Roddick Wins First Title of Year

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor

Andy Roddick got down on his chest and placed his lips on the blue tennis court that was pockmarked by his latest barrage of aces.

No better moment for his first such kiss.

The 23-year-old American won his first championship in more than a year Sunday, beating Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-4 at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters to complete his remarkable comeback from injury and futility.

When he finished it with three emphatic aces, Roddick kissed the ground, tossed his racket into the stands and took a victory lap, slapping hands with any fan he could reach as a way of sharing that long-lost championship feeling.

"It was kind of a relief," Roddick said. "This is a special place for me, and I definitely wanted to share it with whoever I could in the crowd."

For most of the year, the former U.S. Open champion and No. 1 player has been lost in the crowd. His flameout at Wimbledon brought suggestions that his career was on the downswing.

Just when he started playing well again last month, he strained his side and couldn't serve, sidelining him for two weeks. With the U.S. Open approaching, he was erased from the short list of players who might beat defending champion Roger Federer.

He has put his name back on the list.

"I'm going to play well," he said. "That much I know. Right now, I like my chances as much as anybody not named Roger. I'm just happy to be playing well again. It's been a while."

Now, he's got history working for him as well.

The last time he won the Cincinnati Masters was 2003, when the momentum swept him to his U.S. Open championship a few weeks later. He dominated Ferrero with his serve to win that Grand Slam title, and did it again to win their rematch on Sunday.

"In important moments, he serves good and you have no chance to play a point," said Ferrero, who watched 17 aces fly by. "So, you know, it's difficult sometimes."

A little tutoring from Jimmy Connors has made Roddick a more complete and most difficult player to beat.

The strained left side prevented Roddick from serving and forced him to drop out of two tournaments. He could still hit ground strokes, and decided to get some help while he convalesced.

Hesitantly, he turned to one of his heroes.

"I've always admired him," Roddick said. "It intrigued me. I had a list of names and I saw his name and it kind of just stuck out. It excited me. I was nervous to call him. I was nervous to hear back from him."

Connors agreed to spend a week with him in Austin, Texas, refining his baseline game. In Cincinnati, it became an important part of is renaissance, along with that unreturnable serve.

By the semifinals, he was playing like he did three years ago, dominating with a serve that flashed past in the blink of an eye. It was clocked at 143 mph on Sunday, giving Ferrero little chance in a match that had its turning point early.

Roddick broke Ferrero's serve to go up 2-0 in the first set, only to lose the next game. He was called for a foot fault on what would have been a 139 mph ace, then dumped his next serve harmlessly into the net for an infuriating double-fault that made it 2-1.

When the ball bounced back to him, Roddick wound up and swatted it off a speaker on the roof, high above the court. Then, he dug in and broke Ferrero's serve right back for a 3-1 advantage.

The tone was set.

He finished the first set with a 141 mph ace that whizzed past Ferrero before he could move his feet. Then, he broke Ferrero to open the second set and leave the Spaniard with little chance.

Despite the loss, Ferrero was nearly as upbeat as Roddick.

Like Roddick, he spent the week reviving his career. Ferrero hasn't won an ATP title since 2003, when he won the French Open, was runner-up to Roddick at the U.S. Open and had an eight-week run at No. 1. Roddick took the top spot for the next 13 weeks, and Ferrero fell fast.

Chicken pox and a wrist injury stopped him in 2004, and he bottomed out at No. 98 before starting the long climb back. His showing this week in Cincinnati will move him back into the top 20.

Asked what positives he took from the week, he responded: "Everything."

"I take the matches that I played, I take the guys that I beat, I take the level that I leave from this tournament," Ferrero said. "I think I go with a lot of confidence to New York."

That makes two of them.