It was the happiest of anniversaries for Andy Roddick, who commenced working with his coach, Brad Gilbert, at the Stella Artois Championships here a year ago and celebrated yesterday with a successful defence of the title.
Moreover, Roddick avoided being reported for speeding. His fastest delivery against Sebastien Grosjean, of France, in the final was registered at one mile per hour below the record 153 mph he hit three times over the weekend.
"I took something off it today," Roddick joked, none the less pleased that, in completing his competitive preparation for Wimbledon, he was forced by his skilful opponent to rely on more than the booming first serve. This time Roddick's second serve was on rescue duty, firing accurately at above 125 mph. His volley, when he decides to use it, is also a crisp shot rather than an after thought, and his play from the backcourt remains solid.
As was the case in the final here 12 months ago, Grosjean had to watch Roddick lift the trophy. The difference this time was that although the American again won in straight sets, 7-6, 6-4, after 83 minutes, he was fortunate not to be taken the distance.
Grosjean, whose own serve has also gained pace (he was rarely below 125 mph and hit several above 130 mph), held two set points with his opponent serving at 5-6 in the opening set. Although Roddick managed to serve himself out of trouble, he admitted he was lucky that Grosjean failed to convert.
"On one set point he had a pretty good look at my forehand," Roddick recounted. "I hit a serve, he was all over it. He knew what I was going to do. But then he kind of missed the bunny a little bit, and I was kind of lucky after that. I took advantage of that mistake." Roddick went on to win the tie-break, 7-4. Grosjean hit a forehand long at 4-4 and Roddick served out the last two points with a smash and an ace.
Grosjean responded by breaking to love in the opening game of the second set, hitting a splendid backhand down the line for 0-40 and then hitting the baseline with a forehand pass. It was then that Roddick resolutely demonstrated his ability to rally and the power of his return game, by breaking back immediately. Then, serving at 1-1, 30-15, he produced his fastest serve of the day, 152 mph, as a treat for those who spent half the match speed-gun spotting.
Grosjean fought on, hitting deep, angled groundstrokes, to which Roddick endeavoured to respond in kind, ensuring that the contest was far superior to last year's match. The duel ended, however, when the Frenchman, serving at 4-5, hit two backhands long, the second on match point after returned a second serve.
Both players appear to be in even sharper form than they were a year ago, when the confidence they gained at Queen's saw them through to the semi-finals at Wimbledon, where Grosjean was bombarded by an inspired Mark Philippoussis and Roddick ran into Roger Federer, who gave a master class in the tennis that would win him the sport's most prestigious championships.
Asked if he imagined when linked up last year with Gilbert, Andre Agassi's former coach, that he would go on to win the US Open title, Roddick said: "Going in it was tough, because when you have two strong personalities, as I knew we both were, there was potential for something really great, or potential for disaster. Luckily it was the first one, and that's the way it's worked out. I was a little nervous, actually, but it's been great."
The 21-year-old Roddick is currently sporting a beard, not that it was planned. "I forgot my razor when I flew over," he said, "and then when you start something you can't change something in the middle of it." Stroking his chin, he added: "This is pathetic. I shaved before the French Open started - this is all I got. I'm glad I actually got it called a beard and not little blotches of hair on my face."
Does he intend to keep it for Wimbledon? "I don't know," he said. "It's a game-time decision." Reminded that Borg did not shave while playing Wimbledon, Roddick smiled and said: "Well, he did a lot of things we all wish we could do."