Sony Ericcson Open – Men’s Final

Andy Roddick still has the scariest serve in tennis — one that caused fearless dunker Dwyane Wade to duck out of the way during an exhibition. Roddick still has his shirt-yanking tic. He still zings like a stand-up comedian. And, even at age 27, Roddick still wears a baseball cap backward.

Roddick still wins tennis championships, as he did Sunday at the Sony Ericsson Open, blending power and placement in an efficient 7-5, 6-4 dismissal of Tomas Berdych under a blazing sun.

But Roddick is a changed man, too. He’s married now, to fashion model Brooklyn Decker, whose calorie-counting discipline has helped him shed nearly 15 pounds. He’s faster on his feet, using an expanded repertoire of shots, thinking tactically rather than reactively.

Maybe the new Andy Roddick can do something the old Andy Roddick hasn’t done in seven years: win a Grand Slam.

Maybe his trampling run through the Sony Ericsson Open, which included the best match of the tournament — his comeback upset of Rafael Nadal — is an indicator of great things to come. Maybe his 26-4 record this season is evidence of a renaissance.

Could this be Roddick’s year?

His performance on a 77-degree Easter Sunday was promising. Roddick never allowed Berdych a single break point.

At 5-5 in the first set, Roddick broke Berdych when Berdych, blinded by the sun, double faulted. The 6-5 Czech could have used one of those big purple umbrellas. Roddick controlled the remainder of the match not just with the aces and 130 mph serves we have come to expect but with an assortment of backhand slices, drop shots and groundstroke retrievals from the corners. He did not attack the net as relentlessly as he did against Nadal, but he did have a cohesive game plan.

Spectators at Crandon Park got to see the evolving Roddick these past two weeks. He lost only one set and two service games. He swung the racket with freedom on crucial returns. His movement was less clunky. He got rid of the spare tire around his middle, and that has given him speedier wheels.

The new Roddick has been molded by his own rededication to his career but also by Larry Stefanki, a no-nonsense coach who believes in running and drills.

“Andy was a T.G.I. Friday’s and Chili’s boy, and with that type of diet — nachos, meat and potatoes — you work five hours a day and you’re repolluting your body,” Stefanki said. “Now Andy is a Whole Foods, organic kind of guy.”

Stefanki told No. 8 Roddick that if he wanted to beat the players who have surpassed him — Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray — he had to get faster.

“It’s painful when you get old and have a lot of money in the bank,” Stefanki said.

Roddick had to add touch to his slam-bang game and strategy to his habit of “winging it,” as Stefanki said. Despite his limitations — he will never be as silky as Federer or a spin doctor like Nadal — he had to become more of a multidimensional player.

“It’s not easy for a guy that could sit back and say, `I’m a little older, it is what it is,’ and just float through the tour,” Stefanki said.

Roddick was close to doing just that. He hasn’t finished No. 1 since 2003, when he won the U.S. Open at age 21. He has lost four Grand Slam finals to Federer. After going out in the second round of Wimbledon in 2008, he “wondered if the best of it was gone,” Roddick said.

“I honestly didn’t know. But I knew there was a way to find out and that was to kind of go back to the drawing board and give myself every opportunity to succeed.”

Stefanki also heard the general conclusion that “Andy’s done.” But 16 months ago, he accepted the task of remaking a player whose intensity reminded him of a former pupil — John McEnroe.

“What do you want to do?” Stefanki said he asked Roddick.

Roddick’s reply: “I want to win a Slam.”

“That’s what this gig is all about,” Stefanki said.

And now, with the 2010 summer rolling out before Roddick like a red carpet, Stefanki is optimistic. It’s early. But maybe Federer’s timing will continue to be off, or he will get preoccupied by family or complacent with success. Nadal’s knee issues won’t disappear. Roddick certainly can compete with anyone else.

Roddick could have a rebirth like that of Andre Agassi, who won five of his eight Grand Slams from age 29 to 32.

“I have a feeling his best years are ahead of him,” Stefanki said. “This is just the infancy. . . . He could be similar to Agassi . . . Andy was very raw. His game is starting to come where it’s not just hit and miss.”

Roddick’s evolution includes thoughtfulness to go with his honesty and hilarious one-liners. He is one of the good guys of sports. He was on Stadium Court playing a fundraising doubles match for victims of the earthquake in Chile — and that was 20 hours before his final.

“I went from the most immature person on the planet to maturity,” Roddick joked. “A lot of people change from the time they’re 19 to 27.

“I think I just had an audience.”

Don’t let the backward baseball cap fool you. Roddick has grown up.

If his game keeps growing, we won’t just see him hoisting trophies at Crandon Park but in England, New York or Australia.

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