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Roddick wins 1st title of 2009 in Memphis

ANDY Roddick won his first title of 2009 and the 27th of his career yesterday, beating Czech Radek Stepanek 7-5, 7-5 in the finals of the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships.

Only Roger Federer (57) and Rafael Nadal (32) have won more titles among active players. Roddick confirmed Friday that he wouldn't defend his title at Dubai. He said he wasn't happy about the denial of a visa to Israeli player Shahar Peer by the United Arab Emirates for the women's event this week.

But Roddick read a report that a hernia was his reason for withdrawing.

"There's no other reason. Obviously, I don't have a hernia. I probably wouldn't have played too well today. I would ask you guys to check but that might be inappropriate. I'm 100 percent healthy," Roddick said.

Roddick got a bit of revenge for losing to Stepanek in the semifinals in San Jose last week and improved to 5-1 all-time against the man trying to become the first Czech to win in Memphis since Ivan Lendl in 1991.

The American survived a tight match yesterday by breaking Stepanek in the 12th game of each set to extend his streak of years with at least one title to nine.

Stepanek had won nine consecutive matches but struggled with unforced errors.

"Obviously, he's been playing his best tennis of his career probably this year and especially the past couple weeks. I knew what it was going to take, and I was able to get there," Roddick said.

The world's sixth-ranked player took home the $300,000 winner's check and 500 ranking points for the ATP World Tour. He improved to 17 wins against three losses in match play this year. Of his 27 titles, 19 have come in North America, and this is Roddick's second at Memphis.

Roddick extended his streak of years with at least one title to nine, the longest current streak on tour, though Federer could match him with a victory this year.

"We have a long year ahead of us," Roddick said. "We always do, but this is the best start I've had in a long time. Possibly ever, actually, if you just look at the first two months of the year."

Roddick, with his fiancee, model Brooklyn Decker, cheering him on at courtside, was coming into the final off the longest match of the tournament. He needed two hours, 11 minutes to beat Lleyton Hewitt compared to the 57 minutes Stepanek breezed past qualifier Dudi Sela.

Stepanek came in enjoying the best start to a year in his career with two titles already to his credit and trying to win for the second straight week. He had won nine consecutive matches but started slowly.

Roddick broke him in the second game to go up 2-0. Stepanek trailed 3-1 when he broke Roddick and then held serve to even the first set at 3-3.

They appeared headed toward a tiebreaker when Stepanek trailed 30-40 and hit a forehand long to give Roddick the first set.

Tied at 4-4 in the second set, Stepanek had a chance to break Roddick at 15-40. The American fought back to force deuce, served up one of his eight aces with a 130 mph, before Stepanek hit a forehand wide after a long rally.

Stepanek kept the match entertaining, at one point using his head to knock a ball back to a ball girl and then hitting a ball over to a ball boy through his legs. After the match, Stepanek noticed he had been given the winner's trophy and presented it to Roddick.

"Since he said I was the best player throughout those two weeks, I said, 'OK, maybe I keep it maybe.' But no. He deserved it," Stepanek said.

When needing to hold serve to force a second-set tiebreaker, Stepanek won only one point off a forehand Roddick hit long up 0-40. Roddick then closed out the title with a forehand passing shot, celebrating by raising both arms in the air.


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