| Understanding tennis has never been so simple, says Roddick
|Gilbert is the man credited largely with firing the Agassi resurgence
New York: When Andy Roddick picked his way through a sea of beaming faces to locate his coach in the stands of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the celebration was hardly original for a newly-crowned Grand Slam champion.
But the embrace between the tearful 2003 US Open winner and his mentor, Brad Gilbert, told a story of a special relationship and a unique figure among sports coaches.
The fact that Gilbert conducted a formal news conference after Roddick’s victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero underlined his status. Few tennis coaches are as sought after or as talked about as Gilbert and some considered that his appearance in the main interview room at Flushing Meadow, normally reserved for players, was unnecessarily self-aggrandising.
The Californian, a former professional who joined the Tour in 1982, would probably be the first to admit he is no wallflower.
Roddick himself has become agitated in recent months as he has constantly been asked about Gilbert’s magic formula. But Gilbert’s achievements as a coach have earned him a big presence in the game.
As the man credited largely with firing the renaissance of Andre Agassi during their partnership, Gilbert forged a reputation as a teacher who knows tennis inside-out and understands how to relate that knowledge to his pupil. In doing so, the 42-year-old Gilbert has followed a long line of coaching greats who bestrode their particular sport. They mastered the technical side but still managed to stay human enough to motivate, cajole and guide their charges.
“He makes it so simple,” Roddick said of Gilbert. “And that’s what I need.”
The camaraderie that Gilbert has built up with Roddick breaks boundaries.
The pair are friends, not just work colleagues. Further still, Gilbert said he felt like he was watching his own son when Roddick was pummelling Ferrero into submission.
Gilbert sparked the chemistry at their first meeting, in London in June of this year, just after Roddick had lost in the first round of the French Open and had parted company with his coach Tarik Benhabiles.
Roddick told Gilbert he was useless on grass, they shared some American football banter, Gilbert told Roddick he was a good player and that he would win Queen’s and Wimbledon over the following three weeks.
Roddick said: ‘Really'’, won Queen’s and nearly won Wimbledon, losing in the semi-finals to eventual champion Roger Federer. Over the following months, as he thrived on Gilbert’s company, original motivational techniques, superior scouting reports and sheer sense of fun, Roddick amassed a 27-1 win-loss record culminating in Sunday’s victory.
“It was his day, he deserved it and I’d like to think it’s the start of many,” said Gilbert who worked with Agassi for only five months before watching him win the first of his two US Open titles in 1994.
“Andre gave me an amazing opportunity 10 years ago and I feel blessed that I’ve got another unbelievable opportunity now.”
Roddick said: “Brad’s influence has been huge. He just knows what to say and when to say it.”
What also marks out Gilbert is his voracious appetite for success. Roddick was left in no doubt as to his responsibility for the future when Gilbert said: “At 21, he’s got to get way better. If he doesn’t, he won’t win a bunch of majors. I used to tell Andre that Barry Bonds (baseball icon) was my hero because of the way he improved even after 35.
“That’s why Andre thinks he can still get better and why I’d like to think Andy is nowhere near the level he’s going to reach.”