Roddick sets serve record with 153mph thunderbolt

At 3.40pm yesterday at the Stella Artois Championships here, everybody blinked. Then everybody cheered. A small, fluffy, yellow ball projected from the racket strings of Andy Roddick, the US Open champion, was timed at 153mph - the fastest serve ever recorded.

At 3.40pm yesterday at the Stella Artois Championships here, everybody blinked. Then everybody cheered. A small, fluffy, yellow ball projected from the racket strings of Andy Roddick, the US Open champion, was timed at 153mph - the fastest serve ever recorded.

Serving into a light wind, Roddick hit an ace into the right-hand corner of the box before his quarter-final opponent, Paradon Srichaphan, of Thailand, could make a move.

Roddick nonchalantly half-turned, already thinking about lining up his next serve at 1-0, 30-0, in the second set en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win. "I can't feel the difference between 146mph and 153mph," he said later. "I didn't realise how fast it was until the crowd cheered. I can feel when I hit it big, but if you're asking do I say to myself, 'Oh, that's it', I have no idea."

The 21-year-old from Florida has experienced similar moments twice before this year. In February, playing against Austria in the first round of the Davis Cup in Uncasville, Connecticut, Roddick served at 150 mph - 1mph faster than Greg Rusedski's record serve in Indian Wells, California, in 1998, which Roddick had equalled against Andre Agassi at Queen's last year.

Then, during the Easter weekend, a Roddick serve was timed at 152mph against Jonas Bjorkman in the Davis Cup quarter-final against Sweden, in Delray Beach, Florida.

As usual in the record serves department, Roddick's latest boomer required ratification. The data was sent to the South Africa headquarters of EDH timing systems. Roddick's serves in the Davis Cup were timed by the Florida-based IDS systems.

"Every time I hit it," Roddick said, mildly irritated, "it's a question. Maybe a whole bunch of [the machines] are wrong." Sebastien Grosjean, who also advanced to today's semi-finals after defeating Radek Stepanek, of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-3, mentioned to a French colleague earlier in the tournament that he was surprised at the speed some of his own serves had registered. "It's tough to say," Roddick commented.

"Obviously the conditions are lighter on grass, and you see a lot of people putting up big numbers on grass." Not that Roddick spends much time mulling over record serves. "I'm not going to say much about it," he said. "It still counts as one point."

Roddick, the defending champion, knows that he will have to serve and return with consistency when he plays the agile baseliner Lleyton Hewitt, of Australia - the 2002 Wimbledon champion and three times a winner at the Stella - for a place in tomorrow's final.

Hewitt, who defeated Igor Andreev, of Russia, in the quarter-finals, 6-3, 7-5, won his three previous matches against Hewitt in 2001, the American's rookie year. In their last meeting, in the quarter-finals of the US Open, Roddick took Hewitt to five sets. "There's no better preparation for Wimbledon than to play someone like Lleyton," Roddick said. Hewitt made the point that Roddick's game has moved on since they last played against each other. "He will have gained a lot of confidence from what he did at the US Open," Hewitt said. "That what I was able to do the year [2002] I won here." Hewitt's form has become more impressive round by round, and he had to be sharp yesterday to defeat Andreev, the 20-year-old from Moscow who eliminated Andre Agassi in the second round.

Having lost his serve twice in the opening set, Andreev gained the initiative in the second set, winning the opening two games and holding two break points for 4-1. He also held two set points as Hewitt served at 5-3.

"I didn't believe I was out of the second set at all," said Hewitt, who broke back for 5-5 and converted his second match point with a backhand return. "It's good that I'm getting a few matches under my belt," Hewitt said. "It's difficult to come here and play well after playing on clay through to the quarter-finals at the French Open." Tim Henman needs no reminding of that.

Apart from serving with customary vigour, Roddick has been sharpening his volleying. "Brad [Gilbert, his coach] and I spent a lot of time after Paris making sure that when I hit a volley I'm really committed to it and not tentative. As Brad says, 'Even if you miss it, make it a physical volley'."

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