Won the men's and women's singles titles in ho-hum fashion at
last week's NASDAQ-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., Andy Roddick
and Serena Williams. When Guillermo Coria retired in the finals,
Roddick, 21, took another big-time title. And Williams, who beat
Elena Dementieva 6-1, 6-1 in the finals of her first tournament
since last year's Wimbledon, showed no signs of rust--and if
there were any rust to be seen, her attire, which included hot
pants that fit her like a sausage casing, would have revealed it.
Almost overlooked was the fact that the tournament marked a
cultural change in men's tennis. It's official: The image of the
Spanish-speaking player as a clay-court specialist is as
anachronistic as wooden rackets. On the asphalt courts at Crandon
Park, seven Hispanic players made the round of 16, including
teenager Rafael Nadal of Spain, who upset world No. 1 Roger
Federer. This is no fluke. Last year Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero
was the first man since Ivan Lendl to win 30 matches on hard
courts and clay.
Departing from the old how-to manual--tethered to the backcourt,
unspooling parabolic topspin shots during adagio-tempoed
rallies--today's Spanish-speaking stars, who typically grow up
without hard courts to play on, are adaptable. "We've been
working more on attacking, getting to the net, keeping points
shorter," says Coria. "If you want to be the best, you can't just
be good on one [surface]."
Are those who ritually get dusted on clay taking note? It's been
years since an American not named Agassi reached the second week
of the French Open, and no Aussie or Englishman has won at Roland
Garros since 1969. "I guess," says Roddick, "we're just still
much more comfortable on faster surfaces." They are, in other
words, the new surface specialists.
April 11, 2004
--L. Jon Wertheim