Saturday, August 16, 2003

Gilbert is working wonders again


Roddick coasts to semifinals, 28th win with coach

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHOTO GALLERY

Photos of Friday's matches
MASON - Brad Gilbert had a reputation as tennis' "Tuna," a Bill Parcells type who could revive flagging fortunes. That he gained that reputation off just one pupil was irrelevant, for it had been Andre Agassi.

So Gilbert wasn't going to "get off the couch," as he put it, for just anyone. He turned down nearly two dozen players who called asking him to be a traveling coach.

"Phil Jackson waited awhile, and he didn't wait to coach the Warriors," Gilbert said, as explanation. "He waited for the Lakers."

And so the call finally came from Andy Roddick.

Roddick, after a 6-1, 6-2 pounding Friday of Mariano Zabaleta in the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters, is 28-2 thus far under Gilbert's tutelage. He faces Max Mirnyi at noon today in the semifinals and is aiming for his fourth title in six tournaments under Gilbert.

"I needed a new spark, and I needed something to kind of kick me in the butt and get me going," Roddick said. "It worked."

Gilbert worked so well with Agassi that he is perhaps better known for his coaching acumen than as a former player. And this is a guy who reached a ranking of No. 4 in the world in 1990.

He started working with Agassi in 1994 and helped him win six Grand Slam titles before an amicable parting in January 2002.

"Brad came in and taught me how to play the game," Agassi has said. "Taught me to start thinking for myself out there."

Gilbert didn't have a pure game, so he had to out-think and outwork opponents. His book, Winning Ugly, encapsulated his mindset.

After splitting with Agassi, Gilbert spent 16 months at home. He didn't want to leave his wife and three kids in northern California.

"I felt like if I was going to put my family through this again, it's gotta be for the right guy," he said.

Roddick was No. 1 in his mind.

"I hoped one day he would call," Gilbert said. "Andre gave me a call in '94, and he gave me an unbelievable opportunity. And now I've been given another one."

Roddick was ready after being humbled in the first round of the French Open by Sargis Sargsian. He canned Tarik Benhabiles, his coach of nearly four years.

When Roddick called, Gilbert was out getting a truckload of dirt for his wife's garden. When Gilbert called back, Roddick said he needed a coach and asked how soon he could come to Europe.

Gilbert was on a plane the next day. The work started immediately.

"Andre was kind of in the same position I'm in right now when him and Brad got together," Roddick said. "People were saying, '... Is he just going to go by the wayside, or is he going to step it up and become a great player?'"

With little time to tinker in the busy summer stretch, Gilbert worked mostly on getting Roddick to be calm and trust in himself.

"When he gets too emotional, he loses his focus and gives the other guy a chance," Gilbert said. "If he lets his game do the talking, he'll rack up a lot of wins."

Roddick is the first player to win two tournaments on the pre-U.S. Open summer hard-court swing since Pete Sampras in 1999.

If he wins here, Roddick will finish that swing with a 20-1 mark. Dating back to 1988, only two players have entered the Open off a 20-victory hard-court swing: Andre Agassi, 20-0 in 1995; and yes, Gilbert, 21-1 in 1989.

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E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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