Roddick has the look of a believer

Gilbert, the guru who guided Agassi, only wanted to return if it was to coach a future champion. The future is here
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The Independent Online

There are benefits associated with being around in London for the second week of Wimbledon, and they have not escaped Brad Gilbert. "Great, that's another couple of nights at Nobu and The Ivy," he grinned, in the wake of Andy Roddick's advance into tomorrow's fourth round.

One of the factors in Roddick's assured progress is the way the 20-year-old has taken to the coach he appointed three weeks ago. "A good fit," is how Roddick sums up their partnership. It is, of course, more than that. While vowing not to attempt to change his man's stroke-making or style until this tournament is over, Gilbert has implanted vital information in his head.

Prime among this information is that someone who imploded and exploded in equal measure, and always with disastrous consequences, should remain calm at all times. Just how successfully Operation Calmness worked could be seen during the Greg Rusedski crash course in the coarser aspects of the English language last Wednesday. "The last thing Andy wanted to do was to say something, because he's still got to play the rest of the tournament, he wants the crowd on his side," Gilbert explained, Metallica hat and sunshades in place as ever as he negotiated the autograph seekers on the All England Club walkway.

"When Andy gets mad his game really suffers, so it was important not to get involved. If he stays calm and focused and keeps on doing what he is doing, good things will happen."

Good things are already happening. In 46 service games so far, Roddick has been broken just once (by Rusedski) and faced just five break points. Friday's victim, Tommy Robredo, conceded ruefully: "His second serve is like my first", and Roddick concurs that his serve is indeed something special. Recalling that he once went 50 games before being broken, he said: "Obviously my serve is my best shot, but you can always try to get better, you can always hit a higher percentage, you can always get something more on your second serve. If I was to say I was completely 100 per cent happy with any stroke, I would be lying."

So well are they working right now, the strokes can wait a while. Maturity is what Gilbert is attempting to implant. "Every other day in a Grand Slam you've got to find a way to win three sets. You don't beat 127 guys, you don't beat the field, just win three sets. You can't get caught up in the whole hoopla, and the worst thing is to put expectation and pressure on Andy," he said.

"That's going to come from himself. The one thing you can control is working hard, competing hard and having a good time. If you tell yourself, 'I gotta win here, I gotta win there', you set yourself up for crash and burn. It's all about trying to get better. What is OK is when you lose to the other guy, what's not OK is when you lose to yourself. That's part of the maturing process.

"Look at Andre [Agassi], 33 now. When he loses he doesn't lose by imploding, like when he was young. He has gotten older, he has gotten smarter and he has a sense of urgency. It's not about hype, it's about driving 65, staying focused and working the next point." Agassi, who had Gilbert alongside him for eight years, most of them highly successful, said: "Andy made a great decision in Brad, and I think Brad will really help his game come around in many ways. Brad taught me how to play the game, taught me to start thinking for myself out there. He just always had a lot of information to give. But you've still got to get out there and get it done. You have to give credit to Andy for how he's gone about his business."

Credit belongs to Gilbert for the way he has gone about his business since Roddick decided "Brad's name excited me" when he was looking for a new coach. "He's not afraid to put the hours in to get a good scouting report. His game plans are simple and definite. He sticks to what he believes in. He gives you things to look for, which maybe you wouldn't notice before."

The two have something else in common, as Gilbert noted. "Andy is a sports junkie, like me, so we really have a good time hanging out with each other. I'm amazed he really knows more baseball trivia than me. I don't know if he looks it up on the computer, but this man knows trivia."

Gilbert has sympathy with Rusedski over his explosion last week. "Every once in a while common sense should be applied more than the rules. They should have replayed the point. But he didn't explode until after Andy broke him in the next game. In that game he made three out of four first serves, yet Andy still broke him. And then the emotions took over. It was in the heat of the moment, it was understandable. I've gone nuts a few times myself."

Not any longer. "I just sit there in the box, never look surprised, I just look stoic. That's all I can do." What Gilbert did best, of course, was to wait for exactly the right offer to tempt him back into coaching. "If I was going to come back it had to be with somebody I felt could be number one, and especially an American." It was a smart decision. As John McEnroe has observed, Roddick has the bearing of a champion. Perhaps he will even be champion in a week's time.