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Roddick Wins in Heir Style

Long cast as the next hope of American tennis, he fulfills promise by winning the U.S. Open for his first major title.

September 08, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — There is, much to the relief and delight of 21-year-old Andy Roddick, no longer any doubt. He has finally excised the words heir apparent from his vocabulary, erasing one of the scariest phrases in sports.

Four sweet swings of the tennis racket wrapped things up on a brilliant late-summer day in New York on Sunday.

One service return sailed out, then Roddick hit three consecutive aces and became the newest U.S. Open champion, winning his first Grand Slam championship in authoritative fashion against Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. The fourth-seeded Roddick defeated No. 3 Ferrero, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3, serving 23 aces, never losing his serve and facing only three break points. He had 123 aces in seven matches.

Exhilaration quickly morphed into tears. He leaned over and held his hand over his mouth, as though trying to keep his emotions from bursting forth. He had about as much success doing so as Ferrero did in trying to return his serve.

"I cannot believe it," Roddick said. In search of his supporters, including coach Brad Gilbert, he went into the stands, momentarily wandering into the wrong row, one of his few missteps the entire afternoon. A sobbing Roddick hugged his parents, Blanche and Jerry, telling them, "I can't believe I just won the U.S. Open." His girlfriend, actress Mandy Moore, was crying along with everyone else.

Realization was not settling in quickly. "My mom said, 'You just won the U.S. Open. You just won the U.S. Open,' " Roddick said, laughing.

It might be stretching it to say his racket became a metaphor for the proverbial torch. But it was fitting that his title finished an event that started with the retirement ceremony of last year's champion, Pete Sampras.

"I don't think you could have written a script any better," said Roddick, who cradled the trophy in his arms before holding it in the air. "Starting it off with Pete's retirement, [Michael] Chang is gone. All that. It was just too good."

The pressure on Roddick to follow in the Grand Slam footsteps of Sampras, Chang and Andre Agassi had been considerable. An indication of his annoyance with the continual questions about being the future of American tennis came through before he was even asked a question during his post-match news conference.

Roddick came into the interview room, put his arms on the table and, addressing the writers, said: "No more, 'What's it feel like to be the future of American tennis?' ... No more."

But Gilbert, who started coaching him shortly before Wimbledon, understands the American sports psyche, and embraces it, having channeled that mind-set into the makeup of Agassi for several Grand Slam titles.

"It's the American way," he said. "We expect champions and Andy was built to be another champion, in my opinion."

Self-belief was one of the final building blocks. Gilbert had the feeling that Roddick, for all of his outward confidence, used to come to Grand Slam events hoping to do well, not expecting to win.

"I'm really positive every day," Gilbert said. "The first day we got here, we were in the players' lounge, we walked over to the wall [of champions], I said, 'You know what? They saved that spot on the wall for you.'

"He goes, 'Really?' I'm like, 'Yeah, that's why there's no space there. There's nobody on that wall, it's going to be you.' "

Roddick's anxiety was high Sunday. He had saved a match point in his semifinal against David Nalbandian of Argentina, and Ferrero, the French Open champion, had taken some of the air out of the place Saturday by ground-stroking Agassi into submission. A USTA staff member spotted Roddick in the players' dining area, biting his fingernails to the bone. Gilbert joked Sunday that they were going to have to put Tabasco sauce on them.

The pre-match tension translated into a virtuoso performance.

Roddick saved one break point in the third game, then lost one more point on his serve in the first set. Ferrero, playing his fourth match in four days because of the numerous rainy days, looked tired early, slow to the ball, and lost a surprising number of baseline rallies. His serve was broken in the fourth game of the first set, losing at 30 when Roddick whipped a forehand winner down the line.

"Never happen to me like this, four days in a row raining, you know -- playing Todd Martin, [Lleyton] Hewitt, Agassi and this final today," said Ferrero, who becomes No. 1 in the world rankings today. "No, never. I hope it's not happening again."

In the tiebreaker, Ferrero made uncommon unforced errors, particularly on the forehand side. When he lost the tiebreaker, 7-2, losing the last six points, he went to his courtside seat and dropped his racket. His last gasp was in the seventh game of the third set, when he had two break points. Roddick saved both, the second with an ace.

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