Roddick powers in as Wimbledon contender

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The Independent Online

The citizens of Omaha, Nebraska, who number the actors Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift among their celebrity sons, are preparing to add the name Andy Roddick, Wimbledon champion, to the list.

Like Brando and Clift, Roddick belongs to the "method" school. Roddick's method is to hit serves at up to 149mph. If they are returned, he flays his opponents with his forehand. He does not have a Lee Strasberg to coach him, but Brad "Winning Ugly" Gilbert has done enough in their first week together to suggest he can convince Roddick that a tennis Oscar awaits collection.

Gilbert, in common with every spectator at the Stella Artois Championships, was in awe of the 20-year-old Roddick's power and confidence as he dismantled Andre Agassi - Gilbert's pupil for eight years - in straight sets in the semi-finals on Saturday before dispatching Sebastien Grosjean, the French sixth seed, 6-3, 6-3, in yesterday's final.

Could the Roddick we saw last week possibly be the same man who was given a lesson in serve-and-volleying by Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, in the third round at Wimbledon last year? "That was then, this is now," Gilbert said beneath a Metallica beany hat. "The guy's got unlimited potential. The way he serves and hits his forehand, there's no reason why he can't win at Wimbledon. He's going in as favourite."

William Hill, who rated Roddick a 25-1 shot for Wimbledon a week ago, cut his odds to 11-2 yesterday. Coral have made Roddick 6-1 joint third favourite with the Swiss Roger Federer.

The young American, while delighted with his form, tried to be as calm as Gilbert was excited. "I can't jump out of my shoes," he said, "because I have a week to go before Wimbledon. I thought I might do well at the French Open after winning on clay in St Poelten [Austria], but I'm trying to forget [my first round loss] in Paris. If I can take this week's form into Wimbledon, I'll be very pleased. I'm sure Brad's got some things up his sleeve for me."

Gilbert was hired after Roddick ended his association with the French coach Tarik Benhabiles after the defeat at Roland Garros. "It's not just a snap of the fingers and everything's better," Roddick emphasised. "Tarik deserves a lot of credit."

Benhabiles's work on Roddick's backhand - one of the weaknesses against Rusedski at Wimbledon - has improved the shot, and Gilbert's immediate input, apart from the psychology, has given Roddick more scope to break serve. "I'm staying back a little bit on my return to give myself time to hit it," he said. "Brad says If you're going miss it, at least miss it going for it."

Roddick, who hit one serve into the net at 154mph yesterday, hit the target with another at 147mph and frequently clocked between 140mph and 144mph. On Saturday, a 149mph serve against Agassi equalled Rusedski's world record. But, as Roddick says, whatever the speed, you only get one point.

Grosjean, who defeated Britain's Tim Henman in straight sets in the semi-finals, is no slouch in the serving department either, hitting several at 130mph against Roddick. It was a double-fault, however, that turned the opening set, Grosjean missing his serves to go 4-2 down.

The Frenchman's solitary break-point came with Roddick serving for the first set at 5-3. The American saved it with forehand drive after Grosjean parried an 142 mph serve.

A set to the good after only half an hour, Roddick virtually tied up the match nine minutes later when he broke for 2-1. Grosjean continued to play some fine tennis whenever he was able to lure his opponent into rallies, but Roddick broke him in the concluding game.

"It's weird," Roddick said. "Sometimes titles come when you least expect it. I came here not knowing what was going on and with new things happening, and came through the most difficult draw I've had to win a tournament. Everything just went my way today."

Roddick is already one up on Brando, who, as the washed up prize fighter in On the Waterfront, said to his brother, played by Rod Steiger: "I had class, Charlie, I coulda been a contender."