WASHINGTON - No. 9 seed Andy Roddick's body contorted as he ripped a forehand down the line with such power that all Sjeng Schalken could do was watch as it blew past him. Roddick, the 18-year-old tennis whiz kid, made a fist and pulled his arm back as if shifting into another gear, as he stalked to the other side of the court.
The 7,426 fans at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center loved it, and though it wasn't the break that would win him the match, it was a clear demonstration of the oozing talent and power this kid from Boca Raton, Fla., has.
With a set in hand, the shot in the fourth game of the second set gave Roddick three break-point chances at 0-40 on Schalken's serve. Roddick would get the break and shout an emphatic "Yeah!" and eventually go on to win the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, 6-2, 6-3, and the $115,000 first-place prize.
Roddick, who won ATP Tour clay-court tournaments in Atlanta and Houston, earned his first hard-court victory - a fact that he called a little surprising in that he anticipated winning on this surface before any other.
Yesterday, his victory was helped along by a little rain falling on No. 10 Schalken.
The match had started about 30 minutes late because of afternoon rains, but for an hour the two men had played under gray skies. In that time, Roddick had been the fast starter, taking the first set easily with two breaks, but in the second the match was starting to heat up before the rain returned, causing a 35-minute delay.
"Sjeng is solid and he really didn't get the respect he deserved going into his semifinal match with Andre [Agassi]," said Roddick, who seemed surprised to be sitting in the post-match winner's interview after spending just 1 hour, 15 minutes on the court. "In the second set, he started playing some really good shots. I was hitting three and four shots in a row as well as I'm capable and he'd make one more.
"But the rain, I don't like rain delays, I like to play. I don't know what to make of it. I went in the locker room and stayed quiet, stayed with my game face."
And then Roddick came out of the locker room and blasted Schalken out of the match, winning the last two games 15-40 and 40-0.
Roddick had been in control early, just as No. 1 seed Agassi had been in control of the first set Saturday, before Schalken eased into his game and took the match in three sets.
Yesterday, it seemed this final was moving in the same direction. Roddick had gotten that early break in the second set to go up 3-1. But Schalken began competing better and in the seventh, broke Roddick with a backhand winner down the line to get back on serve at 3-4.
And that's when the rain came back.
"I was just starting to feel a little better," said Schalken, who said his legs were still feeling the strain of having played Agassi in a long three-setter Saturday night. "The blood was just beginning to flow. I am a slow starter. I started slow against [Jerome] Golmard and against Andre. But, it was not to my advantage tonight.
"After the rain delay, after 15 minutes in the locker room, my legs were not feeling good at all and I had no time to work my way back."
But, Schalken added, that shouldn't take anything away from Roddick's victory.
"He played a very good match," said Schalken, who earned $60,000. "Every time I got him in trouble, and he needed a big serve it was there. All the time he would hit the serve through the middle and all the time I knew it was coming through the middle - but at 135 mph, it was already in the stands when I saw it."
Making the final improves both players' rankings going into next week's U.S. Open in New York. Schalken will move from 33rd to about 23rd in the ATP standings, while Roddick will jump from No. 30 to near No. 18.
"My goal at the start of the year was to finish the year Top 60," Roddick said. "Then, after Houston, I was already there. At Nottingham [England], I was 35 or so and reassessed. My goal then was to make it to the Top 20."
Well, he's there now and there is still tennis to be played.
Will he reassess again?
"I'm not reassessing now," he said. "I'm just going to enjoy this for the rest of the day."
NOTES: Roddick, whose parents flew in yesterday morning to see their son play this final, made the most of his time in Washington, taking in Janet Jackson's concerts on back-to-back nights. "I'm a kid," he said. "I've got to have some fun." He said if his match had been scheduled for 10 a.m., he probably wouldn't have gone Saturday night. "But it was at 4 p.m. I got to sleep very late."
Although Schalken hopes to get past the third round at the U.S. Open, "because I've lost seven or eight times in the third round already," Roddick said he has no expectations. "I just want to go, play good tennis and see what happens."
The unseeded team of Martin Damm and David Prinosil won the doubles title, 7-6 (5), 6-3, over the No. 1 seeded Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob.