Monday, April 24, 2006

The Emperor Has No Clothes

It's not often that I focus my blog on non-Roddick persons but seeing as how we're in the middle of a three week Andy-free stretch, I've decided to use this space to talk about other things going on in the tennis world and my thoughts on the Monte Carlo final this past Sunday.

First off: did anybody else notice that ALL of the Russians crashed out in the first round at Monte Carlo? Heh. Suddenly, the Americans' decision to stay home looked like the smart strategy.

Speaking of the Americans staying home, the tennis messageboard illuminati and some media drones kept whining about how this was the first time in years that the Monte Carlo draw had absolutely no Americans at all (not even in doubles) and that this reflects very badly on the Americans, it's completely embarassing, and all that jazz. Please. Since when did anybody care so much as to whether the Americans showed up to play on their least favorite/successful surface or not? Enough with the hysteria.

Props to Justin Gimelstob who says it so well in his blog entry "Americans are missing, and that's OK":
There are two things that prevent the top Americans from participating in this and many other important clay-court events preceding and following this week: the surface itself and the duration of the European stretch of tournaments, from clay season to Wimbledon, the end of grass-court season.

All of the top American players, such as Andy Roddick, James Blake, Andre Agassi and Robby Ginepri, are under no delusions -- they are at a tremendous disadvantage on clay, especially against the elite clay-court players who grew up on the surface and are as comfortable sliding around on it as they are walking or talking. When confronted with the challenge of making their schedules, most Americans would prefer to rest up and take off some of the weeks of the clay season to be fresher for the more advantageous, fast-playing grass surface that immediately follows the French Open.

Clay-court tennis has become an ugly topic over the past few years among American tennis players, fans and journalists. I do agree that we've underachieved and are capable of better results, but it's important to understand and accept that without more significant clay-court events in the U.S., American players will continue to develop their games for faster services.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this. It's important to develop all-around games, and we all could benefit from spending more time in Europe on clay, learning about the intricacies of sliding, court positioning and shot selection. However, with the ATP calendar as full as it is, and with the tennis season already 10 months long, it's important to find breaks in the schedule to rest as well.

Since the European clay season is the least successful for Americans, it's a logical time to take a brief respite. It's identical to some of the clay specialists taking their breaks during grass season and the beginning of the U.S. summer hard-court stretch. Tennis is too challenging, physically and mentally, to go the whole year without some calculated breaks.

Amen, Justin. I'll get my score-keeping ledger out to keep track of all those dirtballers who conveniently call in sick during the grass and hardcourt season.

So with their first-round crashouts perhaps the Russians should rethink their decision to hold the Davis Cup semifinal tie on clay. (here's a nice little factoid for them to chew on: Andy Roddick's only foreign clay court title came at St. Poelten in Austria, 2003. Guess who he beat in the final? Nikolay Davydenko).

Rankings Watch
Andy Roddick is now down to No. 5 in the ATP rankings. After the clay season ends, his rank could slide further down to 7th or 8th, presuming Nikolay Davydenko performs well on his favorite surface (he's right behind Roddick at No. 6). Andy did not defend his SAP Open or Houston titles and he's made only one semifinal appearance this year, all of which took a bite out of his numbers. Unless he gets past the third round at Roland Garros, he won't pick up any significant points. And if he does not defend his Queen's title, he may lose his protected No. 2 ranking on the grass at Wimbledon.

* * *
The Emperor Has No Clothes

We are living in the Age of Roger and Rafa, and Rafael Nadal has got Roger Federer's number good, beating him again in four sets in the Monte Carlo final 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5), successfully defending his title.

It is fitting that the 19-year-old Nadal would be the only one to expose Federer as the Emperor Wearing No Clothes. Oh sure, once in a while a Marat Safin or David Nalbandian might become inspired and beat Federer in five hard-fought sets, only to not be heard from again in several months. Once in a while a new kid on the block who hasn't learned the meaning of the word "fear" might sneak in a win against The Sublime One (See: Richard Gasquet). But nobody on tour has managed to consistently, fearlessly go toe-to-toe with and beat the most dominant player in recent history on every surface they meet on (that includes the inimitable Pete Sampras, who dominated the slams but not the masters series). Scarier still, Nadal is only nineteen and he just broke Thomas Muster's clay record of 42 straight clay wins.

Tell me: what were Federer, Ljubicic, Roddick, Moya, Haas, Safin, Henman, etc. all doing at the age of nineteen besides picking their noses? If Nadal is this dominant at the age of 19, God only knows what damage he'll be capable of doing once he hits his peak in the mid-20s (yes, you read right. Nadal still has not hit his peak, how scary is that?). The only top players to show anything for their teenage years are Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi. That reminds me, Nadal's 24 match winning streak is the longest streak of any teenager in the Open Era, topping Andre Agassi's run of 23 matches in 1988.

Nadal shows what has been there all along: that Federer is very beatable; that it's not impossible to get inside of his head; that you have a chance if you don't beat yourself before stepping on court. Perhaps even more encouraging to the rest of the field: he has shown that you don't need to play Federer's kind of game in order to beat him. Rafa's game may be ugly or even "one-dimensional" but it's good enough to beat the best player in the world. That, and a loopy lefty forehand might do the trick.

"More than anything, believe that you can win."

-- RAFAEL NADAL's advice to James Blake, upon facing Federer.

I've always likened Rafael Nadal as being the Gene Kelly to Roger Federer's Fred Astaire. Both hugely talented and brilliant in their own ways: One offers grace packaged in a mascularity bravado, the other offers grace packaged in effortless elegance. Their differences complementing the others' talent. Pick your poison.

* * *
A Chink in the Swiss Armor

"He's quite one-dimensional with his game. After Dubai, I thought I actually saw the way I should play against him."

-- ROGER FEDERER on Nadal.

It's not often that Federer betrays his nerves but this eyebrow-raising comment sure did. Rarely does Federer talk smack and it's apparent that Nadal has really got him rattled (read Matthew Cronin's interesting post-match commentary "Federer in Denial After Nadal Loss" where Roger makes some more curious comments.)

It is interesting to see how effectively Nadal brings Federer back down to earth. We hear so often, too often, about how classy Roger is, what a true gentleman he is, isn't he just breathtaking? Mary Carillo wants his baby, Andy Roddick wants his baby, blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum. Such over-the-top accolades practically elevate him to demigod status. But you know, it's easy to be classy when you win all the time. How much effort does it take to laugh and talk up your opponent after you've just beaten him for a third straight time as you hold aloft your prized trophy? The true test of character, in my opinion, is how you carry yourself after suffering one heartbreaking loss after another; after having your dreams crushed in a final yet again; after losing sight of that treasured win by just two points. In this regard, I would say that Andy Roddick outclasses Federer. For Federer, suffering tough losses to the same player again and again is new territory for him and he is now experiencing just how demoralizing and utterly frustrating it can be.

"Sometimes you just have to sit back and say, 'too good'. Hope he gets bored or something."

-- ANDY RODDICK, on Federer.

People who dismiss Roger's "one-dimensional" comment merely as being "honest" are being disingenuous. I'm surprised that many of these Federer fans have not picked up on Roger's ability to be catty with his remarks, which he always says with a smile. (Remember his dig at Andy at the TMS Cincinnati final last year? "I enjoy playing Andy, and not just because I win!" ha! ha! ha! *back slap*). This is not a "something got lost in translation" thing, either. Calling Rafa one-dimensional may be true but it also conveys his distain for Rafa's game and he probably can't understand why someone as uncouth as Rafael can beat someone as sublime as himself so consistently.

In many ways, you can't blame him for trying to wink-nudge his contemporaries into doing better against him. Being on top of the world gets lonely and boring. He's already bored, I can see it in his face during early round matches, even in later matches he's practically yawning in his opponent's face. It's like placing an advanced AP student in the special education section of the classroom. If you had to deal with slow-witted retards all day long you'd get cranky and impatient, too.

UNDER HIS THUMB. "Hello Rogelio. I just beat you again, no?" telephone call from Rafa to Roger as imagined by Jace Corwin, Pet Detective.

* * *
The Elitists (a.k.a. Fedtards)

I spend way too much time surfing various tennis messageboards and blogs, and in my web travels I have noticed one breed of delusional Federer fan that has infested every damn one of them like a tapeworm: the Elitists (commonly known as "Fedtards").

Here's an example of what these crazies look and sound like. This is an actual post from an actual Fedtard (as I like call these lowest forms of fanatics). This is the kind of garbage the rest of us normal tennis fans have to wade through every day:
Really, didn't want it to come to this, but Nadal is a freak and no matter how many times he wins against Roger everyone knows the truth. It's a major matchup problem, more things are defective in Roger's brain and game than Nadal's attacking game.

How utterly disgusting, thought someone like Richard [Gasquet] would come along and challenge Roger. Instead we get this thing that loves to retrieve and turn tennis matches into playground games. What a mess this entire situation is.

Could have been Tomas [Berdych], Richard or even Marat. Things didn't quite end up that way. Tough pill to swallow when your favorite continues to lose to a player he's obviously superior to not only in tennis, but when it comes to being a person in general.

Roger contributes to charities, speaks mutiple languages, tries to do all that he can for tennis and here comes a ball boy on wheels armed with a tennis racquet causing a commotion, wins tournaments and needs a translator by his side for each one because he can't speak a word of the native tongue.

Absolute filth.

What an embarassment. This is equivalent to urinating on a Picasso painting, I mean, if you're going to ruin something of that magnitude atleast have the common decency to use something aside from a fluid that comes from one's body. Not agitated or frustrated, just getting down to what makes it so disgusting to see Roger lose to that thing.

Honestly, if Roger Federer himself saw such snooty garbage being written in his name, I think he would be embarassed to have such fans cheering in his corner. Although I do have to say that it's amusing to see how easily Nadal has managed to not only get under Federer's skin, but his crazy fans as well. For that I say, thank you Rafael Nadal. You are the only player capable of beating some sense and humiliation into the obnoxious Elitists who refuse to give the proper credit and respect to Federer's contemporaries simply because they don't speak six languages or wave a magic one-handed backhand wand. For that, these loonies get to eat Rafa's dust. Bon appetit.

LESS THAN ORDINARY. There's something about Nadal that reduces Federer to a trembling, ordinary tennis player. Can this be bottled and sold to other players?

Some of these fans seems to believe that by hooking their wagon up to a supreme artist then they by association become Rembrandt. I'm sorry but people who define themselves and and their success through sports figures are, in a word, pathetic. And there are far too many of them, it seems. I have news for them: being smug about your preferred status as No. 1 Roger Federer Fanatic does not make you more knowledgeable or appreciative of tennis. Don't look down your nose and sniff, "If you don't enjoy Roger Federer and/or his domination then you're not a REAL tennis fan." I will reply: if you're the type of person who enjoys watching Federer humiliate his opponents by double bageling them in slam finals, then you're not a real fan of tennis, either.

Fans can go on and on about Roger's amazing shotmaking abilities, his genius, his sublimeness, his variety--and they're not wrong to admire such skills and talent--but is it really necessary to knock other players down in order to lift Roger up? Why the dismissive condescension? Oh. You prefer ugly tennis over superior shotmaking? Look, I like variety, too. But my preferred brand of variety comes in the form of a variety of different players from different countries who play a variety of different games (power baseliners, serve-volleyers, retrievers, pushers, moon-ballers, etc.) Watching one player, no matter how great, isn't going to cut it for me. The way I understand it, it takes two to play the game of tennis.

Boy, after all this ranting, you'd think that I hated Roger Federer. It's not true. It's his haughty fans who ruin the Federer experience for the rest of us that I dislike so much.

* * *
How do you like your domination?

I've learned that I am not a fan of domination. I could not stand Pete Sampras's domination of men's tennis in the 90s (this might have something to do with the fact that he kept beating my favorite player Andre Agassi) and the Williams sisters domination effectively killed my interest in women's tennis until the Russians and Belgians showed up.

I had thought that maybe Federer's brand of domination might be more palatable to me. He was exactly the kind of the player I had always wished Pete Sampras was: somebody who had great shots but wasn't robotic about it; someone who was approachable but also mysterious. Charisma was never Sampras's strong suit but Federer's dark exotic looks and quiet intensity give him some intrigue. He may not be Mr. Personality but he is magnetic, commanding your attention without having to say a word.

But I'm still not a satisfied tennis fan. Someone might argue: "You wouldn't be saying this if Roddick were as dominant as Federer!" but I have already thought about that and the answer is no, you're wrong. I don't get any pleasure or satisfaction watching any player, not even my favorites, demolish a low-ranked opponent 6-1 6-2. The early rounds of slams are the bane of my tennis existence. Who can stand watching the top players destroy qualifiers and wild cards? How does anybody enjoy watching tennis that way? Half the time I don't even bother watching the early rounds although I do tape them in the offchance that someone might pull off an upset or there might be a memorable 35-stroke rally. Otherwise, *click, delete*.

Even if Roddick were to consistently beat top players in finals the way Federer does, I don't think I'd be sitting on the edge of seat biting my nails thinking, "Oh, I wonder how it's all going to end!" Federer has the uncanny ability to suck all the drama and excitement out of most matches. But that's not his fault; the other guys need to lift their game to compete with him and more importantly, they need to walk out on that court and act like they own it and that they *know* they can beat Federer, or at least give him a run for his money. I don't think I'm alone when I say that I would perfer to watch a match between two equally-abled players of which the match outcome is relatively unknown. I prefer competitiveness over domination. I want battles, not wars. Give me a good match, not a good beating.

"Since when has Roger Federer rolling through the men's draw been considered great entertainment?"

-- MARK KREIDLER, ESPN Sports Contributor and, I assume, not a real tennis fan.

* * *
Various Little Web Items That Don't Mean Anything But Are Nice To Read Anyway

I came across this funny blog entry through a link of a link that linked to me and back from another link. Clearly this guy has a love/hate relationship with Andy. Sounds familiar.

Some local tennis coaches from Arizona were awarded USTA honors recently, and were asked the question, "Which professional player do you suggest your [student] players emulate?" One of them, Judy Hoke, said Andy Roddick: "Andy Roddick is someone for them to look at. For the ladies, it's Lindsay Davenport. She's starting to make a comeback."

If I could find the original news source to back this up I would post it, but I do recall reading a while back that many tennis instructors were going crazy because too many youngsters were trying to copy Roddick's famous serve only to end up hurting themselves in the process. I think it's wonderful that Andy inspires so many young tennis players and fans but copying a player's unconventional service motion probably isn't a good idea.

Some news and more news about the Roddick brothers vs. the Bryan brothers at the Charleston All-American Shootout scheduled for May 3.

If you weren't aware of it yet, the April/May 2006 issue of City & Shore is now available and you can see a few photos and read part of Andy's interview here.

Here's an interesting link I stumbled across when I was looking for some artwork. These people designed a mural for Andy who "wanted something to inspire him when he worked out" at his home gym. Very cool. 

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Back Home on the Houston Clay

Posted April 16, 2006

"It's always nice to beat Andy, especially here where he's won so many times."

-- TOMMY HAAS. Clay god.

QF: Tommy Haas def. Andy Roddick 6-7 (1) 6-4 6-4

Oh, all right. I guess I'll update this blog. As you know, Andy lost to Tommy in three sets. Some people may be upset that Roddick has once again lost before reaching a semifinal but I say that he didn't do too badly. For him to manage to steal a set off of Tommy on clay (which he'd never done before) is impressive enough for me. Even more impressive is that he could manage to do so while being unable to hold his own serve or convert the 3456788 chances he had to break Tommy. D'oh! Just a bad day at the office for him. Oh, well. Next.

Roddick eliminated by Haas
HOUSTON -- Fifth-seeded Tommy Haas dominated Andy Roddick on clay again, beating the No. 1 seed a fourth straight time in a quarterfinal match Friday night at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship.

Haas rallied from one set down to win 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-4 in a matchup that Roddick said could have been the final. Two years ago, it was.

Roddick had two chances to break Haas in the final game, but he was unable to return Haas' serve and got aced on the second opportunity. Haas ended the match two points later. He hit a forehand winner that cleaned the line and a forehand by Roddick hit the tape, but the ball bounced back on his side.

"In some ways you wish it was a final," Haas said. "When you play in front a full crowd that's what you work for. That's why it's fun."

Haas, from Germany, beat Roddick twice on clay in 2002 in Monte Carlo and Rome, and again in 2004 in the final here.

Roddick failed to reach the finals for the first time in six years. The big points of the match were won, not lost, he said.

"This is the first time I've left Houston on Friday," he said, adding that he'd be on his boat on Lake Austin Saturday. "I'm mad but I'm not upset, if that makes sense. There are minimal questions I asked myself after that match."

Roddick led 4-3 in the second set and had two chances on Haas' serve in the eighth game -- the longest of the match -- to set up himself to serve for the match. But Haas stiffened to win the game, then won eight straight points to close out the set, 6-4.

Haas needed just five points to break Roddick in his second service game of the third set to go up 2-1. But Roddick broke right back to level it.

In the seventh game, Haas needed just one break chance to go up 4-3, and he did it in flashy fashion. Haas barely returned the serve to his backhand and Roddick volleyed the ball wide to the other side. The German sprinted the width of the court and hit a down the line winner on the run to go up 4-3.

Haas' passing shots weren't plentiful but they were timely.

"I managed to get there and sneak a few by him which didn't give him confidence to continue serving and volleying," he said. "It's always nice to beat Andy, especially here where he's won so many times."

Roddick watched helplessly as Haas' accurate groundies went past.

"I don't know how many passing shots he hit from 8 feet behind the baseline," he said. "All I can do is put myself in the best position and if he comes up with the goods, he wins."

ESPN had a panic-y headline after Roddick's loss titled, "The Scent of Descent?" which is great for sensationalism reporting but in reality it means nothing. Roddick is right when he said he didn't feel the need to question himself after the Haas match. Why should he? Maybe if he lost to Haas on hardcourt then I would understand a few questions being asked but in all honesty, after what Roddick pulled off at Davis Cup a week ago, I don't see how him losing in three sets to a player who has his number on clay is cause for panic again. He's entitled to an off-day. Not every player can play their best tennis day-in and day-out a la Federer. The only thing I'm sad about is that Andy would not make a record sixth appearance in the Houston final.

Unfortunately, Tommy Haas had to retire from his semifinal match with Mardy Fish the following evening due to an injury to his hand that he had sustained during the Roddick match (my unspoken thought: why couldn't Haas have retired right then instead?). Haas has been having some weird luck this year; playing some great tennis but then falling in later rounds due to sickness or injury. Get well soon, Tommy!

Next on Andy's clay agenda is TMS Rome which doesn't start until May 8, so he has a few weeks to put the rackets away, hang out on his boat, work on his tan, get bored, get fat, and then show up and lose in the first round again. Go Andy! ;)

* * *
Fish Watch

In bigger news, Andy's good friend Mardy Fish actually won the Houston Clay Court Championship title(!) This is his second career ATP title (the first was in Stockholm, 2003) and his second title within a week of winning the Tallahassee Challenger! Huge win for Mardy. He was out for months after wrist surgery and when he returned he couldn't string together two wins in a row for months. In fact, throughout 2005 and 2006 he crashed out in the first or second round of every single tournament until he decided to go the challenger route just a month ago. He ended up winning the Tallahassee Challenger last week, defeating Zack Fleishman in the final, and today he beat Jurgen Melzer in the Houston final. An incredible turnaround for Fish. Understandably, he was speechless upon accepting his trophy. Congratulations to him and welcome back, Mardy!

* * *
Andy Roddick's Mural

Here's an interesting link I stumbled across when I was looking for some artwork. These people designed a mural for Andy who "wanted something to inspire him when he worked out" at his home gym. Very cool.

Originally posted April 13, 2006

"If I'd have dropped that one, I would have been a total dork."

-- ANDY RODDICK. Showing off his football prowess to Vince Young.

R1: Andy Roddick def. Paul Capdeville 6-3 6-2
R2: Andy Roddick def. Oliver Marach 6-3 6-4

I'm still celebrating Andy's Davis Cup performance and now we have to focus on a clay tournament? Gah. Anyway, two days in to the Houston Men's Clay Court Championships and Andy has successfully made the (very quick) transition from grass to clay, which is rather difficult to do. He beat his first and second round opponents in routine fashion, straight sets. In the first match, it was reported that Andy won some key points using drop shots. That's right, drop shots. I'm impressed.

R1: Roddick vs Capdeville
Defending champion Andy Roddick raised his game in the second set and took an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Paul Capdeville of Chile Tuesday night in the first round of the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

Roddick took charge in the fifth game of the second set. After a forehand error by Roddick put the score at deuce, Roddick hit consecutive drop shot winners to break Capdeville for a 3-2 lead. Capdeville won only four more points in the final three games.

Roddick won it at the first match point when Capdeville could not return a serve, boosting his record on clay in Houston to 24-2 over the past six years.

"You come in, you know the setup, it feels like home," Roddick said. "You get into your routine and it definitely helps."

Roddick started the match by losing his serve but quickly recovered. With the score at 30-30, Roddick hit a net chord that bounced out of bounds and then sent a backhand wide to lose the opening game.

"I felt pretty good all the way around, except for that first game," Roddick said.

Roddick broke back in the second game on Capdeville's forehand error and Roddick broke again in the fourth game, allowing Capdeville only one point in the game for a 2-1 lead.

Roddick is looking for his first ATP tournament victory this year, although he won singles matches over Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez of Chile last week to advance the United States to the Davis Cup semifinals against Russia. The Davis Cup matches were played on grass.

"I felt pretty good coming off of last weekend," Roddick said. "The transition coming off grass last week to clay was pretty evident in this match but I thought if I could get through this one I'd be all right."

Roddick has reached the clay court tournament finals five straight years with three titles, including last year's 6-2, 6-2 victory over Sebastien Grosjean of France.

After the Capdeville match, Andy threw a football around with the Texas Longhorns' Quarterback Vince Young:
Vince Young shows off arm

Though his mother was a fine tennis player, Texas Longhorns hero Vince Young says he never tried to play the game except casually on occasion as a kid. Nonetheless, as Jim McIngvale's invited guest, Young made a predictably big splash at Westside on Tuesday night, throwing a few passes between the Andy Roddick and James Blake matches.

Young, expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft later this month, made an appearance at the tournament and played toss with Roddick.

Young threw one of them perfectly to Roddick, who ran a length-of-the-court pattern.

"It was easy, I could put my hands there and it fell in," Roddick said. "It felt soft. I was afraid I’d drop it. If I had I'd have been a total dork but he put it right on the money. I'm just glad I could come up with it."

He, in turn, blasted a serve past Young, just to show him his stuff. Having become an Austin resident when he's not globe-trotting on the ATP Tour, Roddick is gradually being transformed into a Longhorns fan after rooting for Nebraska (where he was born) since childhood.

Roddick's grab, by the way, meant $10,000 to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Texas ex McIngvale, who owns the tennis club and Gallery Furniture, convinced Young to fling the football around for a good cause. For every "completion," Mattress Mack told Young he'd donate 10 grand to the cancer center. McIngvale ended up being on the hook for $40,000.

Triple Olympic medalist Chad Hedrick of Spring also made a Gallery Furniture Stadium appearance.

I found some videos of Andy with Vince Young over at YouTube. Go check them out!

R2: Roddick vs Marach
Roddick escaped one break point in the sixth game of the second set but finally held on Maranch's backhand error. Roddick ended the match with an ace. Roddick hit 70 per cent of his first serves.

"I was a little low on energy all day," Roddick said. "I wasn't expecting back to backs but I understand why. I'm glad to have a day off before I play Tommy (Haas) on Friday."

Roddick lost to Haas in the finals of the 2004 clay court event. Roddick says he's ready for a good performance.

"I'm looking forward to it," Roddick said. "Tommy's been playing great. I feel like I'm playing well, I've turned the corner and this will be a great test. He's in form and on a surface he likes. I want to play well against an elite player."

So Andy will next face his friend Tommy Haas in the quarterfinals. Boo! Why couldn't this be the final? Haas had beaten Andy in the Houston final in 2004 so he's perfectly capable of doing so again here. In fact, Haas has a 4-3 lead over Roddick and of the four times he's beat him, three were on clay. Andy has his work cut out for him but it will be an excellent test of his newfound confidence. If Andy managed to beat Tommy on clay, it would be huge. Haas would also be the highest-ranked player (27) Roddick has beaten this year. Should be a good match either way. Good luck, Andy!

Showing just how tough it is to make the transition to clay, his DC teammate James Blake crapped out again and lost in the first round to Antony Dupois 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-1. For Blake to hit the skids now is a concern because the clay and grass seasons are starting now and these are his worst surfaces. I would hate to see him lose so many early round matches which would affect his confidence and eventually his newfound top ten ranking. He wouldn't be able to pick up any significant points until the US Open Series started.

Roddick continues Mastery in Houston
Roddick dominated Paul Capdeville of Chile on his way to a rather easy 6-3, 6-2 win. The American was shaky at the start, losing serve and trailing 0-1, but Roddick broke back in the second game and managed another break in game four. From there, the defending champ coasted towards the finish line.

Things didn't work out nearly as well for Blake. The Yonkers, NY native dropped his first set to Frenchman Antony Dupuis and managed to fight back in the second frame. But, Blake had nothing left for the third set and fell 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-1.

"The courts were great, the balls were great, and the fans were great," Blake said. "No excuses. (Roddick) had to make the same adjustment. Antony served very well. These guys are all so good you have to be on top of your game every night."

"It's tough to do from Davis Cup the highs and lows and come to a different surface,'' Blake said. "It's part of the job but I think I'm getting better at it. He served great. That took me out of my rhythm.''

In another upset, unseeded American Mardy Fish jettisoned eighth-seeded Argentine Juan Monaco 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5).

Huge win for Mardy Fish, to defeat a seeded clay-courter on Mardy's worst surface! Very impressive. Mardy's decision to play the Tallahassee Challenger a week earlier is paying dividends for him. He won the challenger which not only boosted his ranking by 49 spots but also his confidence. Mardy was ranked as high at 17 before his world fell apart.

Robby Ginepri has been struggling something awful all year long and now he too has crashed out in the first round at Houston, losing 6-4 6-4 to Spanaird Alberto Monanes.

* * *
Video and audio files
Because I was on a Davis Cup high this weekend, I made a .mov file of the fifth set of Andy's match with Olivier Rochus at the 2005 DC in Belgium from last November. It was a great five-set match but the last set was a doozy because Team Belgium got hooked on a bad line call.

The new Lacoste ad that previewed on their website a few days ago is now appearing in full during the WTA's Family Circle Cup matches on ESPN2.

I made a .wav file from one of Andy's SNL skits ("The Governess") and put it up in my .wav file gallery.

Audio interview with Andy after he clinched the Davis Cup tie vs Fernando Gonzalez is over here on the Davis Cup website.

The new USTA website is looking great and they have audio and video files from Davis Cup as well.

Lots of photos and videos from Davis Cup are also available on the website.

Speaking of Davis Cup, if you need a laugh check this news article out. Actually, I don't think it would even qualify as being a "news article", the website itself doesn't look very reputable. Anyway, I can't believe writing as bad as this is actually published; it has to be one of the worst pieces of writing/news/opinion/commentary that I've ever read. I'm actually embarassed for the guy who wrote it. It reflects badly not only on him but on the website he writes for and worst of all, on Chile itself. Chile needs to accept the fact that they lost Davis Cup fair and square and they should look forward to next year. Wow. And people complain about how biased the US media is? Mm hmm.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Davis Cup: How Andy Got His Groove Back

Updated April 10, 2006

"I don't care if I don't win another match all year as long as we win the Davis Cup." — Andy Roddick, selfish patriot.

1st Singles: Gonzalez  def. Blake 6-7(5) 0-6 7-6(2) 6-4 10-8
2nd Singles: Roddick def. Massu 6-3 7-6(5) 7-6(5)
Doubles: Bryan/Bryan def. Capdeville/Garcia 6-1 6-2 6-4
1st Reverse Singles: Roddick def. Gonzalez 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-2
2nd Reverse Singles: Capdeville def. Blake 6-3 6-4



The hardest part about updating this blog is knowing where to start. It's easier when Roddick's in a funk because then I can just pick up the rant where I last left off. But when he suddenly makes a wonderful turnaround in one match and then proceeds to blow away all doubts and questions in the next match, my mind is racing with so many thoughts that I spend a lot of time trying to get them organized before putting it up on the blog. I can offer up a visual as to what my face looked like throughout most the Davis Cup weekend:

I guess we'll start with the second rubber, Roddick vs Nicolas Massu. Although I don't have much to write about because Blake's five-hour choke-a-thon with Gonzalez ate up most of my VCR tape and I was not able to record Roddick's match. I got home in time to watch the last set though. I regret not taping it. I never realized there could be so much drama with only three games left in the match.

My first reaction was, "Wow, the grass-hating Massu took the No. 2 grass God Roddick to two tie-breaks." And then I remembered that Roddick was somewhere in the middle of a career slump, that Massu went into this match with a 2-0 record over Roddick, and that the Chileans are renowned for playing out of their minds when it comes to Davis Cup. It got quite hairy in the third set, as the sun began to recede and Roddick still could not break Massu after eight chances. But he did play a terrific tiebreak. Down 3-4, he zipped two service winners. After Massu hit a reflex half volley winner to 5-5, Roddick didn't shake and saw Massu miss an easy forehand. On match point, He then spun in a powder-puff 77mph second serve, which Massu flew wide. His own stunned reaction (did you read what his lips were saying?: "Holy shit!") afterwards told the story. He later laughed and said that he hasn't hit a serve that slow since he was 12. But that serve changeup at the end was brilliant. Nobody saw it coming, least of all Massu who obviously was expecting another 140mph bomb to come at him, as is Roddick's customary way of putting someone away. The melonball he threw at Massu came out of nowhere and Massu reached for it awkwardly and ended up overhitting it. Tee hee! During the oncourt interview, Roddick thanked somebody (I didn't catch his name) for the serve advice.

NICOLAS MASSU. No clever photo captions here, I just need to break up the paragraphs.

But before the 77mph powder-puff serve was that scary fall Andy took that made his legs splay all over the place in weird positions. I couldn't tell if that loud gasp I heard came from me or the crowd. And then there was a hushed silence as Roddick stayed down on the ground a bit longer than he normally does. Then the heartbeat reached my throat and I thought, Oh no, not an injury. Please not an injury. What rotten luck. By this time, DC captain Dean Goldfine had rushed to Andy's side. He eventually got up and waved Goldfine away from him. He looked a bit stiff and limped a bit as he walked around but he shook it off and seemed fine right afterwards. Big sigh of relief. A few minutes later, Massu had his own injury scare when it looked like he strained his knee on the dewy grass, but he also worked the kinks out and everything was okay.

I wish I had seen the match from the beginning. I knew there would be hell to pay when Blake choked in the first rubber. I could envision Andy stalking out on the court with that "Someone's going to die now" look on his face and then he would be chomping at the bit, just waiting to get a piece of Massu. Nothing personal against Massu, of course. But some wrongs need to be righted. It was Andy's turn to get Blake's back after Blake had done the same for him in their DC match with Romania several weeks' earlier when Andy dropped the first rubber. "I'm just glad I could do the same for him [Blake]. We really worked together as a team." Roddick had said. And that monster 150mph opening serve was a good indication that he was determined to put Massu in his place from the get-go.

My favorite part of this rubber (other than Andy's "Christmas came early!" reaction when he won) was reading Massu's post-match interview where he said that he was frustrated with Roddick's game because he "couldn't read his serve." Wow. The most predictable, one-dimensional player on tour is suddenly unreadable. Imagine that. /sarcasm off

Fourth Rubber: Roddick vs Gonzalez

Nobody wants to play Fernando Gonzalez.

"Gonzo" is one of those crazy, mercurial "dangerous floaters" that we keep hearing about and never quite understand what the words "dangerous floater" mean until we see him in action. You certainly don't want to play him when he's "on" because he'll just blast you off the court. And you don't want to catch him on an "off day" either because then you'll never know when he'll stop sucking and suddenly turn back "on" and then proceed to blast you off the court again. Then he'll call for a trainer to massage something. Then he'll go back to mishitting several balls out of the stadium and so you relax a bit but then the next thing you know you're down a break because he just blew you off the court again while you weren't looking. You won't be happy if you see him on your side of the draw. You won't be happy if you see him on the other side of the draw. There's no happy medium with this guy. No rhythm. No breaks. He's no fun to play.

Gonzalez started the match red hot, serving brilliantly past Roddick's forehand, whacking his forehand and never allowing the American into his service games. Roddick was having a terrible time getting returns back into the court, much less putting much on the ball.

The Chilean broke Roddick to 2-1 in the first set by rocketing back a 141-mph bullet by Roddick that the American couldn't handle. He never looked back, holding at love to win the set when Roddick framed a forehand into the grass about a foot in front of him

With the lively contingent of Chilean fans buzzing, Roddick struggled to stay in the second set, but began into serve much better and was quite secure around the net. His backhand slice was biting and he maintained his patience even though Gonzalez was untouchable with his serves down the tee.

In the final game of the set, the Chilean finally gave him a peek when he choked a backhand volley at 15-30. Roddick then missed an easy forehand return, but Roddick then charged the net and Gonzalez's forehand passing attempt clipped the top of the net and fell wide.

El Loco Gonzo

Gonzalez's meltdown included screaming at the chair umpire, getting the Chilean fans riled up, cursing at other fans, mocking the linespeople, an impromptu massage therapy session, fake-out serving, throwing several balls back at the ball kids and then asking for more balls, destroying a racket which earned him a warning for racket abuse, and finally pleading with, stalking, and intimidating a lineswoman who, in his mind, made an erroneous call against him. Not his finest Davis Cup moment.

Gonzalez' meltdown started at the beginning of the third set when Roddick broke him in the first game. This is where Andy finally came into his own and Gonzalez began to self-destruct. The beauty of the Gonzalez match was that we didn't get just flashes of the old Andy Roddick in action, but now he was in full-flight, an entire weekend's worth, much to brother John Roddick's delight, and to the distress of Chilean DC captain Hans Gildemeister who had openly expressed his hope that Roddick would still be in his slump by the time their quarterfinal rolled around.

When this rubber was about to start I was almost afraid that Roddick would collapse with stomach cramps and start vomiting again from the excitement and stress, as he had during the first round DC match with Romania in February. For Roddick to play his best, he needs to maintain a balance between controlled aggression (but not hyper and erratic) and being patient (but not passive); for him to recognize when and how he's getting beat, but to not panic, or mentally crap out. After he dropped the first set to Gonzalez, who came ready to win, Roddick did all of this. Normally when he loses the first set, I start to panic. Oh crap, he's going to pull a Sasha Cohen again and mentally check out now. But when I saw that he wasn't panicing, I relaxed. Gone was the negative body language and defeated deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. For the first time in a long while I could see the confidence in him and I knew that finally, he was starting to believe in himself and his game again.

What did we see? We saw vintage Roddick: the rocket serve on display, his powerful forehand back in action (and working this time), painting the lines, hitting crazy angles, coming into the net and hitting volleys that didn't sink into the net, athletic dives for stab volleys a la Boris Becker that kept him in points, all of which contributed to Gonzalez's growing frustration and eventual meltdown towards the end of the match. Even better: for once, Roddick was the calm eye of the storm while chaos erupted all around him, both from the Chilean fans who hurled verbal abuse at him and from the Chilean captain who wouldn't stop jumping up and down and giving the chair ump an earful and distracting Roddick while he served. Besides exchanging a few choice words with some unruly fans and with the Chilean captain (at one point, Roddick mocked his constant complaining to the chair ump), Andy for the most part maintained his cool and stayed inside his bubble. When Gonzalez again asked for the trainer and got another leg massage during a change-over, Roddick didn't get pissy and impatient like he usually does. He just sat there and kept his head down, holding his concentration. He was in the zone. And when he's in the zone, he's unstoppable. We haven't seen him like this in ages.

"Andy didn't have a good year," Chilean DC captain Hans Gildemeister said. "I did hope that Andy didn't get a comeback in these two days. I think he's coming back. I know he's going to come back sometime in the year, but not this week. Unfortunately for us, he came back on Friday and Sunday. He played his best tennis I think today for a long time. I think he played a very good match. I think Fernando made Roddick play his best tennis of the year."

"I was very impressed by Andy, the way he corralled his energy. . . It was a big boost for himself as far as the rest of the year, and he answered a lot of questions about his game." — Patrick McEnroe, proud papa.

Match Statistics

On the match, Roddick was five of six on break point conversions, won an impressive 75% of his second serves to just 35% from Gonzalez, and totaled 36 winners from the net. He also hit 50 winners with 17 unforced errors, and had 14 aces and no double faults. He won 77 percent of points on his first serve and 74 percent of points on his second serve.

By the time Roddick's match with Gonzalez ended and he was doing his own version of Slip 'n Slide on the grass in celebration, I was doing my own celebration dance in the living room which may have looked something like this:

If you want to send a note of congratulations to the USA Davis Cup team, you can e-mail them here

Waiting for Team USA in the DC semifinals: Russia. On their home turf. On clay. Yeah. Good luck to us.

Whatup, James?

In contrast to Andy's inspired play this weekend, James Blake flunked out in both of his matches (one of them a dead rubber), and looked nothing like the Top Ten player he had become of late. In the first rubber against Fernando Gonzalez, he cruised through two and half sets and was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third. But at 30-15, the matched turned thanks to an overruled line call in the Chilean's favor. The next thing I know, Fernando's being carried away by his teammates like the hero who slayed Goliath. It was a horrendous choke from Blake. And an impressive performance for Gonzalez, who was playing away from home, battling cramps and trying to fend off one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour.

"Fernando is dangerous no matter what," Blake said. "He started playing like the Fernando I've come to know, the one that can hurt you in an instant He was going after his shots and they were going in."

"Roddick saves Blake in second DC match" []
James Blake may be the hottest US player this year, but he still can't manage to win a five-setter.

In a seesaw match that highlighted the greatness of Davis Cup clashes, Chile's Fernando Gonzalez pulled out an incredible comeback and stunned Blake 6-7(5), 0-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 10-8 to give Chile a 1-0 lead in their Davis Cup quarterfinal on Friday.

Blake looked like he was going to win the contest walking away when he held a 5-3 lead in the third set, but he received a tough call when trying to serve out the match at 5-4, 30-15 and lost his edge. Gonzo then ratcheted up his forehand, served brilliantly and played very solid from his weaker backhand side.

Blake played way too passively during key moments, didn't volley particularly well and served miserably at key moments. While he fought very hard and pulled off some amazing shots, the fifth set seemed to be all uphill for the 26-year-old, even though he held a 4-1 lead and played a terrific game to break back to 6-6 when Gonzo tried to serve it out.

Blake on Chile's gamesmanship: 'bush league'

But, in the end, it was greater intensity of Gonzalez and captain Hans Gildemeister that rule the day, as they argued numerous calls in the deciding set and managed to take two medical timeouts for the same injury during the set even when only one is allowed.

Even though he saluted Gonzalez for the victory, Blake accused them of gamesmanship.

"I thought in the past maybe I've had girlfriends that complained a lot, but he took that to a whole new level complaining when they get called," Blake said of Gildemeister. "When you take one injury timeout and get your leg rubbed, then five or six games later get the same leg rubbed and say now it's cramping, and before it wasn't, I mean, you tell me what that is," Blake said. "You think that belongs in the Major Leagues or in the bush leagues? That's Davis Cup. That's what they have to live with. That's not me. I do my best to play fairly and go about my business out there, worry about my side of the court. I couldn't worry about that during the match. If they can explain that any better, be my guest. It doesn't seem like the way Dwight Davis wrote it up."

Nonetheless, Blake still could have won the match, but the Chilean was much more secure in his service games and closed the contest out by kissing the corners with his heater four straight times.

The normally congenial Blake wasn't thrilled when he told of his lousy 0-7 five-set record.

"You want to kick my dog, too, while you're here?" he said. "It's not a whole lot of fun to lose those. I'm doing my best. I haven't won them. I was two points from beating Andre [Agassi at the US Open]. He hit two unbelievable winners. I was two points away from it today. He got a miss-hit winner and then played a couple great points. I wish I could come in here and say there's some reason, that it's nerves or something I could fix really quickly, my body gave out, anything. You know what, it's guys playing well. Sometimes, especially when you're down, a guy like Fernando and a guy like Andre, when they start swinging from the hips, swinging for the fences, they're so good, so talented, it's going to go in a lot of times. They went in."

Up next for James is singles duty (seeded No. 2) and doubles duty with Mardy Fish at the US Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston, Texas.

Whatup, Matt Cronin?

Nice to see's Matthew Cronin eating a little bit of crow this morning. I am referring to Cronin's buried-paragraph a few days earlier about how he got into a fight with Patrick McEnroe over McEnroe's unshakable belief in a struggling Andy Roddick. Cronin called Andy "the so-called leader of the team." After Roddick's inspired performance this weekend (and Blake's washout) it looks like he's changed his tune. Andy is now 7-0 in closing out ties for Team USA. If that's not a leader, what is?

"The Closer is back: Roddick leads US to win over Chile" []
The Davis Cup closer came through again and maybe these two huge victories over Chile will give Andy Roddick the confidence he needs to regain his elite status.

In a steely, inspiring performance against a fired-up Fernando Gonzalez, Roddick defeated the Chilean 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 to give the United States an unassailable 3-1 victory over the South American nation in their Davis Cup quarterfinal on Sunday.

"I said I wanted to [close] and I know I have the ability to," Roddick said. "I feel like that's just coincidence because I always play the first on the second day, and more often than not we have a lead going into that day. It feels good. I hope can I keep it going I'm glad. I'm just glad I could get it to 7-0 and not 6-1." [. . .]

Even though he has struggled at times during his six year Davis Cup career, Roddick is amazing 7-0 when given the opportunity to close out ties. He's beaten some patsies before to accomplish the feat. But that was not the case on Sunday, as Gonzalez was riding a huge wave of confidence after upsetting James Blake on Friday and Chilean captain Hans Gildemeister had predicted a Chilean victory. [. . .]

His sordid season prior to this tie that included only one visit to an ATP semi has now been saved in some ways, as he stood up and beat two fine players Nicolas Massu and Gonzalez back to back.  He's still the leader of the US team, even if Blake (who fell to Gonzalez on Friday) is having a better year overall.

"This has definitely been the best weekend for me so far [this year]," he said. "I've kind of been looking for something good. You know, maybe this was it. I came up pretty big this weekend, especially today. Fernando playing lights-out the first couple sets, just kind of stuck around and really found a way. … Even if it's just one weekend, I'm not going to get too overexcited over two good matches under intense situations. I felt good about the way I performed, and especially under pressure this week."

"This has definitely been the best weekend for me so far. I’ve been looking for something good. Maybe this was it." — Andy Roddick. It was a good weekend for his fans, too.

Roddick clay avatar created by tangerine.

Up Next: Andy's Favorite Surface, Clay

Or, America's Kryptonite, if you prefer.

Andy will join his buddies Blake and Fish at the US Men's Clay Court Championship in Houston, Texas (seeded No. 1) where he is defending champion. After that he is scheduled for Rome (May 8) Hamburg (May 15) and finally Roland Garros (May 29). Ironically, his first round opponent in Houston will be Paul Capdeville, whom Blake had just lost to in the DC fifth dead rubber match this past weekend. Avenge James, Andy!

And why do I get the feeling that we'll be seeing a lot of that pesky Fernando Verdasco on Andy's side of the draw this clay season? Deja vu.

News Items:
• "Roddick's post-match interview after defeating Gonzalez and clinching the Davis Cup tie" [ASAPSports]
• "That which destroys you" [Steve Tignor]
• "US rides Roddick to victory" [The Desert Sun]
• "Roddick, US, avoid a pothole" [LA Times]
• "Momentum building for Roddick?" [The Desert Sun]
• "James Blake is primed to finally beat Andy Roddick" [The Houston Chronicle]
• "Is Roddick ready to bust out of rut?" [Fox Sports]
• "Roddick wins on favorite surface" [ESPN]
• "US Davis Cup team riding wave of confidence" [Fox Sports]
• "Roddick propels Americans into Davis Cup semifinals" [NY Sun]

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Originally posted April 6, 2006

Davis Cup: USA vs Chile Quarterfinal this Weekend

"No one likes Andy." — James Blake, joking to the media about his Davis Cup teammate.

Blake to lead the USA into battle

James Blake will be first up for USA in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal against Chile in Mission Hills on Friday. He will face Chilean No. 1 Fernando Gonzalez in the first rubber, before Andy Roddick takes to the court for the hosts against Nicolas Massu.

Davis Cup draw
R1 - James Blake (USA) v Fernando Gonzalez (CHI)
R2 - Andy Roddick (USA) v Nicolas Massu (CHI)
R3 - Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA) v Fernando Gonzalez/Nicolas Massu(CHI)
R4 - Andy Roddick (USA) v Fernando Gonzalez (CHI)
R5 - James Blake (USA) v Nicolas Massu (CHI)

Davis Cup TV schedule

U.S. viewers: If you are one of the lucky few who have The Tennis Channel, click here for their Davis Cup coverage which begins Friday, April 7.

The Outside Life Network (OLN) will broadcast the USA-Chile quarterfinals this weekend as well. Click here to view their program schedule.

International viewers: Click here to see if your local stations are carrying any of the matches.

Click here for the Official Davis Cup website.


"An interview with the USA Davis Cup Team" [USTA]
TIM CURRY: Thanks, everyone, for joining us for the pre-draw press conference with the US team. We'll open the floor for questions.

Q. Dean, can you talk about running the team this week and what Patrick's status is going to be for the week.

DEAN GOLDFINE: Right now, obviously, it doesn't look like Patrick is going to make it. Still waiting to kind of find out what happens, obviously, with the baby.

But in terms of running the team, I mean, it's pretty much the same as it always is. I've been, obviously, to quite a few ties with these guys and see how Patrick runs the show. So it's pretty much, you know, status quo.

Q. Can you guys talk about being with Dean so far up to this point? I know there's not been much time, but...

ANDY RODDICK: Why is everybody looking at me?

JAMES BLAKE: You know you're going to get all the questions anyway, we're just going to get you started. What do you think?


JAMES BLAKE: I mean, he's doing a great job. Obviously, like he said, he's seen Patrick a ton of times. He also gets along with all of us very well, except I don't know about Andy. It's tough to get along with Andy. None of us really get along with him (laughing).

ANDY RODDICK: You know they're going to write that.

JAMES BLAKE: Of course they are. It will be in like People magazine next week.


JAMES BLAKE: Or, yeah, US Weekly, "No one likes Andy."

But Dean is doing a great job. He's extremely laid-back and an extremely knowledgeable coach, which I think fits great with our team. He's there to help if we need it. He also knows not to probably go overboard; we all have our own coaches, we all know kind of what we're working on in our games, and he just is there to help keep our focus there this week and keep our spirits high, I guess.

Q. Andy?

JAMES BLAKE: They were asking you.

ANDY RODDICK: I wanted you to start, though.

I guess, in all fairness, Patrick came to us and said, you know, "My wife's due right around the second-round tie." I think this was after the first-round tie. He said, "I really don't know if I'm going to make it."

He asked all of us individually who we thought would be a good stand-in to kind of run the week and be on the court with us. We all said Dean. So, you know, it was kind of what we wanted.

It is something that we're all comfortable with.

Q. The same question for the brothers.

BOB BRYAN: I mean, for us, Dean's perfect because he's been at three or four ties, he's helped us on the doubles court, and he knows doubles. He's coached Connell and Galbraith, a good American team, and I think a Canadian player. He's worked with MacPhie and Knowles and a lot of great doubles players.

MIKE BRYAN: Todd Martin.

BOB BRYAN: Todd Martin, too. So he can help us a lot on the doubles court. He knows what he's doing.

MIKE BRYAN: He also put in a lot of work last week. He watched all of our matches, watched all the Chilean matches. He's put his work in. He's helped us a lot on the court so far. He's really positive and, you know, he's good.

Q. James, how pumped up you are after your performances since Indian Wells for this match?

JAMES BLAKE: I'm feeling good. Definitely excited to be back in the same area where I did well a couple weeks ago. Obviously, it's a different surface. I still feel extremely confident given the success I've had in the last few weeks, playing well in Vegas, Palm Springs and Miami. I'm riding a wave of confidence, and hopefully it will continue here.

These guys are here to help me, and I'm here to help them, so I think we've got a pretty confident team overall. Looking forward to the week.

Q. You guys have been together for three ties. How much does the continuity help now that you have a different captain for this tie?

ANDY RODDICK: I mean, we say "different captain," but Dean was the assistant the whole year in 2004 when we went to the final. You know, we're still able to talk to Patrick on the phone a lot.

So, to me, I mean, it feels like business as usual. You know, I think we're still running the same practice schedules and all that. I've had a little bit of interaction with Patrick as well in the last couple of days.

But I think it's good that it's just, including Dean, we're all familiar with each other and the Davis Cup situation and how the leadup week is supposed to go. So I think that helps a little bit.

Q. I know your thoughts are on Chile, but I am from Croatia. I would like to ask Andy, the Croatian team, what do you think about their chances? Do they look more steady or stable this year?

ANDY RODDICK: They're certainly one of the favorites, you know, that's for sure. They showed they're capable of pulling it off last year. You know, they've only gotten better since last year.

That being said, I think, you know, as evidenced by us last year, I mean, we had a great team on paper, you know. So anything's possible in Davis Cup, and a lot of it depends on home ties and away ties.

But they're certainly on the short list of favorites, that's for sure.

Q. Andy, sorry for this question, it's about your career, not Davis Cup. Horacio de la Pena, did you consider him at some time a possibility for you?


Q. Yes, as a coach.


Q. Never?

ANDY RODDICK: No. I like Horacio as a person, but it was never really of any consideration. First and foremost, he was with a player, you know. So, no, I never really thought about that.

Q. James and Andy, is the court as fast as you wanted it? I ask because the Chilean players are feeling not so uncomfortable on this surface.

JAMES BLAKE: Yeah, I mean, it feels great to me. I think any time getting on a grass court is going to be pretty fast, especially a lot faster than the hard courts we've been hitting on. Feels good. It's just going to be a matter of time getting used to it. I feel comfortable on it. I think that's good. It's not a huge adjustment from the hard courts. It's still quicker. You have to change your game a little more, the movement's different.

I'm happy for them that they're comfortable, and I think we're pretty comfortable as well on the grass. Especially, Andy, he's always very comfortable when he's playing on grass.

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I feel fine.

Q. Andy, in your opinion, what is the key to this tie?

ANDY RODDICK: Getting the three matches. Getting three wins, any which way. Doesn't matter who wins, you know. Doesn't matter if it's 3-2, doesn't matter if it's 3-0. Doesn't matter. You know, any tie, it's the same goal: You have to win three matches.

I feel, you know, obviously, we want to put ourselves in a good position early because Bob and Mike have been great for us in Davis Cup, so I think it's a huge, huge thing for us to have them on board.

But we just want to win three matches. This is the one time of the year where a lot of us can be completely selfless. The team goal is get the three. Doesn't matter who wins, we just want to get there.

Q. It looks like Chile will just go with Massu and Gonzalez. Do you have a certain strategy preparing for a two-man team in terms of taking advantage of your depth?

JAMES BLAKE: Is that a captain question, or...?

Q. Captain question, yes.

JAMES BLAKE: There you go.

DEAN GOLDFINE: Captain (laughing).

No, I don't think you look at it any differently. I mean, obviously, it's going to be a lot tougher on them from the standpoint that those guys have to go out there and play singles on Friday, then come back and play the doubles Saturday, and then go back out there and play another match on Sunday. So, obviously, you know, it's a bit of a challenge from them.

But as we saw from the Olympics a couple years ago, these guys, especially Massu, is capable of superhuman feats, I mean, in terms of being able to be out on the court a ridiculous amount of time and coming back the next day and playing great tennis. I don't think that's going to affect our preparation whatsoever.

Q. James, you have all the tools to do well, but you're not as accomplished on grass as on hard courts. What do you think you need to do on grass to have a little more success?

JAMES BLAKE: Well, I think I actually have -- I just haven't played on it a lot to have the results.

But also I think when I was starting out in my career, there were a lot of things -- I mean, I didn't have success on any surface to begin with. With grass, I was kind of figuring out my game on grass. I was trying to change it too much.

I think a lot of guys - at least for me, watching it growing up - you see guys coming in all the time, serving and volleying, chipping and charging, we were watching Pete too much because he was good at that, obviously. I just felt like I always needed to be attacking, always getting in to net, really changing my game. I used to change string on grass, just completely changed tactics. I think that actually was detrimental to me, instead of playing my game with minor adjustments.

Last year I felt like I did that. Playing one bad match at Wimbledon; otherwise, I felt like I played well at Queen's. Newport, the grass is completely different, so that was just kind of a bit of a Craps shoot there.

But I feel like I've gotten a lot more confidence from having a little bit of success at Queen's last year, and just the way I'm hitting the ball now is totally different. The confidence I have on the court, for grass courts, it makes a big difference. I don't think I need to adjust as much as I used to, and I think that's going to be the biggest goal here.

Q. Andy, you and James are top 10 players. You have another top 10 in Andre Agassi. Do you think the chance to win the title is as big as the previous year?

ANDY RODDICK: Well, we were in the same position last year, to be honest, with Andre, myself and the boys. There was no difference. We were all top 10. Like I said earlier, I mean, anything's possible in Davis Cup, and especially with the history of Fernando and Nicolas playing for their country, whether it be the World Team Cup in Germany, which they've had a lot of success at. Obviously, I was sitting in the first row at the Olympics watching, and that was amazing.

I think you take to a certain extent what happens on the ATP Tour and kind of put it to the side a little bit when it comes to Davis Cup, because it's a totally different animal.

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