Andy Roddick defeats Tomas Berdych to win Sony Ericsson Open

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 5, 2010

KEY BISCAYNE, FLA. -- Andy Roddick launched his pro career here a decade ago as a 17-year-old high school kid, a fact that left him feeling nostalgic and a bit emotional Sunday after his dominant victory in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open.

But the defeat of Czech Republic's Tomás Berdych, 7-5, 6-4, also seemed to offer a dose of hope: Could the purple courts between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, which provided Roddick with his first-ever professional victory in 2000, offer another liftoff for his career?

Roddick's dominant, varied and sophisticated play in this tournament, and his appearance in the final at Indian Wells two weeks ago, seem to signal that he is ready to step up a career still defined by a lone Grand Slam victory at the 2003 U.S. Open.

"He's put in the time and decided to make changes," said Larry Stefanki, Roddick's coach. "He wants to win Slams, and I have a feeling his best years are ahead of him. . . . He could be similar to [Andre] Agassi where his best years are 27, 28, on."

Roddick, the world's eighth-ranked player, still can lay down a 135-mph serve, but he no longer relies purely on the raw, all-power game that defined his early years. Two days after beating Rafael Nadal in the semifinals here with an uncustomary serve-and-volley approach, Roddick hung closer to the baseline but unveiled a host of crafty serves and shots that reflected the repertoire of a "great Major League Baseball pitcher," Stefanki said.

"It's a big title for me," Roddick said. "The last month has been real good for me. I've played really well [in] the big moments. Haven't had an off-day mentally. I've been able to execute. I've been able to have a game plan and execute it regardless of what kind of shots it takes. So it's all good. It's all encouraging."

Even so, Roddick demurred when asked whether this tournament could prove a turning point of sorts. The restraint surely comes from having been unable to replicate the run that landed him the U.S. Open title seven years ago and the top-ranking in men's tennis that year. Asked whether he thought himself primed for a strong summer, Roddick ducked.

"It's a long time away," he said. "To be honest, I've stopped getting ahead of myself. . . . If I can continue this, there'll be some exciting moments. But that's an if. You have to earn that 'if.' "

In Stefanki's opinion, Roddick is doing everything possible to earn it. The former coach of John McEnroe and Marcelo Ríos said Roddick has become among the hardest-working players on the tour. In part thanks to the diet-consciousness of his swimsuit model wife -- he married Brooklyn Decker last year -- Roddick has given up high-fat, late-night restaurant food and lost 10-15 pounds, Stefanki said.

He was a "Midwestern T.G.I.Friday's and Chili's boy," Stefanki said. "Now he's a Whole Foods organic Berkeley boy so to speak. His wife is very much into diet. I think she's probably his greatest asset in terms of mentality and belief."

On that front, Roddick agreed.

"Obviously being settled at home is a really, really good thing," he said. "I don't really get stressed at all away from the tennis court. All in all, I have a pretty simple day-to-day existence when I'm not involved in the circus too much."

It was in 2008, after pulling out of the French Open because of an injury and falling in the second round of Wimbledon that he thought he might be, truly, in decline.

"I openly talked to Brook and wondered if the best of it was gone," he said. "I didn't know. I honestly didn't know. But I knew there was a way to find out and that was to kind of go back to the drawing board and give myself every opportunity to succeed."

Sunday's victory provided all sorts of positive evidence. He hit 13 aces against Berdych, who had upset top-ranked Roger Federer last week. He won all 11 service games. He hit 25 winners and made just 16 unforced errors.

"I just saw a really big difference when he starts to play with Larry Stefanki," Berdych said. "His game just change quite a lot."

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