Roddick discovers a new dimension to set up gripping showdown with Safin

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The Independent Online

Andy Roddick never met Gloria Connors, the mother of his coach Jimmy, but until her death last week the world No 7 had been benefiting from her experienced eye.

"When Jimmy and I started working together I know she enjoyed watching the matches and would pass on her opinions to him," Roddick said. "She made Jimmy into what he was, so the knowledge that he has shared with me is pretty much just an extension of her. Jimmy discussed my game a lot with her."

Connors stayed at home in the United States following the death of his mother, who was also his coach, but Roddick has fared well in the absence of the man who did so much to rekindle his flame last year. He beat Roger Federer in the final of the Kooyong Classic invitation event last week and after his 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 victory here yesterday over France's Marc Gicquel is through to the last 32 of the Australian Open. His meeting with Marat Safin, the 2005 champion, promises to be the match of the round.

For most of his career Roddick has been a one-dimensional player, relying on his huge serve and bludgeoning forehand. Last week he described himself as "a hitter" in comparison to "a real player" like Andy Murray, but Connors has given him more confidence in his backhand and volleys and he is not afraid to rally.

Nevertheless, it was serving power that saw off Gicquel. The American saved three break points in the first set and his serve was never threatened thereafter. The ace which secured the second set tie-break was celebrated with an emphatic "Yes!" and there were 17 more in a convincing victory.

Roddick, who talks to Connors on the phone every day, said his coach had helped to restore his natural aggression. "When I was struggling with my confidence last year I was a little bit more subdued, almost mopey, as opposed to fired up," Roddick said. "He said it almost looked like I was playing against my nature."

Did Roddick recall seeing Connors at his peak? "Obviously I've seen tons of videos, but I don't know that I saw him when he was at his best. I was at the '91 US Open, when he made his run to the semis. I was nine years old and I probably watched three of his matches live there."

In 1989 Connors was 37 when he lost to Alexander Volkov, then 22, at Wembley Arena in his only match against the Russian. Volkov is now coach to Safin, who sees similarities between the two men, who will be in opposite corners again tomorrow. Both, for example, are encouraging their charges to get into the net more.

"They were both lefties and both talented players," Safin said. "Of course Jimmy achieved much more, but I think they have a pretty similar view of tennis. The things that Connors is doing with Andy are pretty similar to what Alex wants to do with me."

Safin won his second five-setter in succession, beating Israeli's Dudi Sela, the world No 202, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-0. Safin trailed 6-5 in the fourth set and was serving at 30-30, just two points from defeat, when rain started to fall. Knowing he was in trouble, the Russian complained about the slippery court in the hope of a break.

If the weather was a welcome change from the previous day's pressure-cooker conditions - at 20C the afternoon temperature was half what it had been 24 hours earlier - it was a life-saver for Safin, who admitted afterwards that he would have lost without the subsequent stoppage. The No 26 seed hit an ace on the resumption, took the tie-break 7-4 and did not lose another game.

Federer and Novak Djokovic, two of the most impressive players so far, stayed on course for a fourth-round showdown, but Marcos Baghdatis, the finalist here 12 months ago, lost to Gaël Monfils in four sets, despite raucous support from the local Greek community. Monfils has slipped to No 59 in the rankings after an injury-troubled autumn, but there are few more flamboyant and exciting players than the 20-year-old Frenchman, who now meets his fellow countryman, Richard Gasquet.

Amélie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded No 2 and 3, moved smoothly into the third round, where Nadia Petrova, the No 5 seed, will play Serena Williams, who beat Luxembourg's Anne Kremer in straight sets.

There has been widespread approval for the video replay system in use for the first time here, enabling players to challenge line calls, but there was a bizarre moment in Mauresmo's victory over Olga Poutchkova. On set point to the Frenchwoman, Hawk-Eye ruled that a Poutchkova shot was in when the computer's own video sequence showed that it was out. The umpire ordered the point to be replayed.

"It was very strange," Mauresmo said. "The image was very clear that there was a space between the impact and the line. I'll have to check on that."