Battle of the big-hitters settled by Roddick's extra poise

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The Independent Online

An American who is one of the most famous names in tennis and a big-serving Croat provided the biggest entertainment for the Centre Court crowd here yesterday. Unfortunately the two men in question were not Andy Roddick and Ivo Karlovic, the finalists at the Stella Artois Championships, but John McEnroe and Goran Ivanisevic, who played an exhibition match after what had been billed as the main event.

A final between two men with dynamite in their rackets featured no breaks of serve, no break points after the second game and precious little drama. It ended with Roddick, the world No4, claiming his third successive Stella Artois title, winning 7-6, 7-6 thanks to the high quality of his play in two tie-breaks.

On the first match point (Roddick needed only two) a man in the crowd shouted, to widespread amusement and, one suspects, agreement: "Come on, Andy! We want to see McEnroe!" It was a harsh verdict on two players who played the most effective tennis here over the last week, but you could understand the sentiment. Grass court tennis is often dominated by big servers, but Roddick, who holds the record for the fastest serve at 155mph, and Karlovic, who uses his 6ft 10in to hit the ball with formidable power and from a height which opponents are not used to, took it to the limit.

The statistics speak for themselves. Karlovic lost the first three points in his first service game - he won the next five to hold serve - and thereafter there were only two deuce points in the match, neither player forcing even a break point.

Fewer than a third of the points featured rallies of more than three shots. In one period of play eight points went by without a return of serve. One of Karlovic's service games featured three successive aces followed by a winning second serve which Roddick only just managed to get his racket to. Karlovic's 16 aces took his total for the week to 96 in six matches.

Roddick played some good tennis when he was able to get a rally going, hitting several fine passing shots and proving his athleticism by successfully chasing down drop shots. Despite the quality and pace of his own serve, Roddick did not play serve-and-volley, but the quality of his baseline play was such that he was rarely in trouble.

This was the first time Roddick has played Karlovic and he admitted afterwards that he had never experienced a serve like his. "There were a couple times I guessed the right way and was fully extended, diving to the right side, and still missed it by about two feet," he said. "It's not so much the pace or the spin. He hit a couple of aces out wide on the ad side that were a quarter of the way up the service box. When you make contact with them they're above your head."

Karlovic, the world No 77, had suffered eight successive first-round defeats and not gone beyond the last 16 of an event this year before he put his size 14s on English grass a fortnight ago. His performance here matched his achievement a week earlier at Surbiton, where he lost in the final to Daniele Bracciali.

The 26-year-old Croat had claimed some decent scalps en route to the final here, beating Hewitt to recall his victory at Wimbledon two years ago when he knocked out the defending champion in the first round, and Thomas Johansson, who had accounted for both Andrew Murray and Tim Henman. Karlovic's relentless serve-and-volley game can trouble even the best on this surface.

Roddick emulated the achievements of McEnroe and Hewitt by winning this tournament for the third year in a row. More importantly, he has proved he is in excellent shape for Wimbledon, where he has lost to Roger Federer in the semi-finals and final in the last two years. With just one Grand Slam title (the 2003 US Open) to his name, the 22-year-old feels it is time to add to his tally.

"I think my grass court game has improved a lot," he said. "When I won the first time here I hadn't had any really great results on grass and hadn't played well on it before. Three years later, it's probably up there with my favourite surfaces."

He added: "It can only help that I've won here after playing a couple of serve-and volleyers, a couple of guys who are a little craftier and a couple who are a bit in between."