Gilbert gives Roddick the mental tools to win
Andy Roddick, once an explosive on-court presence, has radiated an air of calm determination at Wimbledon as he closes in on his first grand slam title.india Updated: Jul 01, 2003 20:56 IST
Once an explosive on-court presence, American Andy Roddick has radiated an air of calm determination at Wimbledon as he closes in on his first grand slam title.
The man responsible is Brad Gilbert, the coach who helped to turn Andre Agassi from tearaway wild child into one of the greatest players the tennis world has seen.
The startling transformation in Roddick's results since he jettisoned long-time French coach Tarik Benhabiles a month ago suggests he too could be about to realise his own vast potential.
Roddick has won nine successive grass court games since his first-round exit at the French Open, the loss that promoted him to switch coaches.
Victory at the Stella Artois Championships has been followed by a largely untroubled run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals -- his best All England Club performance to date.
Roddick has no doubt about the benefits of Gilbert's methods.
"Definitely the results are kind of speaking for themselves right now," said the 20-year-old fifth seed, who faces experienced Swede Jonas Bjorkman in the last eight of the men's singles on Wednesday.
"You just don't become physically better overnight. A lot of it is just between the ears, keeping calm.
"I'm more focused, more relaxed. On the court I'm not getting as into it. But maybe that keeps me into it over the long haul, instead of having peaks and valleys."
Roddick's new-found self-control was never more starkly illustrated than when he stayed cool as Britain's Greg Rusedski self-detonated in their second-round clash. The American ruthlessly exploited his opponent's disarray to seal victory.
His relationship with Gilbert is helped by a personal chemistry that ensures Roddick enjoys the learning process.
"We have a pretty relaxed atmosphere. We have a lot of fun. It's something new. It's something exciting," said Roddick.
"Brad and I talk about a lot of other sports ... but when it comes down to tennis, he's very serious and he's very precise."
Roddick said Gilbert had leapt at the chance to coach him.
"When I talked to him, he was really excited, really passionate about it. He said he could be there in a day from the States. So that was pretty impressive for me.
"He's just very positive all the time. I can sense his excitement about things. So it rubs off."
A few changes to Roddick's physical appearance have ensued, noticeably the loss of his once-trademark visor.
"He said I looked too much like (U.S. golfer) Freddie Couples with my visor. I couldn't take that. I had to ditch it," Roddick said.
More importantly, his game has also changed. Roddick attacks more when receiving and his backhand is unrecognisable from previous years.
"He says, 'maybe take more chances on return games, you're going to hold serve 90-something percent of the time, it's ridiculous that you're playing bump-and-run tennis on somebody else's serve.' That's one of the first things he told me."
Agassi knows from personal experience that Roddick has made an excellent choice.
"I think it's always a step in the right direction when somebody feels like their situation is not what they want it to be, then they proactively do something to change that," the Las Vegan said.
"Andy has shown that he's committed to learning and to pushing himself forward. I think he made a great decision in Brad. And I think Brad will really help his game come around in many ways.
"Brad came in and taught me how to play the game, taught me how to start thinking for myself out there.
"He's elevated my life in many ways, outside of the tennis court even. He's introduced me to a lot of things that I still hold on to."
Rusedski was also very impressed by the new Roddick.
"I think Brad's probably given him a little different look on the ball, helped his backhand," the Briton said.
"He's got him to take a few steps back on the return so he has a little bit more time and got him a little bit more aggressive playing out there."
However, Roddick's adoption of the Gilbert method has not yet extended to him reading Winning Ugly, his coach's book on the art of mentally mastering your opponent.
But as the young pretender says: "I don't need to read it. I have the author."
First Published: Jul 01, 2003 20:30 IST