Triple word scores and swimsuits ease pain for Roddick

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The Independent Online

A highly intelligent sort as well as a top athlete, Andy Roddick would never dream of bucking that venerable maxim "some you win, some you lose". So while the withdrawal of Jimmy Connors, one of the greatest names in the game, as his coach was marked down regretfully in the loss column, it didn'ttake Roddick long to find a counterbalancing, eye-popping plus in the shape of Brooklyn Decker.

The 21-year-old Ms Decker, who achieved the rare double of appearing in the American magazine Sports Illustrated's vaunted swimsuit issue in both 2006 and 2007, became Roddick's fiancée in March, the same month that the split with Connors was announced. A year ago, Roddick was in London at the Artois Championships with Connors in his box, winning the title for the fourth time in five years. Now the scene, as even Jimmy would acknowledge, is a good deal prettier but less successful, with Roddick falling to Rafael Nadal in yesterday's semi-final.

It needs to be inscribed in the "win" column that Roddick's fate was cast the day he was flipping through the swimsuit issue and came across the beauty who is now his intended. He instructed his agent to obtain Brooklyn's phone number, as you do, and soon he had found the perfect Scrabble partner to help him through the dog days of his recent absence from the tour because of shoulder problems.

That injury, the first he has suffered to the shoulder which propels the world's most daunting serve in eight years as a pro, occurred in the semi-finals of the Rome Masters Series event on 10 May and forced him out of the French Open. So Roddick flew home to Austin, Texas, and insists with a straight face that he drove Brooklyn crazy by playing too many Scrabble games. "I'm not really good at sitting around doing nothing," he explained.

The current Artois event at Queen's Club marked his comeback, a return which was eased by the fact that injuries to two of his opponents, Mardy Fish and Andy Murray, ensured that the demands on his shoulder were reasonable.

A mixture of action and treatment seems to be working in the run-up to Wimbledon where, as a two-time runner-up to Roger Federer [2004 and 2005], Roddick rates himself among the top five prospects for the title. "I think we have it under control now," he said. "I started hitting again a couple of weeks ago, one day on, two days off, but I hadn't played a set until I got here. Now it's only going to get better over the next week or so, so I'm ahead of where I thought I was going to be at this stage.

"If you don't serve for three or four weeks, it takes a while to get the pop back, to get those extra three, four, five miles an hour back."

The break with Connors occurred in early March when the coach declined to travel with Roddick to the Dubai event, which he won. Another intriguing statistic is that, with Connors as his coach, Roddick failed in 2007 – for the first time in five years – to reach a Grand Slam final. Now Rod-dick travels with his brother John, the arrangement which was in place pre-Connors and has been resumed.

"I don't think it's rocket science to figure out what I need to do to win matches," he said. "Jimmy was great at helping me to get my confidence back when I wasn't playing well a couple of years ago. It took someone of his pedigree to help me get back. Now I feel I'm at the point where I know what I have to do to go out and win. There were no hard feelings, there was no ill will. I'm sure we'll get together if Jimmy comes over to do commentary at Wimbledon."

Next looms the prospect of being one of those lined up in an attempt to separate Federer from his Wimbledon crown. While conceding: "I don't know if Roger has been as dominant as the last couple of years," Roddick dismisses any possibility of a hangover from the French Open thrashing by Rafael Nadal. "Clay and grass are totally different surfaces. If anything, that Paris defeat is going to piss him off to the point where he wants to prove everybody wrong. He's still the Wimbledon favourite, no matter how you look at it."