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Fit Roddick ready for the big prize

TEIMURAZ Gabashvili of Russia defeated Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, on Thursday to set up a second-round match with top-ranked Rafael Nadal.

Seeded players had first-round byes, including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and Ana Ivanovic.

In women's play, Israel's Shahar Peer had a 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory over Belgian teenager Tamaryn Hendler, playing only her second career tour match.

Fifth-seeded Roddick is off to the best start of his career with a 23-4 record, and he matched his best Australian Open showing when he reached the semifinals before losing to Roger Federer.

"I've been playing well and winning the matches I'm supposed to win," Roddick said. "I think there is some room for improvement. I'm excited about the rest of the way."

Roddick hired Larry Stefanki as coach in December after slipping to No. 8, his lowest year-end ranking since 2002. With a new workout regimen he met the coach's goal of shedding 7 kilograms, which has allowed him to chase down shots that might have been beyond reach in the past.

Now Roddick will try to chase down Nadal, Federer and Djokovic in the rankings, starting with his opening match at Key Biscayne against Diego Junqueira of Argentina.

"Larry recognized there is a change in the game," Roddick said. "It seems like everything is slowing down a little bit as far as surface and balls, and therefore you see a lot more guys dependent upon their running ability and their legs.

"So we're just trying to keep up. It has worked so far, but we're talking about 2 1/2 months. It needs to be proven for a little bit longer than that to consider it an ultimate success."

The 26-year-old Roddick has gone 5 1/2 years since winning his lone grand slam title at the 2003 US Open.

Critics say he has failed to make the most of a serve and forehand that rank with the most formidable in tennis. Defenders say he has done well to win one major title despite an inconsistent backhand and poor net game.

Key Biscayne offers one last chance to make a splash before the tour switches to clay, Roddick's worst surface. He has enjoyed several memorable victories on the island, including an upset at age 18 over Pete Sampras in 2001, and a win over Federer last year to end a streak of 11 consecutive losses to his nemesis.


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