Tactical Roddick still evolving
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- At age 27, going on 28, is it possible that Andy Roddick is better than ever?
According to his coach of 17 months, the mega-caffeinated Larry Stefanki, the answer is yes.
"Andy has done all the hard work," Stefanki said Sunday after Roddick won the Sony Ericsson Open title. "He works harder than anyone on this tour.
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"It's painful when you get older -- and have a lot of money in the bank."
Roddick dispatched Tomas Berdych 7-5, 6-4 in another clinical performance that displayed the blooming variety in his still-evolving game.
There were the usual aces of course (13), and he hit 136 mph on the radar gun. But there were also subtle, sharp-angled serves to the outside and a few serve-and-volleys.
In beating Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, Roddick charged the net and flattened out his forehand. Against Berdych, he made a living off his slice-backhand. It was sharper and more penetrating than Stefanki has ever seen it.
Roddick understands that people have a tough time seeing past those big service bombs.
"I'm fine with it," he said. "A lot of people, they say the serve is fine -- the rest of it's pretty average. That's all right. But there are a lot of guys with big serves who are pretty average, so there's got to be some difference."
In the span of three weeks, Roddick reached back-to-back finals at Indian Wells and Miami, and he won his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title since the summer of 2006. Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Nadal didn't reach one final during that time, and only Rafa came close.
"Obviously, it's a big title for me," Roddick said. "I felt a little bit of pressure to win this one, because I had a pretty good opportunity in Indian Wells and didn't come through.
"I think just the last month has been real good for me. I've played well on 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."
And although this probably won't translate into great success during the upcoming clay-court season -- Stefanki, of course, is optimistic -- Roddick has positioned himself again to be a serious contender at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Roddick, who held in 61 of 63 service games, did not allow Berdych a single break point.
"I was looking to get one chance," Berdych said. "He was just too strong today."
There is an undeniable maturity descending on Roddick, who married model Brooklyn Decker nearly a year ago.
Stefanki said that when he and Roddick joined forces, his pupil was "winging it, basically. He had to change mentalities. He had to be the one to make the changes."
Roddick, a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, lost "10-15 pounds," according to Stefanki, and turned into a "Whole Foods, organic, Berkeley boy."
"I get a lot of credit -- I'm not that mature," an animated Roddick said, drawing a good laugh from the assembled media. "I get a lot credit for it right now, for like the last six months. I went from the most immature person on the planet to maturity.
"A lot of people change from the time they're 19 to when they're 27. I think I just had an audience. You know, Larry's a great influence. I love his tennis IQ. I like his energy. I don't know if I've ever seen him stressed out -- unless we're late for a tee time."
Nine years ago, then-NASDAQ-100 Open chairman Butch Buchholz gave a wild card to an 18-year-old high school kid from nearby Boca Raton, Fla. Roddick returned the favor and posted back-to-back wins over Marcelo Rios and Pete Sampras -- both former No. 1-ranked players. Roddick fell to Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals, but two years later he won the U.S. Open.
Is Stefanki confident Roddick will win another Grand Slam singles title?
"Yes," Stefanki said without hesitation.
"That's what the gig is all about. He's not afraid to put the marbles in the basket. I think he's just tipped the iceberg, I really do.
"This is just the infancy. He could be similar to [Andre] Agassi, with his best years at 28, 29."
Said Roddick, "We're in a good spot."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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