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Saturday, April 3, 2004
Updated: April 4, 1:53 PM ET
Roddick needs serve to be hot

By MaliVai Washington
Special to ESPN.com

The Nasdaq-100 Open is considered a fifth major -- the biggest event in tennis behind the Grand Slams. It's the dream of every player to not only win the majors but also a Tennis Masters Series event, especially this one.

Guillermo Coria should consider himself very fortunate to be in the final, thanks to the collapse of Fernando Gonzalez in their semifinal match. There are times when a player succeeds against all odds and you get a feeling that maybe that player is destined to win the event. That might very well be the case for Coria this time.

At the beginning of the tournament, I picked him as a player to note. To see how he's gone through the field, it makes me think that this is a guy who could be a favorite coming into the U.S. Open.

His match against Andy Roddick in the final on Sunday will come down to one key statistic: how Roddick serves. If Roddick doesn't have at least a 60 percent first-serve percentage, he'll lose this match.

When Roddick's serve is on, he can be invincible. But he's vulnerable when he gives opponents looks at his second serve -- which was evident in his loss to Vince Spadea a few weeks ago in Scottsdale, Ariz. Power for power, groundstroke for groundstroke, Coria will beat Roddick from the baseline; that is why Roddick needs to get a lot of free points on serve. If he does this and holds serve, it will free him up to take more chances on his return game.

These two players last met at the 2003 Tennis Masters Cup, when Roddick was vying to be the year-end No. 1. This occasion is completely different. Coria believes he can be one of the best hardcourt players in the world, which is kind of scary considering how good he is on clay.

I'm not going to say Coria will be No. 1 in the world this year, but it would be pretty amazing if a guy standing 5-foot-9 reached the top ranking in what we think of now as a big man's power game. But if Marcelo Rios can be No. 1 in the world, so can Coria.

In different ways, this final reminds me of the Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras rivalry. Sampras had the big-serving, attacking game, and Agassi was the counter-punching baseliner. Here we have the big-serving Roddick going against the speedy, consistent counterpuncher in Coria.

The boisterious crowd will be a factor, with the Americans cheering on Roddick and a large Hispanic and Argentine faction behind Coria. Roddick needs the crowd to help propel himself to his first Nasdaq-100 title.

Pick: Roddick in four sets