- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- For a set and seven games, Andy Roddick played his tennis in safety-first, default mode. Big serves and an efficient approach usually are enough to beat the Igor Andreevs and Sergiy Stakhovskys of the world, but Rafael Nadal is a different kind of cat.
And so, trailing Rafa by a set in their Sony Ericsson Open semifinal Friday, Roddick drastically altered his game plan.
"He forced me into something that probably isn't the most comfortable thing for me," Roddick said afterward. "I took a lot of risk there in the last two sets. The best thing I can think of is I rolled the dice a lot and came up Yahtzee a couple times.
"I mean, I literally took really, really ridiculous cuts at a lot of forehands. They found the purple part [of the court]."
Roddick, who incredibly didn't hit his first forehand winner until the 72nd minute of the match, was a revelation. He flattened out his forehand, went to the net more often -- "Kind of like driving into head-on traffic," Roddick said of running toward Nadal's forehand -- and even served and volleyed on his second serve.
Roddick won 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a spirited match that bodes well for his campaigns at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
"He played a very aggressive game," Nadal said. "It was a change, and it was a surprise for me. He attacked. I wasn't ready to play better in that moment."
Roddick thus reached his second consecutive ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final. He lost to Ivan Ljubicic in the championship match at Indian Wells, but it is worth noting that none of the world's top four players -- Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Nadal -- reached even one final during this grueling American hard-court swing.
Roddick meets Tomas Berdych in a Sunday final that feels vaguely anticlimactic.
Berdych, the man who sent Federer home after the fourth round, wrecked 2009 French Open finalist Robin Soderling 6-2, 6-2. He's lost five of seven career matches against Roddick, but the 6-foot-5 Czech is playing with a confidence reminiscent of 2007, when he briefly cracked the top 10.
"The game against Andy is always really close," Berdych said. "Big-serving guy playing really solid from the baseline. The matches that we played in the past few months I would say were really close ones, especially the one in San Jose. I just lost two points in each set and I lost two tiebreaks.
"So it's going to be, I think, a really similar scenario on Sunday."
Roddick was asked about the final well before his opponent was determined, but he said it didn't really matter.
"A lot of similarities," Roddick said. "I don't know that I have much of a preference. With both guys, you're going to get guys who hit very hard and very flat, you know, aren't interested in rallying too much."
When Roddick finished with Nadal -- who loves a long, grinding point perhaps more than anyone else in the game -- the Spaniard looked eager to head home and prepare for the clay-court season, his favorite time of the year.
The pivot point was the eighth game of the second set.
Nadal was serving at 4-3 when Roddick entered the realm of ridiculous. That first forehand winner made it love-30, and his second broke Nadal's serve -- at love. Roddick served out the set with an emphatic 143 mph serve into Nadal's body.
Roddick ran off the last 11 consecutive points of the set, a remarkable feat against such an accomplished player. The third set featured more off-the-menu items.
Winning 12 of 16 points at the net, Roddick finished with firm, stable volleys. He served and volleyed five times on second serve -- and won four of the points.
"Basically I was sitting here thinking, 'All right, well, is my second serve my best approach shot against him?'" Roddick said. "I thought it was, so that made the decision kind of a little bit easier in my mind. Doesn't always work, but I thought that was my best shot."
Movement. Volleying. Creativity. These are areas that have been criticized in the past, but working with coach Larry Stefanki, Roddick has addressed those concerns. One point featured a defensive lob and, later, an offensive lob that forced Nadal to try a low-percentage, between-the-legs shot. Does that sound like the one-dimensional Roddick who won the 2003 U.S. Open?
His serve, though, is still smoking. Roddick had 15 aces and has held in 60 of his past 62 service games in his past six matches.
To his credit, Roddick said he will honor his commitment to Saturday's Champions for Chile exhibition, which will raise money for the earthquake-stricken country. While Berdych is stretching out for a nice massage after the women's final or contemplating a South Beach supper, Roddick will be partnering with Jim Courier and banging balls with Chilean Fernando Gonzalez and Gustavo Kuerten.
Will Roddick have a tough time getting motivated for Berdych after that slugfest with Rafa?
"Well," Roddick said, smiling, "intensity hasn't been my problem. Execution has been my problem sometimes, but intensity, I'll be OK."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.