Roddick, Serena put up roadblocks to Federer, JHH
By Matthew Cronin
Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
Roddick ups his standing to No 2.
U.S. yellow ball authorities let out huge sighs of relief after Andy Roddick and Serena Williams put up blinding stop signs in front of top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne and Roger Federer's drag races to dominance by winning the NASDAQ-100 Open titles.
Yes, Federer was ill and lost early and Henin-Hardenne skipped the event, but with Williams' wipe-out of Elena Dementieva in the final and Roddick's impressive hat-trick en route to the title – with wins over Carlos Moya, Vince Spadea and Guillermo Coria – hope now springs temporary that the US' two most fearsome players will have a lot to say about who ends the year as No. 1.
Let's begin with Roddick, who hung in tough after dropping the first-set tiebreak to Coria and then stood strong until the Argentine's back spasms took him off in the court at the beginning of the fourth set in a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-1 victory.
Coria, who depends on his rapid foot speed to turn points around, was clearly hampered by his back injury and could no longer penetrate the court. But even so, Roddick may have punched past him anyway and has to be very pleased that he pulled off a miracle against the choking Moya (his rolling forehand crosscourt pass down a break point at 5-5 in the third set will never be forgotten), flew past Florida's new sentimental favorite in Vince Spadea and then overcame Coria, South America's most mentally tough and talented young player.
By winning his second '04 title, Roddick now leads the ATP Tour in victories with a record of 26-5. He's climbed past the chicken pox-laden Juan Carlos Ferrero to No. 2 in the rankings and clearly has his confidence back.
The 21-year-old rarely wins matches easily and still has tremendous work to do on his three gapping holes: his backhand, his return and his volley. But it's also apparent that he's gradually improving in all those areas and that he competes as well as anyone on tour.
NEXT OPPONENT: SWEDEN
Roddick knew after taking tough losses in Memphis, Scottsdale and Indian Wells that he had to establish himself a beachhead in South Florida and he came through like a Master and Commander.
Now Roddick can head up the road to Delray Beach for Davis Cup with tremendous confidence and take aim at the Swedes, who are without their most talented young player in Joachim Johansson and are lead by a fine veteran, Jonas Bjorkman, who Roddick just bested in Key Biscayne.
"It's a huge goal of mine to help our team win Davis Cup," Roddick said. "I've been a fan ever since I went to a tie when I was younger. It's definitely a priority in my tennis life, that's for sure. As far as emotionally, I'm just going to treat it like another event. I'm glad I got a lot of matches in this week. I feel like I'm match ready going into next weekend."
With his gutsy semifinal over Fernando Gonzalez, Coria has every right to be proud of his fortnight in Florida. However, he might not be fit for his nation's upcoming tie in Minsk against Belarus and with David Nalbandian already sidelined, the Argentine team better make a quick call to Guillermo Cañas and hope he develops a fast court game overnight.
Serena Without Rust
It's hard to tell what the fallout of Serena's romp to the NASDAQ-100 title will be. She certainly didn't ease to wins prior to the final, as the likes of Maria Sharapova and Eleni Daniilidou hung in rallies with her. But she crushed the underachieving Dementieva 6-1, 6-1 and within a period of 10 days, has already established herself as Henin-Hardenne's prime contender.
Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
Serena will have many tough matches ahead as top players come back.
"I think the rust has definitely worn off," Williams said. "Honestly, I didn't expect to win my first tournament back. I'm back. As long as I'm healthy, then I'm definitely still a top competitor."
With the field seriously weakened, we did think she was, which was purely based on Serena's self-belief and her history of pulling out matches even when she's not completely on her game. Serena has always been an underrated strategist, is a terrific defensive player and is quite sound technically, especially with her serve.
"She's a great player," Dementieva said, "It's just amazing how well she played after this break."
Not really. Dementieva is an incredible athlete and, while she's not a flat-out burner like Serena is, she's naturally strong, she has better footwork and arguably feels the ball just as well. One major difference in the their approaches is hunger and how willing Serena is to scale walls without a rope, as opposed to her opponent's sometimes approach, which is looking for someone else to pull her over the top.
"I don't think being very athletic has anything to do with it," Serena said, "I think it all boils down to if someone has desire, then, to me, that's more than being athletic, have a lot of athleticism. If you have 90 percent desire and 10 percent talent, I think you're going to do better than the person that has 90 percent talent or athleticism and 10 percent desire. I think it's all about the heart and what you can produce. I think that's why tennis is so different, because if you have enough desire and heart to do well, then you can be a champ."
If Kim Clijsters, Jennifer Capriati, Amelie Mauresmo, Anastasia Myskina etc., recover 100 percent, the next three months should be very interesting for Serena. For the umpteenth time in the past two years, she's already lapped Venus. She's already tiring of the lack of competition questions, just like Henin-Hardenne has.
"I don't care who I play. It really doesn't matter to me, because I'm going to play them sooner or later," Serena said. "Honestly, it just doesn't matter to me."
Now fans just have to say a few prayers that all the players get healthy so the universe can see just who has done enough with her game to elevate herself past the pretenders. Honestly, that's what really matters.