The finals: Roddick routs Nalbandian, Bhupathi/Mirnyi get revenge, and the Honour Roll
Tennis Masters Canada, Montreal (August 10, 2003)

by Ed Toombs

For the second year in a row, it was Andy Roddick versus Argentina in the Tennis Masters Canada final. Runner-up to Guillermo Cañas in Toronto in 2002, today the 20-year-old Roddick turned the tables.

Our tournament ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. The in-form Roddick dominated a stumbling David Nalbandian in a rain-marred final in Montreal, 6-1, 6-3, thereby winning his fourth tournament of the year, his first Masters Series title, and the most important trophy of his young and budding career. The ATP's Communications Guru, Greg Sharko, told us that it was the most one-sided Canadian Open final since 1989, when Ivan Lendl defeated John McEnroe by an identical score.

(6)Andy Roddick def. David Nalbandian, 6-1, 6-3
Previous head-to-head: Roddick leads 1-0 (2002 Canadian Masters Series quarterfinal)

First set:

The weather prospects had looked gloomy this morning. Rain was pouring down on the city. It stopped about an hour before match time, the courts were blow-dried, and the players were able to march onto the stadium court at 2:00 as scheduled. Sadly, the rain started up again immediately, and they marched right back off again. The shower lasted about an hour, and the final was finally able to start about 90 minutes after it was supposed to.

Nalbandian had told us last night that he had to take advantage of any break chances he got. He got one in the very first game, but was unable to handle a kick second serve high to his backhand, and Roddick went on to hold. In the following game it was Roddick?s turn to threaten Nalbandian?s serve. The American was playing more steadily as well as more powerfully than Nalbandian from the baseline, as he did all match long. Roddick made good on his second break point when Nalbandian, playing serve-voll ey, was unable to scoop up a low Roddick return. Roddick consolidated the break, holding at love thanks to two aces and two service winners. Andy was out of the blocks fast, and had a 3-0 lead.

In much the same way as Roddick succeeded in breaking down Roger Federer?s backhand yesterday, today he was going after Nalbandian?s forehand. The strategy paid off with another break, on a forehand error by the fair-haired Argentine that gave Roddick a 5-1 lead. Serving for the set, Roddick double-faulted on his initial set point, but nailed a service winner at 40-15 to claim the first set by a resounding 6-1 score.

Second set:

Second verse, same as the first. Nalbandian continued to do little right. Yet another errant forehand put him behind 15-40 in the first game, and he dumped a slice backhand into the net at 30-40 to dig his grave even deeper. At 1-0, Roddick had a rare moment of inattention to hand back the break, making a clumsy volleying error at 30-40. But at 1-1 Nalbandian was too error-prone to seize the momentum, making three straight forehand errors to go down a break once again. No inattention this time from th e American, who consolidated with a forehand approach and overhead at 40-15 to lead 3-1.

With the score 2-4, 0-15 on Nalbandian?s serve, the only thing that might have saved David happened? another rain delay, lasting one hour this time, during which time many of the fans decided to go home. Well, the pause might have saved Nalbandian, but it didn?t. The Argentine?s play was as bad as it had been before the delay, and he was broken one final time at 3-5, making his 27th and final unforced error on match point.

The ever-popular trophy presentation:

Runner-up Nalbandian was first to address the crowd. He began by acknowledging the champion. ?Andy played really good. Well done.? He also thanked the crowd for their support this week. ?I really enjoyed this week with you, the crowd was unbelievable with me. I?m going to be here in two years, for sure.?

Roddick applauded the crowd as he went to collect his $400,000 (US) winner?s cheque and proudly hold up the crystal trophy. ?Thanks to you guys for sticking with it through the rain,? Andy told those fans who did stick with it. ?David played some great tennis this week and beat some great players, that was fantastic.? The champion finished by acknowledging his entourage, including coach Brad Gilbert, to whom he exclaimed ?Got one!? (presumably referring to a Masters Series title), and ?my girlfr iend Mandy [Moore, the singer-actress who has been here all week].?

Post mortem:

David Nalbandian was a big disappointment today with only 7 winners to 27 unforced errors. Nalbandian is always short and to the point with his answers, perhaps in part because of the language barrier. He was especially short today after his miserable performance. ?Andy, he didn?t have to do many things today,? lamented David. ?I couldn?t make my game.? Why not? David only answered, ?You never know that.?

The upbeat Roddick also recognized that Nalbandian?s off day made things easier for him. ?I don?t think I played superbly,? admitted Andy, ?but I just don?t think David played that well.? The most nervous moments for Roddick were probably in the locker room during the rain delay late in the match, when he was on the verge of triumph. ?I was kind of jittery,? Roddick told the press, bouncing up and down in his chair for effect.

By winning the most important title of his career this week, Andy Roddick also won a couple of bets. His physical trainer, Brazilian Cicero Decastro, has to shave his head and moustache. More spectacularly, his new coach Brad Gilbert must perform a parachute jump. Roddick, explaining that Gilbert is afraid of heights, wisecracked, ?He might mess his pants or something. This is going to be good stuff!? Feeling lucky, Roddick challenged the assembled reporters to a wager. ?Any of you want to place some bets? I see a lot of hair to be chopped off!? He got no takers.

No longer content with honourable showings, Roddick now has the confidence of a young man who has arrived. And why not? Now ranked number four in the world, Roddick is riding a win-loss streak of 24-2 since hiring Gilbert as coach, and his Saturday win over Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, perhaps even more than the final, was a huge confidence booster. ?I think I?m a much better player now and I want to try and prove it.? When asked if he considers himself among the favourites for the U.S. Open , he replied without hesitation, ?Yeah, I think so,? before injecting a sensible note of caution: ?Once the U.S. Open starts, no-one cares about Montreal any more.?

Doubles! Doubles!

(1)Mahesh Bhupathi / Max Mirnyi def. (4)Jonas Bjorkman / Todd Woodbridge, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4)

In the doubles final played before a very sparse crowd, the wobbly Woodbridge played inconsistently at net, and was a bit of a liability for his team today. It is with a heavy heart that we award him the dreaded goat horns. The key break in the first set came on the Aussie?s serve when, at 3-4, 30-40 Woodbridge dropped serve when unable to pick up a good low Bhupathi return.

It looked as though Woodbridge was ready to contribute more positively in the second set tie-break, as he scored with a scrambling volley and then a deft lob to give his side a 3-0 lead. But he proceeded to drop both points on his serve to let Bhupathi/Mirnyi back in it. Mirnyi nailed a big return off a Bjorkman serve to give his side a 5-4 lead with the mini-break, and then served out his two service points to claim the 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) win and the title.

Both members of the winning tandem were impressive. Mirnyi was rock solid in every department, while Bhupathi poached brilliantly, showing great reflexes and producing a variety of finesse and drive volleys.

Last month Bjorkman/ Woodbridge had defeated Bhupathi/ Mirnyi in the doubles final at Wimbledon, so payback was more than a little sweet. ?It was good to get some revenge against them,? said Mahesh during the trophy presentation before adding, ?but great week, guys.? Max, who had a memorable week here in both doubles and singles (where he upset Lleyton Hewitt and reached the quarterfinals) then stepped to the microphone to add, ?I?ll be short. It?s too bad we have to go to Toronto next year.? The hardy band of fans roared its approval at that line, and it was a nice way to wind up the tournament.

The Honour Roll

Match of the week: Certainly not the singles final! The splendid semifinal showdown between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer, won 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3) by Roddick, lived up to its promise and then some. We also enjoyed the gripping attacker-versus-defender duel between Max Mirnyi and Lleyton Hewitt, which ended in a surprising 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5 triumph by Mirnyi.

Class act of the week: Much of the tournament?s publicity was built around Roger Federer. Federer was a hot property not only because of his brilliant Wimbledon, but also because of the fact that he speaks both French and English fluently. The Swiss acquitted himself with tremendous class in his role as headliner. Not only on the court, where he fought his way to the semis before losing to Roddick by the narrowest of margins. Roger also consented to countless interviews and special app earances, and even participated in a celebrity ball hockey match last weekend. Federer made many, many new friends in Montreal.

Comedian of the week: There were always guaranteed laughs at Andy Roddick?s press conferences. With a wit as quick as his booming serves, combined with a rapid-fire delivery, Roddick could be a success in stand-up comedy after his playing days are over.

Revelation of the week: Simon Larose, a 314th-ranked wild card from Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec, upset Gustavo Kuerten and José Acasuso to reach the third round, where he took a 4-1 lead against Andre Agassi before coming back to earth. Larose, previously known in Canada as a good practice court player but a head case in matches, became an instant local hero. The Journal de Montréal went so far as to track Larose down for in interview the day after his loss to Agassi, while Simon was unwinding on a golf course. To give you an idea of how surprising this sudden success was, I noticed a few days ago that I was scribbling in the same notebook I used when Larose had last played on these courts. That was at a humble $10,000 Futures tournament, where Larose lost in the semifinals, 6-1, 6-2, to a chap named Huntley Montgomery.

Best manners of the week: This award is shared by all of the ATP players. In none of the matches I saw did I notice a racquet or ball abuse warning, a visible or audible obscenity warning, an accusation of lying or fabricating, or scandalous activity of any kind. Nothing worse than the odd racquet slam here and there. While it was nice to see the lads on their best behaviour, the shortage of spicy material was deplored by more than one reporter.

Fan of the week: This has to go out to a brave but penny-pinching gentleman who strapped himself to the top of a lamp post on a pedestrian bridge just outside the stadium, and followed the Court One action from there. Incidentally, we got to know this bridge pretty well, since we had to climb it at the beginning and end of each day. 64 steps up one way, 54 steps up the other way. But who?s counting?

Endangered species of the week: The main stadium, christened Stade Du Maurier after a popular cigarette brand, will have to be renamed next year because of an anti-tobacco law. This complicates matters for the tournament organizers, who are already scrambling to find a title sponsor for the event. Could the Montreal tournament itself be endangered? Some observers are expressing concern. Attendance was down this year, although all the rain was partly to blame for this and tournament dir ector Eugène Lapierre affirmed that the event will turn a profit again this year. Toronto is building a spiffy new tennis site that will be ready in 2004. Currently the men and women play in the two Canadian cities in alternating years, but rumour has it that the Toronto people would like to ?steal? both events from Montreal and be the exclusive venue for both men and women every year. This would be a blow to the local sports scene, already depressed by the decline of its once-proud hockey squad and faced with the probable departure of its pro baseball team and Formula One race.

Thank you for following our reports from Montreal this week. Please join On The Line for more tournament coverage in the coming months.