Will Andy Roddick's triumph in Miami lead to bigger and better victories?
What was most impressive about Andy Roddick's first Masters 1000 title since 2006 wasn't so much the tricks that he had in his bag - it was more the wisdom that he now possesses about when and how to use those tricks.
Down a set as the heavy underdog to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals in Key Biscayne, Roddick mustered a surprising comeback effort to derail the Spaniard in three hard fought sets. The eye-opening upset was concrete evidence of the maturation process that the 27-year-old Roddick has undergone over the course of the last year.
After having little to no success against the formidable Nadal from the baseline on Friday, Roddick wisely switched courses during the second set and consequently proved that he is more than just a serve-booming forehand-crushing American with an attitude. Not anymore, at least. Roddick is also a student of the tactical elements of the game, and more importantly, he's intelligent enough to recognize - and address - tennis dilemmas as they occur on the court in real time. On this day, Roddick was willing - and unafraid - to change his approach to Nadal on the fly, and because he did so he gave Nadal more to think about than just executing his punishing ground strokes against another deer-in-the-headlights opponent.
"My comfort zone of moving the ball around and maybe chipping it around doesn't work against Rafa," he told the media after his semifinal win. "I had to try to come up with something that at least took him out of his comfort zone a little bit, and it paid off."
In Sunday's final against Tomas Berdych, Roddick was once again strategically superior to his opponent, as he deployed a steady variation of pace and shot selection that kept Berdych from firing on all cylinders (no small task this week, just ask anybody else who played him). "Today I was smart with chipping and mixing paces, which kept him guessing," Roddick would later say.
After weathering some rough seas in 2009, where his best intentions seemed to always come up against a wall of heartbreak, things now look much more promising for the Nebraska native. The prestigious Miami title will no doubt provide him with proof that his commitment to fitness, willingness to adapt his game to the the specific liabilities of his foes, and his uncanny ability to "take a licking and keep on ticking" will eventually lead him to more opportunities to increase the trophy inventory at his Austin, Texas digs.
With his 2nd Miami title (the first came in 2004), Roddick now joins Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, and Ivan Lendl as one of five players to have won the event more than once.
Not too shabby for a player who once called himself "the best bad player of all time."
"You learn more about the game having been around it," Roddick told Bill Simmon's of Inside Tennis in a recent interview. "What I did at the beginning of my career, having huge holes in my game but being able to cover them up with strengths...I don't think that would work now. You don't see someone with just one shot."
In a month that saw such tennis icons as Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray shut out of the finals altogether, the old dog Roddick and his ever growing bag of tricks finally has something to show for all his dedication.