Thursday, September 18
Roddick enjoys breakthrough

Special to ESPN.com

Mal's Picks
MaliVai Washington
Washington
Former ATP Tour pro MaliVai Washington is providing ESPN.com with in-depth analysis during the U.S. Open. Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.

It's always amazing to witness a player winning his first major because it's the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to a dream that he doesn't really know for sure will ever come true. A player can only hope and believe with every ounce of his being. Once that dream is realized -- like it was on Sunday for Andy Roddick -- most players break down in tears of joy just as he did.

Looking back on his season, you can point to a handful of matches that have made his year. One of them was beating Greg Rusedski at Wimbledon. Then, this summer, winning back-to-back Tennis Masters Series events. Now, in the U.S. Open final he beat Juan Carlos Ferrero, a player he had never beaten before, in the biggest match of his life and in front of an American crowd. It had to be the most overwhelming and satisfying feeling he's had in his tennis career.

Ironically, one of the biggest of his moments of his year was one of the lowest moments this year: losing in the first round at the French Open. It became a big moment because it made him realize he had to make a coaching change. So what was the low point of his year ultimately became the most positive thing that could have happened to him.

It's a great credit to Roddick and his new coach, Brad Gilbert, who have in a very short time created one of the most successful player-coach relationships in tennis.

Now, with four different players winning the four majors this year, the fun continues. It's going to be an awesome race for the year-end No. 1. Right now, Ferrero and Roddick, who have had the best results in major tournaments this year, lead that race.

If Gilbert can keep Roddick both on track and fresh over the next few months, don't be surprised if Roddick finishes this year No. 1 -- because Roddick has the game that can succeed on indoor surfaces.

Funny enough, in January no one was talking about Roddick finishing this year at No. 1. We were just talking about his inability to produce at the majors. But we can't talk about that anymore. He's a Grand Slam champion.