Friday, June 23, 2006

Wimbledon: Run Rabbit Run

Updated July 2, 2006

"There's just that intangible quality right now, the edge that's not there. That's what I am searching for."

-- ANDY RODDICK. Offering a finder's fee to anyone who locates his missing edge.



R3: Murray def. Roddick 7-4(4), 6-4 6-4
R2: Roddick def. Mayer 6-4 6-1 6-2
R1: Roddick def. Tipsarevic 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(6), 6-2


After Andy's loss to Murray I heard Eminem's "Run Rabbit Run" song on the radio and it seemed to illustrate what must be Roddick's complete and utter frustration right now:
Run, Rabbit, Run
Some days I just wanna up and call it quits,
I feel like I'm surrounded by a wall of bricks,
Everytime I go to get up I just fall in pits,
My life's like on great big ball of shit,
If I could just put it all into all I spit,
Stead of always tryin to swallow it,instead of starin at this wall and shit,
While I sit writers block sick of all this shit, can't call it, shit,
All I know is I'm about to hit the wall if I have to see another one of mom's alcoholic fits,
This is it, last straw, that's all, that's it,
I ain't dealin with another fuckin politic,
I'm like a skillet, bubblin until it filter's up,
I'm about to kill it, I can feel it buildin up,
Blow this building up, I've concealed enough,
My cup runneth over, I done filled it up,
The pen explodes and busts, ink spills my guts,
You think all I do is stand here and feel my nuts,
Well I'ma show you what, you gonna feel my rush,
You don't feel it then it must be too real to touch,
Pill the dutch, I'm about to tear shit up,
Goosebumps, yea, I'ma make your hair sit up,
Yea sit up, I'ma tell you who I be,
I'ma make you hate me, cause you ain't me,
You ain't, it ain't too late to finally see,
What you closed minded fucks were too blind to see,
Whoever finds me is gonna get a finder's fee

Apologies that I was not able to update the Wimbledon blog in a timely fashion. I was working on deadline at work last week and needed to get a lot of stuff done before we left for the 4th of July holiday weekend. Then by the time Saturday rolled around, I was too empty and gutted over the Americans' lackluster performances to bother updating.

I mean, what's the point? Andre Agassi ending his Wimbledon career losing to Rafael Nadal was expected, but even Andy losing to Andy Murray wasn't a complete surprise, either, and I'm still feeling kind of empty about the whole thing. I'm sad that Roddick's early-round losses are no longer shocking...to anybody. And the fact that there's no American man left standing going into the second week of Wimbledon makes it a double whammy. This is unheard of for us, expectations are high because historically this is one of our best-performing surfaces. By the time "Super" Saturday ended, I had a headache.

* * *
Roddick vs Murray
I didn't allow myself to get too excited over Andy's brilliant performance vs Mayer in the second round, precisely because I knew Murray would be waiting for him and also because Andy has unfortunately become a very inconsistent player where he plays lights-out tennis one day but then falls in the next match. He basically let Murray into the match from set one which he should've won by at least converting one of the many breakpoint chances that he had (he had 12 chances in all)!

And Murray is an excellent returner so I knew Andy would not be able to blow Murray off the court like he does to many other players. I don't know why Andy didn't employ the moonball tactic on him. Seeing and hitting a slow ball is more difficult to do than tracking a 140mph bomb coming at you, as evidenced by Andy's inability to hit a winner off of one of Murray's 85mph second serves but Murray having no problems getting Andy's bombs back into play.

Murray, like Hewitt, does not like to create his own pace and by blasting serves and hitting heavy groundstrokes he was giving Murray a moving target. After Andy lost the first set he panicked and when Andy panicks he loses sight of his gameplan and begins to second-guess his shot selection which is why he looks so confused and clueless out there; it's because he doesn't trust himself or his game anymore. And opponents sense this, they smell blood, and go in for the kill. It's sad to see Andy struggling so badly like this.

So out Andy goes in straight sets again. With this loss, Andy is now officially out of the Top Ten for the first time since October 2002, and James Blake takes over as the new Number One American. Even though Blake went out early he managed to earn points because he had none to defend whereas Andy was unable to defend his 700 finalist points.

I guess the only good news I can find here is that, aside from the lousy bp conversion (and his volleys, according to him), he didn't exactly crap out as badly as he's done before. He still fought with a lot of heart to the bitter end, but it was his tactics that were questionable. As I said before, that's merely a result of him panicking and second-guessing himself. Perhaps he should do what Rafael Nadal does and slow himself down and keep his mind calm by taking his time between points instead of rushing through everything.

2006 is turning out to be the worst slump of Andy's career. I am still confident that Andy can turn this all around and get back his form. Jimmy Connors can't get on board the Roddick Express fast enough. The summer hardcourts will be coming up soon so there is still time for Andy to redeem himself and climb back into the Top Ten where he belongs.

Mary Carillo mentioned during the highlights show today that Andy will be taking a European backpacking trip with friends before he returns to Austin. Relax and enjoy the trip, Andy. And please find yourself soon.


Andy's post-match interview here.
Match Report: Murray beats Roddick Battle of the Andys
Video interview of Andy from yesterday here.


* * *
Young Americans disappoint
James Blake lost another five-setter, this time to Max Mirnyi. James now has one of the worst five-set records in the Open Era: 0-9. The last two sets where Blake lost 1- and 0- were absolutely dreadful and he rightfully got ripped to shreds by the ESPN commentators for it. Blake was frustrated by Mirnyi's aggressive net play right from the beginning but he completely lost heart and hope in the last two sets and it seemed like he just gave up. Giving up is more unforgiveable than losing, and Mary Jo Fernandez let him have it, saying that he did not have the heart of a true warrior.

On top of that, Blake has now picked up the nasty Roddick habit of applauding his opponents for simply outplaying him and claiming that there was nothing he could have done. Look, I'm all for classy acknowledgements towards opponents but it's getting out of hand now and is starting to sound a bit trite. Suffering bad losses once in a while is going to happen to everybody, but if it starts happening on a regular basis, against a variety of different players, then it's time to stop applauding your opponents and start taking a harder look at yourself and figure out what it is about your game, your attitude, your demeanor, etc. that is allowing your opponent to play his game and beat you.

Mardy Fish was apparently playing too well at Wimbledon so naturally some bad luck had to befall him, retiring from his third round match due to flu-like symptoms. This is a shame for Fish, who's best and favorite surface is grass, and he looked like he might finally make a run into the second week. His chances of beating Irakl Labadze that day were excellent.

Some people on the tennis messageboards have taken this opportunity to trash the new generation of American men as being one of the worst we've ever had. Aside from the sheer ignorance of such a blanket statement, such a reaction is nothing more than sensationalism. Tennis is not America's No. 1 sport. It's not even in the top five. Tennis in the U.S. competes with a myriad of other sports that are far more popular and pay better. Also, what people seem to forget or didn't know, is that this current crop of players are very different from the Agassi/Sampras era in that today's players were not raised as prodigys or to be star tennis players, and none of them were raised by and/or trained in tennis academies for years at a time. Considering this, I think Roddick and Blake are doing pretty good for two average guys who thought maybe they'd be lucky to get a tennis scholarship but that's about it.


Matthew Cronin reflects on the state of Andy Roddick and American tennis:
The best guess made late on Saturday night as to the last time that the U.S. only had one player in the second week of Wimbledon was some 84 years ago. That player was not Shenay Perry, who's America's last person standing and has a decent shot at reaching the quarters, but will get no further.

As Andy Roddick said to me after his troubling straight-set defeat to Andy Murray, we are all used to going through the US funeral dirge press conference in Paris, but none of us are used to a what-the-hell-just-happened meeting at Wimbledon on the first Saturday.

Sure, I picked Rafael Nadal to put down Andre Agassi in the legend's last appearance at the All-England Club, but I never, ever expected defending champion Venus Williams to be out clutched by the mentally shaky Jelena Jankovic 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-4, nor did I expect Roddick not to win a set off Andy Murray, much less lose 7-6 (4) 6-4, 6-4.

Mardy Fish catching the flu and retiring – that's a one off, we hope.

But Roddick unable to convert, what was it, two million break points, not out-serve the lanky kid in a tiebreak, not wear him down at least for a little while and not be able to bring him into a fourth set? No chance.

That's not because I haven't seen Roddick falter before; we all have, plenty of times. But what was particularly striking about Saturday was how the momentum gained by Agassi’s early fire against Nadal and how it shifted from Centre Court where Agassi lost control of the tiebreak, over the Court 2 where Venus began to double fault, and eventually back to Centre Court where Roddick began to doubt himself way too early in the match.

Where Agassi in the second set knew he wouldn't be able to hit through the speedy Spaniard, where Venus sensed that Jankovic was secure banging to her forehand, where Roddick knew that just like in San Jose, Murray would construct points like an old master and bluff him into over-hitting.

The US tennis gods left the AELTC, just like the soccer gods abandoned England during the penalty kicks phase of their loss to Portugal … and about at the same time.

Of course, it's Roddick who troubles me the most. I hate to say this about a 24-year-old, but at this point, he's looking like a one-Slam wonder and that's too bad.

He's a fiery, intense competitor who's an honest, likeable guy despite his tendency to let his mouth run on occasions, but it's very difficult to see just how he's going to become a Top-5 player again. He's not now, as his ranking is due to drop to No. 10 on Monday. He may never be again because really, what's he's bringing to the table that's so special? There are at least 25 other guys on tour who can hit a forehand as well as he can. There are at least 100 with a better backhand, and a good 30 with better volleys. His transition game continues to be suspect and although he tries very, very hard on defense, he certainly doesn't turn points around like Federer, Nadal and Hewitt do, much less Murray.

His serve is still one of the tour's best, but he's not locating it well and the good players are reading him just fine, which is why Murray put back ball after ball into play. That's correctable, but I'm not sure what else can improve by more than say 10 percent, and even if he manages to do that on all sides (and I believe he will), it may not be good enough to win another Slam.

Roddick does not need "coach" Jimmy Connors to fire him up - he's intense enough. He needs Connors or someone else to completely reconstruct his backhand, which is way too stiff. It's amazing he's gotten this far already when he can barely hit two winners off that wing per match. Name one other guy in the Top 10 who you can say that about.

I completely understand that tennis is cyclical. I expect the Williamses (yes, I'm including Serena) as well as Lindsay Davenport to drive into the second week of the US Open. I could see both Perry and Jamea Jackson getting there, too, although I don't see Top 10-potential from either of them. Agassi always has a legend's chance, Fish is playing well enough to make a quarterfinal and if Brian Barker can give James Blake a swift kick in the ass, maybe the laconic Connecticut native might even reach the semis this year.

But Roddick? Speaking with Tracy Austin last night for her MSNBC column, we got heavily into the subject, but one thing she said really stuck true: with the level that he's been playing this year, we may not see him contend seriously for a major for a very long time. With Agassi about to leave the sport, that a troubling thought, because Roddick is the only guy in American tennis right now with enough crossover appeal to keep fans coming through the turnstiles.

Other news articles:
- ESPN: Roddick exits early again
- Tennis Week: McEnroe-Roddick playing on hope rather than belief
- MSNBC: Roddick is underachieving
- Sun-Sentinel: Farewell Agassi...Roddick and Venus, too
- New York Sun: Roddick's loss betrays strategic shortcomings

* * *
Roddick boycotting the media?
This is days' old news from TennisReporters but I thought it was interesting because a lot of us noticed that Andy did not do a pre-tournament press conference which is unusual, and some had thought that Roddick was perhaps boycotting the media. Here's the story behind it, from Matthew Cronin again:
Roddick not talking to reporters
DAY 1 FROM WIMBLEDON –

Going out to the practice courts to try to chase down the mentally struggling Andy Roddick on Sunday, I was struck by the thought as to whether any top American of late has boycotted the US press. I couldn't think of one.

The question arose because Roddick has been consistently turning down interview requests since Roland Garros – the International Herald Tribune, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post and USA Today, among others.

The reason why I wanted to chase down Roddick was because I had heard this and was oddly intrigued to see if it would hold true after his practice session with Paul Goldstein. Why? Because although I've been one of a number of American journalists who have exchanged sharp words with Roddick in the past, he's always been willing to talk to me when I've pulled him aside.

I know Roddick reads almost all of his press (blame or credit his own web site for that one) and also know that he thinks the US press has been too critical of his overall play, his coaching changes, his backhand, his return and his strategy. What's really hurt him is that one of his ex-coaches is the very visible Brad Gilbert, who is now a regular ESPN commentator and still maintains the genius tag even though Roddick really slumped under his watch: post ’04 Wimbledon until his firing at the end of that year.

There is still a perception out there that Roddick should have stuck it out with Gilbert, even though Andy couldn't stand being around him at the end of their tenure together. Regardless of what one thinks about Gilbert's coaching abilities (they are quite good), no man can successfully coach another in an individual sport if the player in question doesn't like his personality. Continuing that relationship would have only led to worse play for Roddick.

It's been by far Roddick's worst year as a pro (he's only reached two semifinals) and he has to answer "What's wrong with your game" questions during nearly very press conference. That's tough place to be, but is one that every successful pro experiences at some time during their career.

So after Roddick finished a difficult practice with Goldstein where he had thrown his racket at least three times but was serving fairly well, myself, the Miami Herald's and AP's Sandra Harwitt and the LA Times' Diane Pucin approached him. He came right over and talked for 10 minutes or so about himself and Andre Agassi.

Maybe he came over because Sandy has know him since he was a kid, or maybe because he saw us watching his practice for a good half an hour and because he knew that walking right past us and saying "no" would be rude, but he was in good form the whole time.

"I'm looking forward to Wimbledon," he said. "It's a surface geared toward my game. I don't have to make a lot of changes. I just like playing here. It feels like a good chance to make a fresh start."

Often times, when players (like Greg Rusedski) say things like "I can't wait to feel the grass under my feet again," you don't believe a word of it and know they are just playing to their audience. But given Roddick's experience on clay the during past two years, you can tell he's not just pulling the wool over your eyes.

Roddick is a two-time Wimbledon finalist who really does serve more confidently here, volley with more confidence and work his forehand with direction to the corners. If he's going to turn his lousy season around, this is the place where he will do it.

"I don't have to focus as much as to how I should be playing, I can just play," said Roddick, who opens against Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia.

After Roddick left, he also ran into USA Today's Doug Robson, and the two discussed the media matters. Roddick said there is no boycott, but we have to understand that sometimes when he says no, he means that he has to practice. But that's not what coming across from his SFX handlers or the ATP Tour. They are saying that he's saying "no" and aren't bringing other possible interview times.

So either his agents or the tour aren't being completely honest, or Andy isn't. Either way, on Sunday he showed that he's at least willing to try again in more casual encounters. That's what fresh starts are all about.

BTW: Roger Federer thinks Roddick is still a substantial threat at the tournament.

"Because of his game and his name and because of his experience, what he's achieved on grass the last few years," Federer said. "Just because he lost a grass-court match not against me doesn't mean he can't play on grass anymore. A guy like him, former No. 1, former Grand Slam champion, any tournament they can all of a sudden turn it around and be extremely dangerous and tough. No different for Andy."

* * *
Rafa scares me
I'm convinced that Rafael Nadal just woke up one morning and said, "I think I'd like to win the Wimbledon title this year," and then just went ahead started taking to the grass like a fish to water. Last year Nadal went out in the second round to Gilles Muller (the Roddick-killa). This year, Nadal is into the second week of Wimbledon, his best performance at a slam other than Roland Garros. After watching Nadal dismantle Agassi all I kept thinking about was all the tennis pundits' comments after Nadal dismantled Federer at the French Open final: "Roger Federer has a better chance of winning the French Open than Nadal does of winning Wimbledon." Cue the O Rly? owl.

Nadal admitted that his match vs Agassi was the best match he's ever played on grass and anyone who saw it could only agree. Rafa, who's serve is one of the weakest parts of his game, whipped up what must be a record for him: 18 aces! And he was hitting the ball with much more pace than he usually does. He's starting to look like he could actually threaten Roger, on the bleepin' grass no less. Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself but it's not just me who's thinking these improbable thoughts. It's hard not to, when Nadal has not lost one match in months (I'm not counting his retirement vs Hewitt at Queen's recently).

I simply cannot believe how quickly Nadal has adjusted to the grass. His spanglish is getting better, too. This kid is like a sponge, he just soaks up everything quickly and can apply his newly acquired skills almost immediately.

I thought after the clay season ended we might be home-free from some more dreary Roger-Rafa finals. So help me if I see Nadal and Federer standing on the opposite sides of the net come next Sunday, somebody is going to get shot.

* * *
Andy and manbags
In one of the stranger things that the press wanted to chew on was Andy's funny tongue-in-cheek rant against manbags in his blog from a while back:
Self Chuck of the Week— I have seen some guys walking around with man purses here in London…. anything bigger than a money clip or a wallet is to be left to your girlfriend / wife…and just so we are clear you should not be able to throw your “wallet” over a shoulder…if you have a man purse, the wall is waiting.

Manbags are apparently popular in the UK so the press got a hold of this non-story and ran with it. A lot of gay websites heard about it too and proceeded to bash Roddick for his supposedly anti-metrosexual stance. My advice for them is to chill. Andy's entitled to his opinion and it's not an opinion cloaked in anti-gay/metrosexual/omnisexual, etc. sentiment, either.

That's a nice big manbag you're carrying, Andy.

I hope this public criticism doesn't prevent Andy from speaking his mind. Hyper-political correctness has really wreaked havoc on free speech (and common sense in general) and there's always some hypersensitive nut who claims that his feelings were hurt and now he wants to sue because his civil rights were violated, or something crazy like that. To these folks I offer only a tissue to dry your tears. Leave Roddick alone. He's funny and you're not.

COMMENT ON THIS POST

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Originally posted June 23, 2006

Wimble-duck


"I'm gearing my training towards becoming better with everyone. I'm not good enough to just worry about one guy. I have to worry about a whole lot of guys."

-- ANDY RODDICK.


First off, congrats to Andy on his charity being named the Best Charity in South Florida by Fort Lauderdale Magazine! woot!

Second, I about died when I saw ar.com's new official duck (Andy Rod "duck"). Are they for real? Over at MTF, we've been calling Andy "duck" and "ducky" for years. In its beginning, the "duck" moniker wasn't really a compliment, it was used by his detrators to express their distain for him. But over the years the legion of Roddick fans appropriated the label and turned into a term of endearment; a pet name. He had become "our ducky." So it's funny now that his official website would have an official duck. I love it. The floodgates have opened now. Quack it loud, quack it proud: we love the duck! Squeeze the ducky. Hug the ducky. Be one with the duck.

SQUEEZE ME. Wish our duck luck at Wimbledon.

* * *
Wimbledon draw and preview

Andy says in his blog this week that he is very excited about Wimbledon starting soon and I'm glad to hear it because his No. 3 seeding and draw are quite good this year. However, considering his erratic play and unpredictable form of late he is just as likely to lose to Tisparavic in the first round as he is to Federer in the final. He cannot afford to take anyone or anything for granted. As a form of self-protection to my heart, I am keeping my expectations low for Andy at Wimbledon this year. Needless to say, I hope he proves me emphatically wrong.

So looking over the draw, Andy's Wimbledon path could look something like this:

R1: Tipsaravic
Roddick and Tipsaravic have never met before. An unknown entity in the first round is always dangerous and even more so when underlings no longer have a fear of Roddick and his serve.

R2: Mayer/Vik
If Andy can get past Tipsaravic he should cruise through the second round here. Operative word: should.

R3: Benneteau/Murray
Tricky here. Both Murray and Benneteau landed their first wins over Roddick this year, Murray at the San Jose, California semifinal and Benneteau at the Memphis, Tennessee quarterfinal. Murray, in particular, comes with the added challenge of playing on his home turf in front of a partisian crowd desperate to see a homegrown champion. Last year he took David Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon finalist, to five sets.

R4: Baghdatis/Grosjean
This is the match-up that makes my superstitious bones quiver. LOL. The player here who could be a potential headache is Andy's friend, Sebastien Grosjean. Sure, Andy holds a 7-1 hth over Seb and has beaten him on all the grass surfaces that they've ever met on (three times at Queens and once at Wimbledon, last year, and it was a tight match) but that doesn't mean anything anymore. What's to stop Seb from getting his first win over Andy in ages? If Blake and Muller and Benneteau and Baghdatis and Murray and Ginepri and Andreev can all do it...

QF: Hewitt/Gonzalez
Ooh! Ooh! Can he play both? No, I mean, can they split sets or something? I'm on the Gonzalez bandwagon now, remember. Fernando brings out Andy's A-game; he's got Andy's mojo, so get that man in there! Rooting for Gonzo to make it to the QFs to meet Andy.

As for Hewitt, a win over his nemesis on grass would be sweet. Too bad this couldn't be the semifinal. Hewitt would be very tough as the newly crowned Queens Club winner (and 2002 Wimbledon champion) and he seems to have finally regained his old competitive form.

SF: Nadal/Ljubicic
If Ljubicic gets this far I will be very surprised. He has done nothing on grass to warrant the tennis illuminati jumping on his bandwagon all of a sudden and his fluke run at Roland Garros a few weeks ago doesn't count here.

And grass may not be Nadal's favorite surface but he has said that he would love to win Wimbledon one day and is committed to improving on the grass. He made good on his threat at Queens where he immediately took to the grass and was impressive enough to take a set off of Hewitt before retiring with a shoulder strain. I think Nadal's performance at Wimbledon will depend largely on his health.

Final: Federer
Judging from his lackluster performance at Halle recently where he was two matchpoints away from losing to Olivier Rochus, this is the first time in years that Roger has looked vulnerable on his best surface. Getting beat up and kicked around by Rafael Nadal for months seems to have taken it's toll on his psyche but will it matter at all in the final? If Andy's going to strike, now would be the time to do it.

Jon Wertheim at SI.com chimes in with his Seed Report:
3. Andy Roddick: Hard to think of a player in greater need of a strong tournament. Two-time finalist is playing on the surface that complements his tracer fire. On the other hand, another early loss and his ranking will drop like a stone -- and he'll get tested off the bat from the bespectacled Janko Tipsarevic. If he survives that, playing Andy Murray against a partisan crowd will be a test as well.

6. Lleyton Hewitt: After five months of subpar results this year, the 2002 champ played well in Paris and won the Queen's Club tune-up. He can't be displeased with his draw -- the only higher seed is the struggling Roddick.

8. James Blake: Connecticut Yankee has been playing lights-out tennis for the better part of 10 months now. On a slick surface that complements his athleticism and power, "half-Brit" is a player to watch. Has a real chance at the semis, particularly if he can avoid five-setters.

25. Andre Agassi: Can he fire up something for the memory banks in what, in all likelihood, will be his final Wimbledon? He sure couldn't have been pleased when he saw his name so close to Nadal's in the draw.

Dark-horse nation
Mardy Fish: The forgotten American is quietly returning to the upper reaches. If he gets by a struggling Rob Ginepri in round one, he's in the Qualifier Riviera.

I am surprised to see Fish listed as a "dark horse" here. He definitely has the game for grass but didn't he just lose to clay king Rafael Nadal in the first round at Queens?

FoxSports (whose tennis coverage has been getting pretty good lately) has a few burning questions in their Wimbledon preview:
Wimbledon, perhaps the biggest Grand Slam event in tennis, begins Monday, and the story is much the same as last year. Roger Federer comes in as a prohibitive favorite among the men, and the women's side is wide open.

5. How about the top American men, Andy Roddick and James Blake?

Both can do some damage at Wimbledon, but it's unlikely either of them can win it. Roddick, 23, has been runner-up to Federer for the past two years. His big serve and athleticism do him well on grass. But he's failed to reach a tournament final yet this year and obviously has lost some confidence. So Roddick will be lucky to have another final date with Federer. Blake, 26, just beat Roddick for the first time at a tune-up event last week. That was a big win for Blake, who has struggled on grass in the past. He has the tools to do well on the surface, with a big, all-around game and great foot speed. But patience has been a problem. It doesn't appear that Blake has enough self-belief to win a major yet.

Click on the "burning questions" link to read the whole article.

Joel Drucker has already handed the trophy to Roger Federer but he does discuss how other players could potentially cause an upset:
But there are two Americans who have major weapons and approach Wimbledon with significant expectations: Andy Roddick and James Blake.

Roddick has reached the Wimbledon finals the past two years but has failed to win a tournament in '06, the slowest start of his pro career. To do well, he needs to mentally toss off his tepid year and play with a heightened level of confidence. I'd like to see Roddick strike the ball more boldly on return games and play better transition tennis -- that is, look for more opportunistic ways to move forward rather than grind out points as if he were on a hard court.

In case you're wondering, the Roddick alliance with a new coach, Connors, is not yet official. With Connors broadcasting for the BBC during Wimbledon, it's hard to see the two doing much yet other than talk a few times.

Drucker goes on to pick Roddick as the only American to make it to the quarterfinals.

* * *
Other News Items

There is strange logic to this article but it's always good to see that Andy's great sportsmanship act at Rome last year is still often used as a talking-point in articles about how many of today's professional sports encourage cheating, bad sportsmanship, physical fighting amongst players ("to give the audience something to look at"), and rampant use of steroids.

Steve Tignor over at tennis.com had a few comments to make about the Queen's semifinal in his blog "The Wrap":
3. James Blake was due to beat Andy Roddick. I was shocked to find out before the match that he hadn’t done it at least once. Blake returned very well—Michael Stich, who was surprisingly good in the booth, correctly pointed out that Roddick was going to the same spots with his serve all match and had gotten predictable. Stich was hard on Andy, saying that he lacked variety and doesn’t have the right mentality to be a volleyer. He thinks Roddick goes to the net not wanting to volley and ends up just reacting to the ball.

4. Roddick was the inferior American Saturday, which had to hurt. And he was generally testy the whole afternoon. But to his credit, Roddick came to the net after the last point with a big smile and a big handshake for Blake. It looked like a heartfelt congratulations for a friend on reaching a milestone. That gesture alone makes me hope that Roddick can hang around for the two weeks of Wimbledon. He may not be the best U.S. player anymore (it’s close), but now that he’s not as cocky as he once was, Roddick has developed a personality most Americans can understand and enjoy.

Thanks, Mr. Tignor, for blatantly exposing your bias in that last sentence. Roddick's "cockiness" is tame compared to so many other players out there and besides, in professional sports a bit of cockiness/confidence/arrogance is actually needed.

I don't know who Elizabeth Newman is but she clearly doesn't follow tennis enough to warrant writing about it ("No Time Like the Present, Andy") for SI.com. I admire her optimism but since when did Andy have "potent returns"?

Some other news articles of interest:
- ESPN: Summertime Success.
- GUARDIAN: Roddick hopes his luck will change this year.
- SCOTSMAN: Grass is still greener for Roddick.

* * *
In honor of Andy's latest blog entry where he appropriately fined himself for being a dork at Queens, this video comes courtesy of claire over at ar.com again. Thanks for the clip, claire.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Queens: Time to Hit the Panic Button


"You guys are always bitching about something."

-- ANDY RODDICK, to a reporter at the Australian Open. When he loses badly, this quote could apply to fans like me as well.


SF: Blake def. Roddick 7-5 6-4

Well, that match wiped yesterday's smile right off my face. What exactly is the point of Roddick playing great tennis one day--and getting his fans all excited and happy again--only to crap out against one of his bitches in the next match? He was 6-0 vs Blake. And now he's gone and lost in straight sets to a very good player who is hitting his peak but one who, on paper, should not have beaten him on his favorite and best surface. Ai yi yi.

Put your seat belts on, I'm about to pop off

This loss is tough because in the fifth installment of "On the Rod" Andy's mouth said very different things from what actually happened during the match: "[Blake's] gunning for the #1 American spot and I'm not sure I want to give that up yet." You had me fooled, Andy. Watching your disastrous play, and goofing off in between games, I don't think anyone could tell that you really meant what you said.

And having to listen to Michael Stitch lay into Roddick's poor strategizing on the BBC livefeed was added salt in the wound. I hated listening to it but he was absolutely right. It sucks when Andy goes from 60 to zero within one day. All of the glowing high marks Roddick had attained after the Gonzalez match were immediately wiped away when Blake broke Roddick's serve in the very first game of their semifinal.

To add insult to injury, Blake ended up playing mediocre tennis in the final versus Lleyton Hewitt and Hewitt ran away with his record fourth Queens title. It figures, doesn't it? That players only bring their best tennis to the table when they're up against Andy freakin' Roddick. I can't tell you how much this annoys me.


YEAH OK, YOU BEAT ME. WHATEVER. First Robby Ginepri, now James Blake. Pretty soon Roddick won't have any more American bitches left in his harem.






I sat back, I watched, now I will trash

Where to being my latest rant? I will start with Mr. Cheetos Breath himself:
"It's not often I've served 77% first serves with one double-fault and gotten broken three times in a two-set match, especially serving with the pace that I was today."

It's not often that a player can serve 77% and I would call it a bad serving day. I certainly am not one to tell Roddick how to play his game but as a fan who watches an awful lot of his matches I can be an observer and this is what I observed: Blake was returning brilliantly and hitting winners off his second serve because Roddick had only two serves at two speeds: down the middle fast and outside wide faster. There weren't many nasty kick serves and where were the body blows? Where were the 77mph puffballs that would've thrown Blake completely off balance? Blake basically had a 50% chance of guessing correctly where Andy was going to serve next and because he knows Roddick's game so well, he was bound to pick most of them correctly.

They even had a funny banter going on about this before they changed ends at 4-3 in the second set when Blake mishit a return:

Andy: "You thought you could hit a winner?" (audience laughs)
James (smiling): "First time I guessed wrong."
Andy: "Well, you turned around and looked so disappointed."
James: "I haven't guessed wrong all day!"


The only person not laughing at this exchange was James' brother and coach, Thomas Blake. Perhaps he thought Andy was trying to bust up James' concentration and rhythm?

Another interesting moment happened between the two friends when Blake hit a drop-shot and Roddick did not even attempt to go for it. Blake was perplexed and stared at Roddick for several seconds as if to say, "What's wrong?" Roddick had looked quickly down at his troubled foot but I think maybe either his shoe just got stuck in the grass or he was wrong-footed. It didn't appear that he had suffered another injury, thankfully.

There was another funny moment when Roddick, looking just a tad desperate, hit the turf twice at 15/30, did a couple of Boris Becker-style rolls, and then dived again but completely missed a bad ball bounce at 15/40...all that dirty effort and he still got broken for 2/3 in second set.

By hitting 140mph average serves one right after another, Roddick was not wearing Blake down. He was, ironically, training Blake to read his serve better.
"I mean, I think a little bit. I mean, like I said, he returned unbelievable today. The way he was hitting the returns, it's not like he was just making them, he was, like I said, taking full cuts at my first serve, which I don't think I've ever had done before. Roger is effective at getting it back in play. But to have someone just tee off on it like that, it hasn't happened. I mean, the eight times I played him before that, it hadn't happened."

Watching Andy's confused playing and reading this passage is reminiscient of his loss to Marcos Baghdatis in the fourth round at AO. Andy made the same mistake then of getting a little too impressed with his opponent's play and worst of all, underestimating his opponent:
Q. Did you have difficulty reading him, those backhands down the line...

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, he was hitting 'em off of inside‑out forehands that I felt like I was putting a pretty good swing on. They just weren't jumping off the court, I mean, that much. I wasn't expecting him to be able to lean in off an inside‑out forehand and hit 'em consistently and down the line. You know, I haven't seen that before. I was surprised at that. [. . .]

I was feeling through the first three rounds that no one could really get a clean swing at the ball I was putting out there ‑ especially my heavy one. And, you know, like we said, he was able to kind of take it early today.

Andy simply must stop doing this. STOP underestimating his opponent; he should go out there and assume his opponent is going to play the match of his life to beat him (ironically enough, many of them have been doing just that); learn to expect the great shots and return winners and then he won't be shocked when it happens and he may be able to adjust better. He is setting himself up for failure each and every time he allows himself to get complacent. 'Oh it's only James, I own him.' Ha, ha. Not any more, Burger Boy. Stop admiring your opponent's shots and winners and focus on your own game. Who cares if Blake or whoever hits the ATP Play of the Year? Let's see him hit that shot five times in a row.


drowning man illustration by Peter Kuper

In Over His Head

Andy had blogged about The Fray being one of his favorite new bands. I couldn't help but notice that his favorite song off their CD must ring true to himself right now:
Over My Head
I never knew
I never knew that everything was falling through.
That everyone I knew was waiting on a queue,
To turn and run when all I needed was the truth.
But that's how its got to be.
It's coming down to nothing more than apathy.
I'd rather run the other way than stay and see
The smoke and who's still standing when it clears.
Everyone knows I'm in
Over my head.

I watch Andy's matches now and I think: how many more wake-up calls will it take before he finally hits the panic button and realizes that he's in deep do-do? Not only has Blake overtaken Andy as the No. 1 American player, but if Andy fails to make the QFs of Wimbledon he will be out of the top ten as well. I'm not a fan of Jimmy Connors but after this latest crash-out, I cannot wait for him to finally jump on board Team Roddick and perform needed brain surgery on our suffering Andy. In all honesty, I don't hold out much hope that Roddick will be able to three-peat as a Wimbledon finalist this year. Not when he had struggled through so many matches last year and barely made it into the final; not when he keeps losing to players he should not be losing to; not when he keeps saying he's doing fine when he clearly is not. The low expectations are necessary, in order to avoid another heart-breaker.

I thought maybe that horrendous loss to Gilles Muller in the first round at USO last year would be the kick in the pants that he's been needing; the last straw to break the camel's back, so to speak. To finally motivate him and get him to really look at himself and his team and start reinventing himself. When will the growing pains end?

Once upon a time, he was a consistently good player; a guaranteed quarterfinalist at least in the majors. But now, this year, he has not won a single title, has not defended any of his previous titles (SAP Open, Queens), and has made only two semifinals and no finals. His last trophy? At the Kooyong exhibition in January, back when he promised he was going to play more aggressively. Again, his mouth was running off talking about things he had no intention of doing. Talk to the hand.

Great performances like the one he had against Fernando Gonzalez are now a rarity and playing badly has become his norm. Nobody fears him anymore. He is not looking like or playing like a top ten player at all. He doesn't even sound like he believes he's a top player anymore. These are very troubling days indeed.

I think Andy has too much of a boy brain: he uses only one side of his brain for the smash-and-grab job and not enough of the other side that could help put together a decent game strategy and get him to think more instead of the fight-or-flight instinct kicking in. It's gotten so that whenever I see him playing as badly as he did yesterday, I feel like I am watching tennis' version of Dumb and Dumber. OK, I laughed when I typed that but in reality, it's really not funny anymore.

* * *
But look! I have videos!

Now that I've thoroughly depressed you with my ranting, here's some good stuff: new photos up in my gallery and new videos on YouTube. I decided to put all five of the "On the Rod" Queens series up so now people can view them all in one place. Also, claire over at ar.com has made a video of Andy's banter with James during the SF that you can download here. The quality of this video is actually better than the BBC's livestream. Thanks, claire!

Yesterday's semifinal so thoroughly depressed me that I had to go watch Andy's great moment at the 2003 US Open just to remind myself what Andy Roddick looks like as a winner. I'm imbedding it here for you.



===================================================
Originally posted June 16, 2006

Gonzalez: Keeper of Andy's Mojo




"I guess it is easier to sit back, watch, and trash."

-- ANDY RODDICK.
Burn this quote into your brain.



QF: Roddick def. Gonzalez 6-4 6-3
R16: Roddick def. Srichaphan 7-6(5) 6-3


What is it about Fernando Gonzalez that brings out the best in Andy? It happened at Davis Cup and it repeated here after Andy had struggled against an unknown first-round qualifier, and then struggled against a player he flat-out owns. But up against someone as dangerous as Gonzalez he suddenly lifts his game, his confidence soars, and it's like 2003 again. It was vintage Roddick at work. Love it.


SHOW SOME RESPECT FOR THE GONZO. He has found Andy's mojo.

And I love Gonzo for it. Yes, I am officially jumping on the Gonzalez fan bandwagon. Something about him brings out Andy's A-game and I've got nothing but respect for that. He is the unofficial Keeper of Andy's Mojo, I am convinced of that now. Andy feeds off of Gonzo's energy or something. I love seeing Andy bullying his opponents around again; love seeing him blast aces again, aggressively stalking every ball, and diving on the grass a la Boris Becker. Said Roddick after the match, “I am happy with my performance. I feel I’ve been right around the corner from playing well and today the recipe was there for something good to happen.” This is what made me a fan of his to begin with. Even the British commentators on the BBC were impressed with Andy today, recklessly throwing around comments like, "Another excellent volley from Andy Roddick," [according to his coach, brother John Roddick, Andy won 13 of 16 points at the net today!]; "This is like vintage Roddick 2003."; and "I would rate Andy's performance today a 10+plus." I couldn't stop smiling. Even the Roddick-bashing Tennis-X coughed up some praise: "Andy Roddick was at his grasscourt best in dispatching the free-swinging No. 6 seed Fernando Gonzalez." Whoa. Stand back from the heat.

Superstitious me, I was a bit concerned that the Power of the Blog would be on Gonzalez's side (since the start of the ATP Blog, most of the bloggers have gone on to win a title). But luckily, Andy has the power of the bopper cheerleader bloggers on his side. ;)

And what was the deal with Andy walking out on court carrying somebody else's bag? ROTFL. Dork Andy at work again. Where is Sue Barker when we need her to ask some necessary questions?

So Andy will next play his friend and lover, James Blake, in an all-American semifinal. Andy is "very hungry" to win a @#$% title already and James is probably very hungry to stop being Andy's bitch all the time. Both feel they have something to prove and will want this win very badly. It should be a tough, erratic, and hopefully very entertaining match. They are scheduled second on court after the Hewitt-Henman match, which should be around 3:00pm local time (11:00am EST). You can watch the live BBC feed here.

Oh, and about that lover part? I was kidding. Sorry for the tease.

Roddick Rockets Through
Andy Roddick raced into the semi-finals at Queen's Club on Friday with a thumping 6-4 6-3 victory over Chile's Fernando Gonzalez. It took the American just over an hour to book a date against compatriot James Blake in the next round with a superb display of grass court tennis.

Roddick, looking to win the title for a fourth year running showed the packed Queen's Club crowd just how to play on grass, crashing 13 aces past his Chilean opponent and more importantly, dropping just seven points on his own serve through the whole match.

It had all started so brightly for Gonzalez, looking solid behind his own delivery and making few mistakes until the eighth game of the opening set.

At this point he was forced to save no less than five break points, the first of the match, as he struggled to even the scores at 4-4.

But save he did, only to finally drop serve when trying to save the set next time round putting a stuttering forehand into the net, and not for the first or last time.

Roddick then immediately broke his man again for a 2-0 lead at the start of the second set and never looked back as he bludgeoned his way to the second set 6-3.

In such impressive form, having obviously put the ankle injury that saw him drop out of the French Open in the first round behind him, it will take a superhuman effort from Blake to stop his progress to yet another final.


===================================================
Originally posted June 15, 2006

Back in the Swing of Things



R32: Roddick def. Dancevic
2-6, 6-4, 6-3


Yes, finally, I uploaded several new pictures from yesterday's match.
Champion Andy Roddick's bid for an unprecedented fourth successive Stella Artois title got off to a stuttering start with a 2-6 6-4 6-3 win over Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic on Wednesday.

Roddick, seeded third, is trying to become the first player to win four straight titles at Queen's. He was on the defensive from the opening set because of Dancevic's powerful serves and consistent returns.

"I felt like I struggled a little bit early," Roddick said. "I wasn't totally comfortable. As the match went on, I played better and better and better."

Dancevic surrendered just four points on serve in the opening set but failed to maintain the pressure in the second. Roddick broke for a 2-1 lead and went on to win the set.

Roddick hit a forehand winner to break for a 4-3 lead in the third set. He closed the match on his fourth attempt, breaking again after Dancevic hit a forehand wide.

"I think the key to the match was once I started making first serve returns and making him play every time," Roddick said. "If he's going to go for broke like that, the more chances I can give him to bust, the better."

Andy's trainer, Doug Spreen, says that the ankle is "holding up well and has not been giving [Andy] any problems." Continued health, Andy!

More videos!

Video of Andy over at the Stella Artois website. The visor has made its appearance again!

So many "On the Rod" videos, I can barely keep track of them all. Here's the latest installment that you can download (if that doesn't work, try this link). BTW, the guy trying to pull Andy's pants off is Thomas Blake, James Blake's older brother. Naughty!

And just for laughs, here's another video I uploaded to YouTube:


===================================================
Originally posted June 13, 2006

Back in the Swing of Things



Jeez, I had a whole new blog entry and new photos ready to put up this week until one of the computers that had my blog stuff on it crashed on me and was taken to the MacHospital. So now I have to start all over again. I feel like somebody threw away my diary or something.


Rain delayed Andy's first-round match with Frank Dancevic today. He'll be up second tomorrow, after the Andy Murray match (btw, Brad Gilbert is denying rumors that he will coach Murray).

Meanwhile, you can entertain yourself by watching this video of Andy and his trainer Doug Spreen looking positively enthralled with the World Cup.

And you can also download the new "On the Rod" video here.

***
I Love YouTube

I've become addicted to YouTube. I love watching random videos and I've been uploading several tennis videos to my own account which you can subscribe to at any time. Here's a few choice videos that are now up:

Andy's bum wiggle
From last year's Wimbledon.


Andy and Andre at Arthur Ashe Kids' Day, 2005


Andy's Sportscenter ad


Andy and Marat Safin at Rally for Relief, 2004


And thanks to the person who uploaded this video of Andy's "squash shot" from 2004 Cincy. Roger Federer hit the exact same shot in his semifinal match with David Nalbandian at the French Open this weekend and typically, the media has been in a frenzy ooh-ing and aahh-ing over Roger's genius. But let's show some respect to the original squash-hitter, please. ;-)

***

Martin def. Roddick 6-4 7-5 1-0 ret.

"It's like 'Groundhog Day'. Whatever I said last year, just copy it. Whatever I said last year, I'm sure it still fits."

-- ANDY RODDICK. The Roland Garros nightmare continues.


*whip crack!*

OK, so I took an *extended* vacation. Vacationing during Roland Garros turned out to be a good decision. I had a feeling Andy might re-injure his foot. The clay is unforgivable! But hopefully that extra time allowed him to fully recover and get reacquainted with his beloved grass.

And boooo! to the French crowd for booing Roddick's retirement. Andy made a difficult but smart decision to retire. The player's health is what matters most, not the fact that you felt you didn't get your money's worth. Like Alberto Martin said, "I don't like that the crowd boos a player. I wouldn't like it to happen to me. We're professionals here. We come to do our jobs. We try to do our best. It's a bit sad that people boo when you're just doing your job."

I have to say, though, that I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Andy had decided not to go back home to Austin and instead, head straight over to London to begin preparing for the grass season. This floors me. Usually, his instinct is go back to the comfort of home whenever he gets the chance. This time he did not do that. Andy, you do us proud!

What rivalry? Nadal beats Federer again

After a nervous start, Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(4) to win his second consecutive French Open title. Nadal has now beaten Federer 4 times this year (Federer's only losses) and their head to head stands at 6-1. This rivalry is starting to look as non-existent as the one Andy has with Roger at Wimbledon.

It was ironic to hear the commentators quoting Roddick towards the end of the final: "I'm going to have to start winning some of them [matches] to call it a rivalry." Who would have ever guessed that Roddick's infamous quote would apply to Federer as well?

I don't think either player played their best tennis in the final. How could they relax? There was too much history to make, too much at stake, too many expectations placed on both of them. It's really a shame that their classic five-hour Rome final could not have been the French Open final instead. A match like that seen by millions of people around the world would've been great for tennis. But this deflating final--after the months-long Rafa vs Roger hype--was not good for tennis, IMO.

***
Roddick confirms Jimmy Connors will coach part-time

From ESPN:
After weeks of whispers, Andy Roddick has confirmed that eight-time Grand Slam champion Jimmy Connors will join his entourage.

"I'm genuinely excited about the prospect of working with Jimmy," Roddick said in The Times of London on Friday. Roddick is in London preparing for the Stella Artois Championship that starts next week.

According to a source with first-hand knowledge of the situation who was contacted by ESPN, while talks between Connors and Roddick have escalated, no deal was done as of Friday afternoon. If the deal does go through, it's unlikely Connors would be a part of the Roddick camp at Wimbledon, which starts June 26.


While Connors will be a coach and a consultant, his contributions will be on a part-time basis. Roddick's older brother John will remain his full-time coach.

Roddick has now employed five coaches in just over three years: Tarik Benhabiles, Brad Gilbert, Dean Goldfine, John Roddick and now Connors.

Since retiring after the 1992 season, Connors has kept a low profile. Over the last several years, though, he has been more and more active in the game. Last year he did commentary for the BBC at Wimbledon and was highly visible at the 2005 U.S. Open.

Roddick was the world's No. 1-ranked player in 2003 after winning the U.S. Open, but his ranking has fallen gradually to its present spot, No. 5.

According to Roddick, Connors will focus on helping him prepare for the summer hardcourt season, which culminates with the U.S. Open that begins in late August.

Shout-out to Andy's agent, Ken Meyerson: You're a tool. Next time do your client a favor and don't tell the local media a bald-faced lie by denying you were never in contact with Mr. Connors when you obviously were.

Jackass.

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