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Roddick serves up a warning

February 10, 2004 16:34 IST

While Greg Rusedski was trying to escape the noose around his neck in Toronto on Monday, Andy Roddick was 2,000 miles away discovering what Dionne Warwick once proclaimed -- that you can really breathe in San Jose.

The weekend had seen the connection between Rusedski and Roddick broken. Until then, they had held jointly the world record for fastest serve at 149 mph. Roddick claimed the honour for himself during his Davis Cup efforts for the United States, winding up a 150 mph (241.4 kph) howitzer.

So as Rusedski began the week at an ATP hearing in Canada attempting to prove his innocence in the light of a failed drugs test, Roddick was shooting the breeze in California ahead of the San Jose Open. The difference between them was heavy with symbolism.

The U.S.'s 5-0 whitewash of Austria in the Davis Cup first round was another tour de force from Roddick, the 21-year-old who seems to keep coming of age time and again.

He may have lost the world number one ranking to Roger Federer after the Australian Open, but Roddick more than ever is the most important player in the sport's drive to promote itself.

Why? Because he allies his talent to a personality.

On match point against Jurgen Melzer on Sunday, he delivered a first serve measured at 150 mph which was called out. But a glimpse at the speedometer and raised eyebrows at the crowd gave away his cheeky intention: a moment later he had wrapped up the match with a 150mph second serve ace.

Although the cynics will rightly claim his act of audacity came from a position of strength, it was still a moment to break the monotony. Fans roared, commentators purred and even Melzer guffawed.

Roddick will continue his personal battle with the speed gun. He also has a good chance of distinguishing himself further.


A new measuring system, from a Netherlands-based company, is in operation for Davis Cup matches this year and it appears to provide a more accurate -- and sensitive -- reading.

Instead of two 'takes' under the old speed-measuring system, the advanced format uses a 'three-dimensional' tracking system, the like of which has been used by the military to track bombs. It can measure the speed of the ball one metre from point of impact with the racket.

The fact that Roddick broke the service record indoors over the weekend eliminated variable factors such as wind and the glare of the sun which can affect toss and timing.

But that underestimates the ability of the man and the power of his machine.

"There are no limits for Andy," Tom Russ, director of competition and promotion for Babolat, the company which makes Roddick's racket, told Reuters.

"I would not be at all surprised to see him up at 155mph in a couple of years and then move on to the 160mph mark."

While a light racket is now commonplace on park courts, Roddick is at the forefront of a development among professionals who string their weapons with a devastating blend of natural gut and polyester. The gut provides the power and the polyester the accuracy.

The racket companies are continually testing for improvements in their equipment. Roddick's suppliers are working on building a stiffer body, one that will not 'give' so much on impact. The differences are not noticeable to the amateur.

While the technology freaks innovate, Roddick will seek perfection from himself. Bodybuilding will add to his power while practices such as yoga, martial arts and meditation, all used by top players, will increase flexibility.

Sometimes overlooked, flexibility is important because it will help keep the mechanics of his serve intact. Roddick's service action, a relatively short toss and stunning arm speed through the ball, contributes greatly to its effectiveness.

All this talk of power and speed should not be misinterpreted. The men's game, thanks to Roddick's personality and his burgeoning rivalry with Federer et al, has overcome fears of recent times that it was killing itself.

Roddick's 150mph breakthrough should no more lead it down the path towards self-destruction. There are no plans for any more measures to reduce the prevalence of power and there is no need for them. Guess what the ATP wanted to talk about on Monday? It was not Rusedski's drugs case.

Stephen Wood
Source: source
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