- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

Before his opening match in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Andy Roddick said there was much to glean from Andre Agassi.

For the most part, the youngster is a quick study.

One day after Agassi blew through a first-round match in 47 minutes, Roddick needed just more than an hour to win his, dismissing Justin Gimelstob 6-2, 6-2 last night on Centre Court at the William H.G.FitzGerald Tennis Center.

Another young American, No.6 seed James Blake, also triumphed in his first match, defeating Oleg Ogorodov 6-4, 6-1.

"I set the pace from the beginning of where I wanted the match to go," said Roddick, the No.2 seed. "I'm having fun out there. I'm pretty relaxed. I'm not paying attention to what's going on outside the court. That's been working well for me this summer."

Indeed, ignorance has been bliss for Roddick this summer as the 19-year-old has learned like Agassi before him to slough off the crushing weight of external expectations.

Hailed as the future of American tennis after a breakthrough 2001 season that included a Legg Mason title, the big-hitting Roddick began the season under self-imposed duress, pressing himself for bigger wins and better results.

Never mind that he entered last year ranked No.160, playing Challenger tournaments and jockeying for wild cards.

"I was rushing myself, paying way too much attention to what people were saying," Roddick said.

While Roddick's results were solid, he wasn't having fun at least not enough. He lost in the first round of the French Open, then in the opening match of a Wimbledon tuneup.

The nadir came on Centre Court, where serve-and-volley slugger Greg Rusedski blew Roddick right out of the All England Club in straight sets.

Embarrassed and more than a little burned out, Roddick took a mini-vacation in San Antonio, where he hit tennis balls with his brother, John, in a pouring rainstorm.

"I had a blast," Roddick said. "I thought, 'This is what I need to feel more often.'"

Results came quickly against Gimelstob, who offered little resistance until the final game of the match. With Roddick serving, Gimelstob scrapped out a 10-plus minute game, fending off a handful of match points before bowing out on a service winner.

After Gimbelstob missed an easy backhand on one break point, Roddick ran to the far sideline and plopped down on a bench a crowd-pleasing move that spoke volumes about his new attitude.

"[Now] I'm going to give myself time. If I work hard and stay relaxed, the end results will come."

While Roddick continued his rapid rise to the top of American tennis, longtime stalwart and No.10 seed Todd Martin extended a recent fade, falling to qualifier and Potomac native Alex Kim, 6-4, 7-6 (5). The speedy Kim blunted Martin's straight-ahead with a winning mix of angled balls, sharp two-handed backhands and dogged scampers along the baseline.

"He can make something out of nothing," Martin said. "It just seems these days that I can make nothing out of something. I'm on the wrong side of the equation."

From the outset, it didn't take a Descartes to see that Martin's on-court math just wasn't adding up. After dropping the first set, he surrendered a break to start the second. Up 4-3 in a tiebreaker, he whacked an unforced error, then double faulted to make it 5-4. When Martin rushed the net on the next point, Kim, ranked No.114 in the world, uncorked a risky topspin lob. The ball dropped just inside the baseline.

"I was pumped," Kim said. "The wind was going with me, but it had enough spin on it."

On match point, Kim mimicked Martin's net-attacking tactics, following a deep forehand with a sprint to the frontcourt. Martin responded with a backhand pass that didn't clear the tape. "I couldn't believe that passing shot didn't go over," Kim said. "It hit the top of the tape, and the match was over."

A former NCAA singles champion at Stanford, Kim has found ATP life to be slightly less forgiving. After knocking off top-10 talent Yevgeny Kafelnikov en route to the second round of the Australian Open in January, he didn't win another tour match until a first-round victory over Brazil's Flavio Saretta.

Given the choice, Kim would have preferred that victory No.4 didn't come against Martin, who has taken a number of American tennis' next generation under his wing.

"Todd is a big reason that I'm at the level I'm at now," Kim said. "All the young American guys, he helps all of us. He hangs out with us. People always mention Agassi, [Pete] Sampras, Chang. I don't know why they don't mention him."

Like the aforementioned Sampras and Chang, the 32-year-old Martin has struggled as of late, following a disappointing second-round loss at Wimbledon with so-so showings at Toronto and Cincinnati.

"The level of play around me is a lot better than it used to be," Martin said. "And my improvement over the last few years has slowed down a bit there are days when the body and mind aren't as sharp as they used to be. It's those times that you'd like to signal to a coach to put someone else in. But in this sport, we don't have that luxury."

Somewhat ironically, Martin dropped his only other meeting with Kim at a Challenger tournament in Burbank, Calif., last year.

Then Martin was coming back from injury; this time around, he offered no excuses. "[Last time], he cleaned my clock," Martin said. "He didn't play nearly as well today, but I felt like I put in a little bit of a shocker. And that doesn't bode too well."

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