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Roddick Dialed In on Grass

With Brad Gilbert as his new coach, he has victory over Agassi at Queen's Club and momentum heading into Wimbledon.

June 22, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — You would expect the line -- or the queue, as they say around here -- of willing-and-able coaches to stretch into the distance when word went out that 20-year-old Andy Roddick was searching for a replacement after recently parting with Tarik Benhabiles.

So, Roddick called the home of the guy at the top of the list. And promptly heard the dial tone.

They always say rejection is only a phone call away.

Kidding aside, the 6-year-old daughter of Brad Gilbert does what kids often do when they pick up the phone and Mom or Dad isn't home. They hang up.

"I think it was his youngest daughter, Zoe, she picked up, and I said, 'Is Brad there?' " Roddick said Friday, laughing about the exchange. "She said, 'No, he's not here right now.' And I said, 'Can I leave a message?' She goes, 'Yep, OK, bye.' So I called back and asked to speak to her mother and then I got the message that way."

From that inauspicious beginning, the Roddick-Gilbert partnership took off about as quickly as the record-tying 149-mph serve that Roddick hit at Queen's Club against Andre Agassi. There, he won his first grass-court event, and, by doing so, climbed onto the short list of favorites for Wimbledon, which starts Monday, joining Agassi and defending champion Lleyton Hewitt.

Things appear a little more straightforward on the women's side, with defending champion Serena Williams an overwhelming choice to repeat, and her odds increased significantly the last two days when No. 6-ranked Amelie Mauresmo withdrew because of a rib muscle injury, and newly crowned French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne quit during the final in the Netherlands on Saturday because of a sprained left wrist and fingers.

Even more big names are missing on the men's side. Out are a trio of former champions: Goran Ivanisevic (injured), Pete Sampras (virtual retirement), Richard Krajicek (announced retirement). Another trio of Spaniards are staying home, as Alex Corretja, whose wife just gave birth, joined his injured countrymen Albert Costa and Carlos Moya on the sideline. Also withdrawing were Tommy Haas, Marcelo Rios, Thomas Johansson and Marat Safin.

A rare feeling of optimism surfaced locally when Greg Rusedski won the Nottingham tournament Saturday, beating Mardy Fish in the final. Almost any grass-court winner has to be taken seriously the next two weeks at Wimbledon, which is why a jolt of energy shot though the All England Club, even if it was a Canadian-turned-Brit doing the winning, not Tim Henman.

Rusedski and Roddick could meet in the second round, not giving drama much time to build. Rusedski, who blew out Roddick in straight sets here last year in the third round, will play Alexander Waske of Germany in the first round. The fifth-seeded Roddick meets Davide Sanguinetti of Italy.

Roddick, of course, is guarding against what happened in Paris. He won a tuneup tournament on clay in Austria and promptly lost in the first round at the French Open, leading to the coaching change. Gilbert, since then, has not tinkered much with Roddick's game, though he did order him to lose his visor, saying it failed on the intimidation scale.

"I had a list of people I thought were pretty cool," Roddick said. "The prospect of working with Brad is the one that sparked the most curiosity in me. I thought it had the best chance for being something really special. It's pretty different from what I'm used to, but it's good, he's full of information. He's not afraid to tell you what he thinks, he's honest at all times."

Gilbert's patience played out, as he had not worked full-time with another player since splitting with Agassi in January 2002.

"Phil Jackson waited for the Lakers," Gilbert told reporters at Queen's Club. "I waited for the right guy. I was looking for the right young person with talent and you could take them over the edge."

The pairing resulted in Roddick's first win against Agassi. Coupled with a third-round victory over Rusedski at Queen's, the floundering Roddick on clay has become one of the favorites on grass. TV commentator Mary Carillo spoke about the influence of Gilbert in this short span.

"Last year, he was a mess on grass -- getting aggravated and playing goofy and trying to hit through all his problems," Carillo said. "Brad will uncomplicate his head, give him some winning patterns to play and get him to net more.

"Hopefully, Andy will do a better job of returning serve, consistently applying pressure from there. That's what Tim Gullikson did for Pete -- got his return game better on grass. That's when he started winning there.

"Roddick deserves to be more than a very dangerous hard-courter. He shouldn't be the one rolling his eyes and flapping his arms on grass.

"His opponents should be feeling that out of control."

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