifth seed, who has won four claycourt titles this year, continued his run of superb form with a 6-3 6-1 victory over Guillermo Canas.

Meanwhile, sixth seed Andre Agassi remained on course to repeat his 2002 victory in Rome.

The 35-year-old gave a near-faultless display to defeat Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 6-3.

The big-serving Croat has already reached four finals this year and had won his last two matches against Agassi, including one contest in the Davis Cup earlier this season.

After swapping breaks in a tight first set, Agassi dominated the tiebreak, finding the range and pace on his groundstrokes to fire a series of winners.

He maintained his concentration in the second set, breaking Ljubicic to love in the second game and serving out for victory.

"He's been playing well the whole year, so to come here and play a great match against him feels like a real achievement," said Agassi.

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