KEY BISCAYNE, FL – Forget the Easter egg allusions. Eggs had already been laid on the blueberry-toned tennis court by such embarrassed participants as Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Venus Williams.
If you had bought tickets for yesterday’s Sony Ericsson Open finals, you probably muttered, “Where’s Federer? Where’s Nadal? Aren’t they supposed to play the final? And why did Venus get egg on her face, too?”
It wasn’t so much the title losing, 6-2, 6-1, to rejuvenated mama, Kim Clijsters. But it was the haphazard errors piled up by three-time champ Venus, in her worst final round defeat.
This was the end of the best month in American tennis, the Transcontinental Double that began on the desert at Indian Wells, CA and concluded at Crandon Park beside the sea.
Maybe no man is an island, but the man of this isle, the Baron of Biscayne, turns out to be Andy Roddick, who keeps jingoists happy in this dire time for American tennis. Andy was the lone Yank in any of the finals a fortnight ago, losing a heartbreaker at Indian Wells, 7-6, 7-6, to Ivan Ljubicic. But his heart reassembled itself as he took yesterday’s title in an air-tight performance, 7-5, 6-4, over Czech Tomas Berdyck.
That made the Baron the first American guy to win here since…well…since Andy Roddick six years ago.
But what happened to the supposedly sure-things Federer and Nadal? Berdych, the man about a town called Valasske Mezirici (surely a tourist destination) happened to Federer in the fourth round here, even though Roger had a match point, and serve, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6. Roger, who had blown two match points in losing to Marcos Baghdatis in California was looking a little shaky.
And No. 7 Roddick happened to Nadal, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, in the semis by attacking him ruthlessly, not waiting around to deal with Rafa’s baselining rollers.
Berdyck was a different proposition, moving easily and well, using angles and changes of spin to stay in the match for the first 47 minutes to 5-5, But he was unable to do anything with the whirlwind serve of the last American, and Andy’s just-as-solid groundies. With his improved mobility, backhand, and a reliable slice Andy allowed Berdyck no closer to his serve than 0-30. Twice. Not even one break point. That was helped by 13 aces (some in the 130 MPH neighborhood) and 9 service winners.
Berdyck shrugged, “I was looking for maybe one chance, but I didn’t get any chances. He was too strong. Tomas was in the sold-out enemy camp of 14,119 inhabitants, but he kept them from much cheering for the first 10 games. Then Andy pepped them up.
Andy has fond feelings for the Key. “I grew up near here in Boca Raton. When I was 17 [tournament boss] Butch Buchholz gave me a wild card. I won a match, but next ran into Andre Agassi. I played in the Orange Bowl Juniors here, and the Sunshine Cup, the Junior Davis Cup.
“This was a big win for me. I felt a little pressure to win this one because I had a pretty big chance at Indian Wells, and didn’t come through.”
Despite being excellent for almost a decade, and winning a major (the US Open) in 2003 he is conscious of the “he’ll never win another big one” crowd.
“I talked this over with Brook (Brooklyn Decker, his wife), and wondered if the best of me was gone. I didn’t know. But the way to find out is to go back to the drawing board, and give myself every chance to succeed. “
Andy went through a coach-du-jour procession, but struck gold with Larry Stefanki a year-and-a-half ago. Andy and his game have matured. He is “settled at home” in his marriage, and has the right guys to lean on in Stefanki and trainer Doug Spreen.
“Larry’s in charge, no question about it,” Andy says. “ I wanted the guidance. He was concerned coming into a situation with a player who had been at least a public figure – a public spectacle at times. It works. The tennis and personality sides .”
Andy feels the best is yet to come, and so do I. But there are some brutes out there – Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, del Potro, Cilic, Davydenko, Tsonga et al, tough eggs for ever-hopeful Baron of Biscayne to scramble or poach.