NEW YORK - Andy Roddick had just hit his 23rd ace. This one at 133 mph on match point in the U.S. Open men's final against the game but sluggish Juan Carlos Ferrero, the new world No. 1. Roddick bent at the waist, totally overtaken by his emotions.
He had sat in the upper deck at the Open as a 12-year-old fan. He had hit tennis balls as a kid in his garage and pretended he had just beaten Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. But when he actually won the U.S. Open yesterday, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3, all he could yell was: "I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"
And when he straightened up and lifted his arms and face to the crowd surrounding the Arthur Ashe Stadium court, his cheeks were wet with tears. He climbed into the stands and fell into a massive group hug with his parents, family and friends as his shoulders shook.
"I just won the U.S. Open!" Roddick told them, as if they hadn't seen his dominating victory. "I just won the U.S. Open!"
Who outside of his immediate family could have expected the big lug to cry?
"Andy," his brother David said, "has always been an emotional kid. You've seen it in his matches. He loses his temper in his matches sometimes and then he bottles it up and afterward, it just all comes out."
He showed no temper in this match. Instead, Roddick, who turned 21 last weekend, looked all grown up and in full control. In fact, he said: "I'm baffled by how calm I was. I almost didn't feel anything. I was just going through the motions."
It was an amazing performance by the American who has been considered the best prospect to become the next big U.S. tennis star. The past two years, fans have been waiting for Roddick to have his breakthrough tournament. And now he has.
It was Roddick's first Grand Slam final and his first Grand Slam victory. Today, when the ATP rankings are released, he will have climbed from No. 4 to No. 2 in the world.
A turning point came in May when he lost in the first round of the French Open. It was then he decided to hire strategist Brad Gilbert as his coach, and the results of the past summer have been astounding.
Roddick has lost just one hard-court match - that to Tim Henman in Washington - and with yesterday's victory has stretched his winning streak to 19 matches, the longest on the men's tour this season.
Despite all that, Roddick was one point from elimination in Saturday's semifinal against David Nalbandian.
"In the semis, Andy was playing not to lose," Gilbert said. "[Yesterday,] he played to win. The guy's got unbelievable talent. It's hard to pinpoint one thing that's made a difference since I joined him. All I've done is help him a little bit with his strategy and concentration."
Yesterday, Roddick's serves were blinding and his game plan nearly flawless. He hit 46 winners, including those 23 aces and a double fistful of forehands. The strength of that big right hand and wrist developed when he was a small-for-his-age 12-year-old trying to make his shots hard enough to keep up with the bigger kids.
Now, he's a monster, forcing men like Ferrero to stand 10 feet behind the baseline to receive serve, deeper than Ferrero has ever stood.
Roddick faced only three break-point chances on his serve and denied Ferrero all of them. Going into the match, Ferrero said his only hope was to serve as well as Roddick and force tiebreakers.
But when Ferrero managed to get the second set into a tiebreaker, he made two unusual forehand errors after having built a 2-1 lead and then Roddick aced him and ran the table to take the tiebreaker, 7-2.
"It's a very big serve, yeah," said Ferrero, who had never played Roddick before. "But it was not a surprise to me. If he serves so good, it's not easy to beat him. You have to serve as good as him. ... Today, I played a really bad match. I didn't do my tennis. I didn't hit the ball aggressive like [Saturday], maybe because he served so hard all the time and I didn't feel a rhythm in the court."
It was the fourth straight day for Ferrero on court. Just to get to this match, he had to beat Todd Martin, Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi on successive days. Over the course of those days, he was on the court twice as long as Roddick, who also benefited from a day off on Thursday because he was able to get his fourth-round match played between the raindrops Wednesday night.
"I was not [bothered] by the four days of playing tennis," said Ferrero, 23, but added, "It never happen to me like this, four days in a row raining, then playing four days in a row. No, never. I hope it will not happen like this ever again."
Roddick, on the other hand, said he wouldn't change a thing.
"I mean, it's amazing," he said. "I still cannot believe I'm sitting here as the U.S. Open champion. ... I can't imagine my name and U.S. Open champion together. It's more than I could ever dream of."