America’s Slam-Bang-Thank-You-Ma’am kid is gone! In his place is a motivated, highly professional, media magnet and experienced strategist extraordinaire, 27 year-old global Nebraskan Andy Roddick. Roddick brought all his treasure chest of resources and maturity to center stage in Miami on Friday afternoon in time to record a stunning reversal and monumental upset of heavily favored 23-year year old Spanish superpower Rafael Nadal
The enthusiastic and balanced support from the packed stadium wildly enjoyed the exquisite level of tennis. Overworked turnstiles continue to reel in the wake of overflow crowd support at one of the year’s finest and most surprising events.
On both the women and men’s side of the draws, the results have been unexpected as the face of tennis seems to be changing away from the young competitors back to the game’s more seasoned performers. Today, veterans Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters, both former world number ones, will go after the women’s title at 12:30 p.m. EST.
The resurgence of these players has elevated the game and the level of the sport. Meanwhile, the men’s draw has witnessed transition at every turn. Surprisingly early defeats of second seed Novak Djokovic, three seed but still taking oxygen, Andy Murray and of course the second consecutive surprising upset of top seed Roger Federer have left many fans shaking their heads asking “just how good do you have to be to win?”
When players come to U.S. soil, they must bring their big serves and be ready for boisterous crowds. All the factors are in play at this year’s Sony Ericsson in Miami. Friday’s matinee between Nadal and Roddick was no different. Heavy traffic delays marked the excitement of the occasion. When the players took the, there was a feel of electricity, much like a heavyweight championship bout in the arena.
Nadal took the offensive early in set one. With Rafa controlling the very deliberate tempo of play, Roddick seemed overheated, frustrated and anxious. He was forced well behind the baseline and could generate no winners. Meanwhile, Nadal was pitching a masterful game, mixing pace and location with ease to keep Roddick at bay.
Nadal registered a rare Roddick break early in the first set and rode the wave to claim the 4-6 set. In his younger days, that is, in the days before new coach Larry Stefanki, Roddick lacked the depth and consistency to change his style of play. Stefanki added a few weapons and a new mindset to the Roddick repertoire. It has been “all good” ever since. Roddick now features a biting one-hand backhand, a more balanced and patient game and shows the ability to pick his spots. This is no longer a one-dimensional serve and volley guy, although that does not hurt the American’s chances.
When Nadal broke Roddick, it marked just the second loss of service in the American’s last 64 service games. Stunning! Even in his loss to Ljubicic at the Indian Wells finals two weeks ago, Roddick never lost serve, losing in two tiebreakers. What Stefanki has apparently convinced Andy, is that a winning serve is not all about having the fastest serve, but is about strategy, placement and follow through. Roddick has been a great student. And, the wins keep on coming.
His 25-4 won-lost record this year is astounding and should propel him even higher in the rankings. Midway through the second set, Roddick assessed his situation. “Anytime we were neutral in the point, he was pushing me around. I knew I had to be more aggressive. My heavy forehand does not work against him, so I had to hit flatter, which is high risk. I took really ridiculous cuts at a lot of forehands.
They found the court.” Perhaps it is Nadal’s heavy reliance on his left-handed spin that has frustrated Roddick’s forehand in the past few matches, but Nadal has had the American’s number. Not so on Friday. Up a set and with serve at 3-4, Nadal seemed in control. Roddick had a plan. He began to move into the court and laced three outright forehand winners. Following with a beautifully executed net charge, the American had his key break. Andy then followed with a love service game and the match was full ahead. In the second set Roddick was nearly flawless.
The winner stroked 12 winners against juts five unforced errors in the set. During the match he cracked 15 winners of 25 winning net charges. Roddick executed 37 overall winner compared to just 25 unforced errors in the match while Nadal went 29 – 25. Roddick recorded 15 aces and won 47 of 55 successful first serves. In the third set, Roddick blasted yet another forehand first service return to sea a break and go ahead 2-1. As one of the game’s foremost frontrunners, Roddick smelled victory.
His approach remained focused and defiant despite the Spaniard’s rare outburst of frustration. True to form, Roddick served out the 6-3 final set and will now face Czech upstart Tomaz Berdych in the finals on Sunday. The American boosted his Miami record to 30-9 and is in position to repeat his 2004 championship.
Berdych Boots Soderling
The surprise of this event must be Czech star Tomas Berdych, who seems destine to defy all odds at all stakes. The 13th seeded 24-tear old took fifth seeded Swedish star Robin Soderling to task in just 68 minutes on Friday evening leaving no doubt that his three set upset wins over Federer and Verdasco were the real deal.
This Czech means business. Serving with newfound confidence and attacking his groundstrokes, Tomas gave Soderling no quarter in the 6-2, 6-2 semifinal pairing. Berdych reached the semis here last year and appears comfortable on the court and in the spotlight. His enjoyment of the game is clearly evident as he smiles and laughs at his own deficiencies.
This young man is in the moment. The win boosted Berdych’s 2010 record to 17-9. He will face Roddick at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. The American holds a 5-2 edge in their previous meetings, but this is a different player.
Berdych fired 17 winners against just 15 errors at Soderling. The Swede could not get his high-risk game untracked, striking just 10 winners against 31 errors. Berdych’s new service game resulted in an 83 percent first serve win tally. Those are difficult numbers to overcome and may bring out more cries of “Go for It Andy!” on Sunday.
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