Thursday, August 24, 2006

Roddick's Reawakening

DUDE, SIGN MY HEAD. Roddick signs tennis player Murphy Jensen's head earlier today at New York City's Lacoste store.

It's been four days since Andy took Cincinnati by storm and I'm still over the moon about it. I'll take this opportunity to answer a few questions Watchers have asked me and also touch upon some fan comments I've seen on messageboards regarding Andy's win:

Andy won Cincy! Does this mean he got his Mojo back?
Yes and no. Not until Roddick gets out of the first round at USO will the Mojo ghost finally dissipate into oblivion. The good news is that he plays Florent Serra in the first round, and if Roddick plays anything like he played in Cincy, he will win easily.

Was it my imagination or was Roddick volleying good?
No, it wasn't your imagination. After he survived the first-round Bracciali match, he got an earful from Jimmy Connors on the phone that evening. After that, Roddick took Connor's words to heart and started playing more aggressively and attacking the net more. Throughout the rest of the week, he volleyed often and he volleyed well, making better approach shots and coming in at the right times. Here's a look at his impressive net stats from the week:

So does this mean that Andy is back to being the No. 1 American player?
In the actual rankings, no. As of Monday James Blake is ranked No. 5 and Roddick is ranked No. 10. In most fan's hearts and minds, yes. Blake has the game to win, but Roddick's got the heart.

I didn't worry too much when Andy lost the No. 1 American player rank to James Blake earlier this year because I knew it was a temporary situation; Blake was ascending and Roddick was obviously in a funk. The fact of the matter is, Roddick is the Alpha Male of the whole American contingent. Blake is a leader, too, but in a different way. He has often been accused of not having the guts and the heart to go all the way towards winning a slam (him claiming that losing to Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals of the USO last year was the "most fun he's ever had" doesn't help his case). He still hasn't won a five set match! That's a harsh assessment but judging from Blake's poor showing after he won Indianapolis a few weeks ago, the criticism he receives might be justified. Blake is a very inconsistent player; he'll play great tennis one week and then slip and slide for the next three to five weeks. He just recently crashed out of his home tournament, Pilot Pen, where he's the defending champ. Blake seems to be having a difficult time adjusting to his new Top American Dog status (and the pressures and responsibilities that it entails) and/or problems dealing with the expectations of having to win all the time. He can no longer play free and relaxed because he is no longer the underdog with a great sob story. He is now expected to play well often, and to win often. In professional sports, this is where the boys are separated from the men.

It is ideal for American tennis to have two players in the Top Ten, but I think it would also be better for American tennis if Roddick were back in his No. 1 position and Blake at No. 2. It just seems like a more natural order of things.

Roddick's win doesn't mean anything. He didn't play any top ten players and he never had to face Federer or Nadal.
You can only play what's put in front of you and it's not Roddick's fault that Federer and Nadal crashed out before they were supposed to, is it? After they were gone, somebody had to step up and win the title. And why not Roddick, a former Cincy champion? Why didn't the other guys seeded 3, 4, and 5 take advantage of this great opportunity to win an AMS title? Roddick saw the opportunity, and he pounced. Winners do that.

Also, spare me the "Roddick hasn't faced any top ten players" argument. Tennis is a game of match-ups and rankings belie talent. You can't tell me that Andy Murray wasn't a dangerous opponent for Roddick, I don't care how exhausted Murray was. He had the mental edge knowing that he owns Roddick 2-0 and that he can beat him on his home turf.

Besides, Roger Federer didn't face one top ten player, either, when he won the Roger's Cup just the week before. It happens in sport all the time.

What exactly has Jimmy Connors done for Roddick's game?
The biggest thing? Confidence. As Pam Shriver noted, if you have confidence, then your game will fall into place and good things will start to happen. Jimmy Connors infused in Roddick some badly-needed confidence and self-belief. Connors has said that he believes Roddick has what it takes to make it to the top again, and Roddick needed to hear that from someone of Connors' stature. Hearing "You're a great player" from your brother, your mother, your physical trainer, your psychiatrist, or your best friend simply does not carry the same weight as an eight-time slam tennis champion. Especially one who does not offer up compliments freely.

Once Roddick started to believe in himself again, all of the hard work he's been putting into his game started to pay off: his volleys were looking better than ever, his return game was terrific, and his backhand was no longer a liability. Charles Bricker gives a nice little write-up here of the changes he noticed to Roddick's game at Cincy.

PMac is so annoying! Why does he have to suck up to Roddick so much?
If you would take your McEnroe earplugs out once in a while you would've noticed a long time ago that Patrick McEnroe gets excited about a lot of players, not just Roddick (Federer and Nadal are two that he's constantly waxing poetic about). PMac has been critical of Roddick often over the past year, so I don't blame him one bit for finally having a good reason to get excited about seeing the old Andy Roddick back in action, slamming down balls, and showing his fire and energy again. Pam Shriver was positively giddy over Roddick's new and improved net game. Watching Roddick in Cincinnati was like watching a whole new player being born. If that's not exciting tennis, then you're not watching the same game that I am.

I get it now. Now i see what people were talking about when they say that Roddick's game is completely different when he's confident.
It's the mathematics of the law of sports: Low confidence = bad playing = lose a lot. High confidence = good playing = win a lot.

I know many non-Roddick fans and casual tennis observers never really noticed but it's true: Roddick has been in a slump for a long time now (the slow decline began at USO 2004 with his quarterfinal loss to Joachim Johansson) and he's been playing very badly for months now. Contrary to some people's opinion, Roddick's awful playing is NOT his normal form. I am glad that people were finally able to witness what an in-form Roddick looks like during a tournament week. It has been too long since we've seen that.

Can Roddick beat Nadal on the hardcourts?
Of course he can.

I am amazed at the number of tennis fans who are saying that Nadal could "easily dismantle" Roddick at USO. What criteria are they using to come to this conclusion? Nadal and Roddick have met exactly twice, once at USO and once at Davis Cup on clay, both in 2004. They are 1 for 1.

These fans' reasoning goes, "Well, Nadal's a different player now and he's the world No. 2." Yes, and? Roddick is not the same player that he was in 2004, either. And again, rankings don't mean anything, it's about the match-up. Historically, Roddick has problems with retriever-type players but Nadal has problems with big-servers. Nadal's heavy lefty topspin does not hinder Roddick's playing the way it does Federer's. And if Roddick continues to use his new aggressive net game, he could finish off points quicker at the net instead of wasting energy getting into a long baseline rally with Nadal, which nobody wants to do because Nadal will almost always win the point.

I could see Nadal and Roddick having a tough four-set match on the fastcourt, but for Nadal to "dismantle" Roddick? Um, no.

What does the Cincy win mean for Andy's chances at the US Open?
It means that Roddick is back in the small group of slam contenders and poses a legit threat to the two dominators: Nadal and Federer. He will be seeded No. 9 (after Mario Ancic pulled out due to injury) which means he avoids clashing with any of the top four seeded players until the quarterfinals.

Has anyone else noticed? Andy is no longer fiddling with his wristband.
One nervous tick down, only a half dozen more to go. I like the hat-adjusting habit, though. And a few other adjustments.

- READ Andy Roddick's post-match interview after defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the Cincinnati final here.
- Charles Bricker: Roddick on the Right Horse.
- NY Sun: For Roddick, Timing May Be Key to Success.
- Houston Chronicle: Connors Gives Roddick a Boost.
- Cincinnati Enquirer: Roddick Winning with New Style.
- CNN: Caption Andy Roddick - Reader Caption Winners.
- Cincinnati Post: Roddick's Renaissance.
- Steve Tignor: The 2003 Show.
- Peter Bodo: Real Men Don't Run.

* * *
Who's That Girl?, Part Deux

While the media is going ga-ga over a secret Roddickpova affair, another mystery girl has been popping up during Andy's Cincy matches. She has been seen sitting next to Andy's agent, Ken Meyerson. Naturally, I assumed she was Meyerson's girlfriend.

But when ESPN panned over her during the end credits after the Murray-Roddick match, I thought that was unusual for them to do and so I took a screencap:

ESPN does not usually pan over a random girl sitting in the stands during end credits (they do it all the time during matches, yes, but not to sign off at the end of the show, unless they are holding "Marry me, Andy" signs or something like that). So when they focused on her I thought: hmm. Is this Andy's mystery girlfriend?

A few days later, Tennis Photo Library started running some pics of the same girl I had taken a screencap of and in the captions she is named as Roddick's girlfriend, J.J.:

Photo caption: Andy Roddick's girlfriend J.J. watches during the finals of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati, Ohio on August 20, 2006.

So. What to make of it all? Is Andy dating this girl J.J. or is he dating Maria? Is J.J. the girlfriend of somebody else who works for Team Roddick or is she another ruse (like the mystery blonde was a few weeks ago)? Maybe Andy's dating both J.J. and Maria? Is Andy cheating on Mardy? Questions, questions, but who's got the answers?

Free Image Hosting at
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Roddick Caught With His Pants Down!

Or, his zipper actually. With his Under Armor underpants flying out for the whole world to see. LOL. Andy did a guest appearance on Fox & Friends earlier this week and he did it with gusto. XYZ, Andy!

Remember this quote from his interview in Smash tennis magazine?
Q: What is your favorite non-tennis clothing label?
RODDICK: "Lucky Jeans. They're cool because when you unzip them, it says LUCKY YOU inside the zipper."

"Lucky You"? Lucky us. Har!

* * *
US Open Draw Is Out

The Draw Gods were very kind to Andy this year. Here's my short preview:

Round 1: Florent Serra (FRA) Roddick's first-round victim will be Florent Serra of France. I say "victim" because there's no way in hell Andy will allow himself to lose in the first round at USO again. Not with Jimmy Connors watching in the stands; not when exorcising the Mojo monster is at stake. The worst that can happen is the match goes to four sets, which is entirely possible when playing an opponent you're not familiar with and Serra may come out swinging with nothing to lose, but I think Serra will be beaten into submission in straight sets. Look for a Tuesday night start date.

Round 2: Alberto Martin (ESP) Up next is the Spaniard who beat Roddick in the first round at Roland Garros earlier this year when Roddick had to retire due to injury. Roddick has a 4-1 h/t/h with Martin. Martin has a 1-7 h/t/h with the hardcourts. Roddick will be looking for revenge, in straight sets.

Round 3: Fabrice Santoro (FRA) or Fernando Verdasco (ESP) There's that pesky Verdasco again. Roddick has a 4-2 record vs Verdasco, his only loss on hardcourt to the Spaniard came when Roddick retired in Miami 2005. Their last two hardcourt meetings saw Verdasco slumping out the door in straight sets. I'll expect the same result here at USO. If it's Santoro, he could prove a much trickier opponent. Roddick beat Santoro in straight sets in the SF of Lyon, France last year. Santoro is a talented shot-maker who has little problems handling big servers, but Santoro doesn't really have the legs anymore to keep up with a high-energy player like Roddick. He could give Roddick trouble for maybe a set, and then he'll go away.

Round 4: Andre Agassi (USA), Thomas Johansson (SWE), or Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) If there is a tennis God, He will give us Roddick vs Agassi in a dream match-up. Roddick has a losing record vs. Agassi, 1-5, and has never beaten Agassi on the hardcourt. But if Andy's going to beat Andre now would be the perfect time and place to do it; it would be a fitting and symbolic end to Agassi's career if he were to lose to Roddick right here—out with the old, in with the new, so to speak. Unfortunately, Agassi has been in terrible form lately, too many niggling injuries are finally catching up to him, and I fear that he may lose long before he reaches the round of 16. I really hope that won't happen. If Agassi gets past Baghdatis, then we can assume that he's back in-form and unhindered by injury. Either way, I'm praying for this match-up to happen.

Johansson could potentially be a headache for Andy as their last meeting (on grass) went to five sets and three TBs, but in their one hardcourt meeting in Bangkok a year ago, Roddick took him out in straight sets, no TBs.

Another potential cracking match would be vs. Marcos Baghdatis. Baggy seems to save his best playing for slams, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him take out Agassi and get to the round of 16. His hardcourt record is very good. He beat Roddick at the Australian Open earlier this year. That was the nightmare match where Roddick had never seen Baghdatis before and played an utterly confused and ass-backwards match. He won't make that mistake again at USO.

Quarterfinal: Lleyton Hewitt (AUS), Ivan Ljubicic (CRO), or Richard Gasquet (FRA) Lleyton Hewitt has been out for weeks due to a knee injury. He says he will play USO on a sore knee. If Hewitt even makes it this far I take my hat off to him. To be injured and rusty from lack of competitive play and still make it to the QFs would be a tremendous achievement for him. That said, I'm not expecting to see Hewitt anywhere near the QFs. Roddick's biggest problem here could be the talented Richard Gasquet, who was last seen taking a set off Federer in the Roger's Cup final. Roddick and Gasquet have not met yet so there's always the danger of playing an unfamiliar opponent. But I don't know how Gasquet will react to Roddick's 140 mph serves, either.

The other potential troublemaker here is Ivan Ljubicic, who has beaten Roddick in their last two meetings (the most famous one being where Ljubicic single-handedly destroyed the entire Team USA at Davis Cup 2005 in Carson, California). Ljubicic, another big server with a big mouth, seems to be off his game lately. He fizzled vs Tommy Robredo at Cincinnati recently. There seems to be a bit of a grudge between Roddick and Ljuby, so I think it would be a great match if Roddick puts on his Rodzilla face and performs his aggressive in-your-face fistpumping/screaming act just for Ivan.

Semifinal: Rafael Nadal My other dream match. Hubba hubba! They haven't met since 2004 USO, when Roddick literally blew Nadal off the court, feeding him a bagel in the process. But times have changed since 2004, Rafa has more confidence now being the dominant No. 2 player in the world. Nadal has a few things going for and against him here. FOR: Nadal was gifted a draw that places practically all of the dirtballers and a few C-list hardcourt players in his bottom half of the draw. FOR: no Rafa-killing James Blake on his side of the draw this time. AGAINST: Nadal has been struggling to find his form on the hardcourts this summer and he comes into USO with no momentum to ride. AGAINST: the big-serving Mark Philippoussis in the first round could be Nadal's mojo moment this year. FOR: But if Nadal gets past Poo, he'll have one big-server notched under his belt. Prediction: a really fascinating semifinal. But Roddick still wins.

Final: some Swiss guy Who else? Andy Murray? Wait, don't answer that. If Federer's not in this final, will his career be over? Come on, I wouldn't read too much into his Cincinnati tank job. He was tired, he was bored, he was blah. But come USO he'll have his game face back on. If Roddick gets to this final I will be expecting him to come armed to the hilt to try to dethrone Federer. Look for 2004 Wimbledon Andy to show up, angrier than ever. He wants to beat Roger very, very badly, but Roger will not let his guard down and has an annoying habit of bringing his A-game whenever he faces Roddick. Don't you just hate that? My only prediction: this will not be won or lost in straight sets.

And if Federer's not waiting for Roddick in the final then, um, expect the tennis illuminati to be having conniptions for the next several weeks.

Jon Wertheim predicts in his Men's USO Preview that no American man will reach the semifinal, but that Ivan Ljubicic will be in the final with Federer. Okaaay. Well, at least he's finally jumped off the Gael Monfils bandwagon.
James Blake (seeded 5): After cracking the top five earlier this summer, Blake has been awful lately. On paper he's on the short list of players to make some major noise at the Open, but he comes in with virtually no momentum. Also, he has the misfortune of playing in Federer's quadrant.

Andy Roddick (seeded 9): The great X factor. We all know about his travails in '06. But has anyone played better tennis on the hard courts? After Roddick's win in Cincy -- and with Coach Jimmy in the box -- this could be a lot of fun for the American fans. Particularly with last year's first-round fiasco as motivation for Andy, we're predicting the hot streak continues, at least through the quarters.

Dark Horse Nation – Andre Agassi: Does he have one last hurrah left in him? Unfortunately, the draw deities did him no favors.

Dark Horse Nation – Mardy Fish: Forgotten American is quietly climbing the charts again. A nice (and overdue) run in New York would be another boost.

* * *
Play Tennis with Andy on Your Mobile Phone

Random Thought of the Day: Ever wonder what Andy's ringtone would sound like if he had one? "That *&^% ball was on the %*$#!! line! %$#@!!"

* * *
WATCH the ATP Tennis Show's recap of the Cincy final here.

DOWNLOAD Andy's guest appearance on "Cold Pizza" from this morning here and here.

1 comment:

Leonardo said...

Great Blog... Congratulation...

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