Roddick on the rise

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I guess the future is now for emerging American tennis star Andy Roddick. The 18-year-old phenom is well ahead of schedule after capturing his second tournament in as many weeks this past Sunday.

Most figured the Omaha, Nebraska native would ease into his situation on the ATP after joining the circuit just last year. But the Boca Raton, Florida resident wowed tennis aficionados with back-to-back victories in Atlanta and Houston, with both tournaments being staged on his mystery surface, clay.

Roddick's success over the last two weeks has propelled him to No. 21 in the Champions Race, this after finishing No. 160 in 2000.

He's an eye-catching 17-4 this season, including a red-hot 10-match winning streak. Granted, the young American didn't beat anyone of any real substance en route to the title in Houston (Raemon Sluiter, Magnus Gustafsson, Stefan Koubek, Jerome Golmard, and Hyung-Taik Lee in the final), but you still have to play whoever's in front of you, and that's exactly what Roddick's doing right now. He did stop some solid, veteran players in Atlanta, including fellow American Todd Martin, and fellow rising star, Belgian Xavier Malisse.

The 6-1, 180-pound Roddick is best-known for his blistering serve, which has been clocked at 139 miles per hour. He used the big weapon to stun former world No. 1 Pete Sampras at the Ericsson Open in Miami in late March, which marked his first truly "big" win on the ATP. "A-Rod" also toppled former world No. 1 Marcelo Rios in Miami, where he eventually lost to Aussie Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals.

The confident teenager, however, with less than a year under his belt competing against the big boys, already expects to win when he steps onto the court.

His latest victory was a 7-5, 6-3 decision over eighth-seeded Korean Hyung- Taik Lee at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships in Houston. The week before, Roddick performed in his first-ever clay-court event, winning it all in Atlanta.

With the title in Houston, Roddick joined current Champions Race leader Andre Agassi and 2000 Champions Race titlist Gustavo Kuerten as the only players to capture back-to-back championships this season.

"I can't believe it," said Roddick. "It's big. Anytime someone wins two ATP tournaments in two weeks, it's pretty good."

The last teenage American to claim back-to-back titles was Agassi in Itaprica in 1987 and Memphis in 1988, although they were three months apart. And by winning in Atlanta, Roddick became the sixth-youngest American to claim an ATP title. Only Aaron Krickstein, Michael Chang, Agassi, Jimmy Arias and Sampras were younger when notching their first tournament win.

But by capturing an event in only his 10th tournament, Roddick recorded his first ATP title quicker than Agassi, Sampras, Chang and Jim Courier, the "Fab Four" of American tennis in the 1990's.

Throughout the Houston event, Roddick demonstrated what a potent weapon his serve has become, losing only eight points on his serve against Lee.

The powerful Roddick also failed to lose a set in Houston, which accepted him into the draw as a wild card, just at Atlanta organizers did a week earlier.

It's scary to think about how good Roddick's gonna get as the rest of his game develops around the monster blink-and-you-missed-it serve and still-teenaged body.

Roddick better have his "people" back up the truck to start piling in all the cash he's going to earn over the next several years. The Houston win was worth $46,000, following a $54,000 payday in Atlanta, bringing his 2001 total to $254,895.

A-Rod, however, doesn't want everybody to jump on the bandwagon just yet, exclaiming, "Anybody who puts my name as a contender is ridiculous, I feel confident that I can battle. I can give most players a match. I just want to play as well as I can and make sure someone has to play well to beat me."

Whatever you say, Andy.

Roddick plans to take some time off now before returning for the May 20 World Team Championships in Dusseldorf, Germany, where he'll be paired with Sampras and Jan-Michael Gambill, the top seed and first-round loser in Houston.

"I want to get mentally back to 100 percent focused," said Roddick. "I feel like I belong (at World Team Championships) instead of a charity case because I'm a young guy who can play a little bit."

Roddick said it all in Houston: "It feels really good right now."

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