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February 23, 2009 - Roddick has improved his backhand
   

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By Charlie Bricker

It's about time to give Andy Roddick the backhanded compliment he deserves.

His backhand has taken a lot of guff over the years, as the one weakness in his otherwise big-game repertoire. But on Sunday afternoon, in a 7-5, 7-5 win over Radek Stepanek, who is one of the early hot players on the ATP World Tour, Roddick's backhand was a key.

Yes, the serve was great, as it almost always is. He was broken only once, facing four break points, and his forehand was powerful and nearly free of unforced errors. You expect service and forehand excellence from Roddick. But when he starts playing backhands as he did in this match, his game moves up a full notch.

It was a deep backhand slice to Stepanek's forehand corner that induced the error that won the opening set. And it was yet another aggressive backhand return of service that set up the final point of the match. It wasn't just that Roddick was hitting one type of backhand effectively. He hit flat passing shots down the line off his backhand side. He showed much better touch on his backhand volleys, and his volleying overall. He surprised Stepanek with a couple of effective backhand lobs.

But what bedeviled Stepanek most were those floating backhand slices to the forehand corner. As well as Stepanek hit the ball most of this final, he seemed to lose all timing on Roddick's deep slice. After a very solid two sets to come from behind to beat Lleyton Hewitt in the semis, Roddick was even more effective in this match.

The indoor court at Memphis is not easy to hit through, which meant Roddick needed to show more patience and definitely needed to step up on the backhand side. He did. Good win and, with a week and a half off, he'll play his next tennis in Birmingham, Al., against a Swiss Davis Cup team that isn't bringing Roger Federer.

There was one particularly amusing "whoops" moment in this final. On court after Roddick had won, one of the tournament officials handing out the trophies gave the winner's crystal vase to Stepanek and the runner-up bowl to Roddick. Stepanek took the microphone after Roddick thanked the crowd, the sponsors and everyone else and made the switch, delighting in being able for the first time in his career to be able to hand a winner's trophy to a winner.



Charlie Bricker can be reached at bricker@tennisnews.com

 

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